Remember comedienne Lily Tomlin’s famous line? “The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
Does your life ever feel like that these days?
We certainly live in a world that seems to be increasing in pace and responsibility. Feels nonstop at times, doesn’t it? We’re juggling multiple demands at home and at the office. We’re trying to do all of them with excellence. It feels like people are wanting more and more from us and we’re getting further behind. Our energy sags. Our productivity lags. Our joy drains. Our bodies rebel. And we’re tempted to feel like victims to forces beyond our control.
The good news is there’s a practice that, if you take it seriously, has the potential to radically alter your game of life. It’s called Sabbath.
This practice isn’t new. It’s been around for millennia in a variety of settings and styles. It’s not relegated exclusively to the realm of religion. It’s more than the contemporary trend of unplugging for a day or period of time. It’s more than simply taking time off.
This practice has the possibility of transforming both your inner and outer world. It will change the way you think about yourself, what you hunger for, what you feel a need for, and how you show up in this chaotic and nonstop existence.
My favorite quotation about Sabbath is from noted Jewish philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Notice the six life-changing outcomes from engaging in regular Sabbath practice.
“In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where humans may 1) enter a harbor and reclaim their dignity. The island is the Sabbath, a day of 2) detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as 3) attachment to the spirit … The Sabbath is 4) the exodus from tension, 5) the liberation of humanity from their own muddiness, 6) the installation of humanity as a sovereign in the world of time.”
Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 29
Can you relate to that opening phrase? Life sometimes feels like a “tempestuous ocean.” Your time and toil are all churned up by the incessant waves of all the demands and responsibilities that dog you from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you fall asleep at night (if you can sleep with your mind swirling with all the unfinished To Dos). Life sometimes feels like trying to navigate a small boat in the middle of a hurricane.
So doesn’t the idea of discovering and escaping to islands of stillness in the middle of the chaotic and confusing rat race sound wonderful?
Notice now the six life-changing outcomes that can come to you from a regular Sabbath practice.
1. Reclaiming Your Dignity
There’s an epidemic of lost dignity in our culture these days. People feel a sense of helplessness and powerlessness at work, in society, at home. That’s why so many act out this lack of dignity–they lash out as an attempt to reclaim their sense of power. Unfortunately, that strategy only ends up isolating and marginalizing self and others. Which then continues the loss of dignity. The cycle is vicious and endless.
When you make the bold choice to stop your incessant activity for a Sabbath experience, you are taking control of your life rather than simply reacting to life. And that simple act begins to restore your sense of dignity. You are not a mindless robot being controlled by others. You are a human being with inherent dignity that comes from the freedom and power to choose what matters most to you. Choosing to practice Sabbath is a radical reminder of that truth.
2. Detachment From A False Identity
Nonstop work erodes our sense of self. We begin by default developing an identity of merely being consumers, producers, workers. Our sense of value comes from how much we produce, how well we produce it all, how accepted we are in the world of work, responsibilities, and overall life demands, our status in that world. Before we know it, we’ve lost sight of our true identity.
The moment you make the bold choice of stopping for a Sabbath, you begin to detach from that false identity. You are reminding yourself that you are more than your work, you are more than all that you do. Your true identity is more foundational and fundamental than all of your good (or not so good) behaviors combined.
3. Attachment To Your True Spirit
Once you begin to detach from the false identity, you are free to attach to your true spirit. You can embrace who you really are. Your identity is not merely as a consumer and production specialist–with worth and value based upon how well you perform in those arenas.
Practicing Sabbath gives you the space to remind yourself of who you really are and what truly matters most to you. You have space to listen to your inner spirit, to capture and realize your deepest hungers and longings, to begin to align with your deepest and truest self, to discover anew your place of purpose and meaning in the world. You stop (detach from all your work) in order to attach to your core identity–you remember that you are a child of the Universe (God, Spirit, Humanity) with inherent value and worth for simply being as opposed to doing. Without this regular reminder, you can get confused and lose your sense of self.
4. Your Exodus From Tension
Our bodies, minds, and souls are not designed to engage in 24/7 work and production activity. When we stay in high stress, cortisol production increases and remains in the body which ultimately breaks down our physical systems, which in turn breaks down our psyches and spirits. It’s a lose-lose experience.
When you choose to stop for Sabbath every week, you are exiting this state of high stress. You are allowing the cortisol to drain from your system, making way for other more positive chemicals like oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine to be generated as a result of your choices for renewal, rest, restoration, revitalizing, and more positive social – relational experiences.
5. Your Personal Liberation From Lack of Clarity About Who You Are and Why You Matter
Heschel’s description of our liberation from our own “muddiness” is so apropos. Our incessant activity, our nonstop attention to all the demands and responsiblities, our feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness–living with all of this is like trying to walk through a mud pit or waist deep swamp. We get exhausted. Our sense of direction gets confused. We feel like we’re stuck.
Choosing to take a weekly Sabbath in which you remember who you really are, where you belong in the world, and what makes you truly valuable restores clarity. It’s a personal liberation. You rediscover your True North and focus on it. So that when the new week begins, you have direction. You have capacity to reengage with confidence, clarity, and contentment. You have been reminded that you truly matter, no matter what anyone else might say or do.
6. Reclaiming Your Sovereignty Over Time
One of the dark losses in our culture is the loss of personal sovereignty. We feel like victims to forces beyond our control–our bosses, our time, our children, our spouses, our religious obligations–and the list is endless.
When you make the bold choice to practice weekly Sabbath, you are taking back control over your time. Your are making a counter-intuitive decision: I am not a victim to myself or anyone else; I will now choose to set aside a rather large block of time (24 hours isn’t a small matter) during which I will engage in that which restores, renews, and reminds me of who I truly am, and who I am not, and what truly matters most to my life.
This practice will I guarantee you help you reclaim your sovereignty over time. It begins to embolden you to take back your time during the rest of the week. You learn how to set aside “miniSabbaths” for renewal and reminding–fifteen minutes here, an hour there, five minutes somewhere else, as the week progresses. You move from slave to master.
The problem with Lily Tomlin’s paradigm is that no matter how you run the rat race, you’re still a rat. False identity. With an intentional Sabbath practice, you remind yourself that you are not a rat in the race of life. You are a child of God, running a race with purpose, meaning, and a clear sense of self. And you choose to take back your Self, to rebuild your self regularly, enabling you to give your true Self to the world in transformational ways. Hard to beat this gift!