Sabbath v Self-Care?

I sometimes wonder if all our good-intentioned language around self-care has ruined sabbath. 

Like, i think most of the time we mean self-care as energy devoted to renewing ourselves, loving ourselves, ensuring that we are capable of being authentic by taking time to know ourselves and what we need. I am very pro-self-care, i am very pro-saying-no to over-taxing (particularly because i am prone to overcommitting and then under-fulfilling).

As Brené Brown says, “the most compassionate people are the most boundaried.” Boundaries between us and the people and work we take care of are necessary.

In Christianity we have this thing called sabbath, which growing up mostly meant i had to go to church and then had the afternoon to do homework or roller-blade. I vaguely remember some shaming sermons about how we should really spend our Sunday afternoons reading Scripture, but no one ever actually did.

The most i ever learned about Sabbath was when my mother’s favorite Divinity School professor, Lauren Winner, came to the church to give a talk about her then-new book, Mudhouse Sabbath. The book itself was a series of lessons she thought Christianity stood to learn from her mother faith, Judaism.

At the time when Dr. Winner presented at our church, i mostly remember her saying she tried not to eat out on Sundays because that’s making other people work on a day meant for rest. I would think about that often, a few years later, when i was waiting tables and the Sunday Brunch-ers were the absolutely worst customers we had all week, and that often it was the after-churchers who made me run the most and rewarded me with the most abysmal tips.

Now re-reading Winner’s book, here is what i have gleaned about Sabbath:

She describes the kind of total stop that happened on the Jewish sabbath: no food is to be made or even recipes to be written down, no fires are to be lit … the list of “do not’s” goes on. As Winner writes,”Do not create anything at all, for one of the things Sabbath reprises is God’s rest after He finished creating.”

While Winner does not think this Orthodox Jewish practice of shabbat is one that Christians ought to adopt whole-scale, she does assert that what Christians miss in our sabbath-taking is fully being set apart from the world. Not making coffee or dreaming of grocery lists are “no’s” meant to help us say “yes” to God. 

Winner, too, addresses self-care-culture. She voices two critiques: one, that this kind of capitalist thinking of rest now so you are more productive later means the purpose of rest is still productivity. And two, she wonders “whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor?”

It is good for people to take time to get to know themselves. Self-awareness builds healthier relationships, which in turn make a healthier, more just world. If we are rightly oriented in knowing our prejudices, our faults, and our gifts, our strengths, than we are better able to love, to have the compassion Brené Brown talks about. Honoring ourselves can be an honoring of God. 

I wonder, though, if it is dangerous to always think of drawing boundaries, of taking Sabbath, as a means to an end.

(I’m being a little reductive of Brown here, because i know her work is a wide-angle view of what compassion and courage look like. But i do think the point stands)

I’m wondering this partly because finals are upon me and that means my calendar is a carefully calculated masterpiece of time-splicing: every hour is measured by what it can do so i make it through these last weeks with work i am proud of but enough sleep and food that i don’t too much resemble a drowned rat at the end. Rest days (well, rest afternoons) become these carefully manipulated times i sketch out so i am more productive.

But i know  if i think of rest or self-care re: productivity, i will spin my wheels in an endless fit while watching Outlander, thinking: have to really enjoy this and give my brain a break and if i am not totally resting, than i might as well be productive, but i’m so tired i can’t write another damn thing, so i’ll just sit here and be stressed about stressing while trying to de-stress.

I wonder what it would mean to full-stop and be with God (you know, the reason i’m in seminary in the first place). I wonder what resting for the sake of enjoying Creation, myself a Created Being and the world that God has made – i wonder what rest like that would look like.



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