CITY TO CITY NYC Blog

Antibodies for Anxiety: Sabbath Under Quarantine

I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling a bit disoriented lately.

All at once, my life changed, my organization changed, and the world around me changed. Overnight my wife and I have needed to rethink how we do what we do in a constantly-changing landscape, all while not being able to leave our (non-palatial) NYC apartment and needing to entertain a 3-year-old daily.

Add to this disorientation the constant pressures we’re feeling of capitalizing on this moment, meeting the needs of the community around us, lamenting lost jobs, and remaining constantly aware that we are in crisis. I feel as though I need to have the right answer, but I’m not even sure I know what the question is.

Honestly, I feel like I need a break.

And herein lies the tension. For those working from home, there is the illusion of a slower pace, the freedom to work on your own terms, the gift of being present at home while still managing your work life. Or for those of us who regrettably lost jobs or had to surrender pay, it may be that we are on an unwanted and forced pause. Something inside is telling me this should feel like a break. Still, it isn’t anything like one. It doesn’t feel like we have permission to rest.

Furthermore, with all that is left to be done, I feel that I don’t deserve to rest.

And yet, that is exactly the invitation God is extending to us right now. In fact, he is commanding it. In the midst of the chaos and crisis of this historically defining moment, God commands us to rest. Not because of what we’ve accomplished, not because we deserve it, but because of who we are and whose we are. God is inviting you and me to Sabbath.

 

…GOD IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN RADICALLY IN CONTROL.

 

It’s in submitting to this command to stop that we can finally build up our immunity to anxiety and remind ourselves that, in the midst of uncertainty, unfinished tasks, incomplete initiatives, and unsaved souls, God is and always has been radically in control.

Isaiah’s words ring especially true right now: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

This verse and the current moment have reminded me lately of Sabbath’s being all about identity. Sabbath was given to Israel to redefine who they were. As slaves in Egypt, they had no permission to rest. As God’s free people, they were finally told to take a break, not because of a job well done but because of whom they belonged to. The Sabbath provided a weekly rhythm meant to reinforce that God acted mightily and miraculously to rescue them, that God was leading them even though they didn’t know exactly where they were headed, and that God would provide for them every step of the way.

Sabbath is our identity today, too. Sabbath is a physical reminder that we have been radically saved by the completed and finished work of Jesus. He has fully secured our eternal rest. We don’t have to finish the work because God has been working long before us—and will be working long after us—to bring his kingdom to earth.

 

SABBATH IS A PHYSICAL REMINDER THAT WE HAVE BEEN RADICALLY SAVED BY THE COMPLETED AND FINISHED WORK OF JESUS.

 

So how do we properly rest in Sabbath when we’re holed up in our homes and every day feels the same? With great care and intentionality. I’m indebted to Pete Scazzero and his great work on this topic, much of which this article is directly based on. Highlighting the simple (but challenging) framework from his Emotionally Healthy Leader, I’d invite you to frame your Sabbath around the practices of stopping, resting, delighting, and contemplating.

STOP.

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This is the hardest principle, so we will spend a little time here. To really lean into the gift of Sabbath in its intended blessing, we must stop all paid and unpaid work—follow-up conversations, daily chores, dinging inboxes, two-hour grocery lines, unread messages, and anything else that means “work” to you in this season. This takes intentionality in the best of circumstances, and under quarantine, this effort increases. Plan to stop. Schedule it with the same dedication and excitement that you do the other things in your life that you would never miss. Resist the voice of culture that tells you it all must be done.

For my family, this means that the day before Sabbath is the day we do laundry, grocery shopping, budget conversations, online orders, meal-planning, and inbox-clearing. We build our other weekly work tasks so that we have enough time to build a wall between the workweek and our Sabbath day. As an extra layer of structure, we are going to start experimenting with something that Scazzero and many other writers recommend as a way to signal the start of Sabbath: lighting a candle and having family prayer. This might look different for you, but find a way to separate time. Choose your own adventure.

REST.

This section makes me cringe, but the invitation God gives us here is to do nothing. Be unproductive. Take a nap. Slow down. Just be. Honestly, this Sabbath practice has given me panic attacks, which is probably a decent sign that I need it. Use this time to recharge. Your batteries are likely lower than they have been in a long time. Unwrap this gift, and just chill out for a bit. What could be more counter-cultural than giving ourselves permission to do nothing with so much yet to do?

DELIGHT.

I have a pastor friend that used to say people who work with their minds should Sabbath with their hands. Living in NYC, I have had to get creative with this and have ended up spending most of my time in the kitchen. At other times I’ve done photography, played music, or worked on small-scale building projects. Different things have served me in different seasons. 

This is a time to pick up things that bring you life and joy. What do you love to do? Do that. I realize that this takes some modification under lockdown, but experiment. Learn something new. Read a great book (that doesn’t teach you anything), enjoy some incredible food, and catch up with friends. Find something to delight in!

CONTEMPLATE.

Scazzero writes, “Sabbath is an invitation to see the invisible in the visible—to see the hidden ways God is at work in our lives.” He goes on to say that, “for a brief moment in time, we reorient ourselves away from this world in all its brokenness and anticipate the world to come—how things are meant to be.”

Sabbath isn’t Sabbath without some intentional focus on God and his goodness towards us. Spend some time ruminating on what it means that God has already provided rest for your soul and that you are complete in him. Contemplate God’s delight in you simply because of who you are, not what you do. Reflect on how the gospel proves to us that because of what Jesus accomplished for us, each and every promise God has for us is “yes and amen.”

Stop. Rest. Delight. Contemplate. Sabbath has been given to us as an antidote to anxiety. I pray that in these unprecedented times we will accept God’s invitation to trust in his unparalleled goodness, that we will engage in the counter-cultural practice of Sabbath as resistance, and that in doing so we will find new salvation and rest for our souls. I’ll leave you with what Mark Buchanan, in The Rest of God, submits as Sabbath’s golden rule: “Cease from what is necessary. Embrace that which gives life.”

Grace and peace to you.

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