Scheduling a Sabbath: Why I Started Choosing Rest on Sundays

“There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” Hebrews 4:9-11

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, working to grow a side-hustle, or have emails from the office following you around on your phone, you probably struggle to find time to rest. The modern pace we live at, with its 24/7 accessibility, can make it nearly impossible for us to stop working.

And yet, as Christians, that’s exactly what we’re called to do every Sunday. A whole day of rest every week. There’s no doubt that figuring out what that looks like, while still keeping a roof over our heads and making sure our families have food and clean clothing, can be difficult. But recently I found myself with the nagging feeling that I needed to honor God’s design for my life, rather than trying to skirt around it with excuses like “I really enjoy my work, so it’s basically not work” or “We really need groceries, so I can just pop into the store on Sunday.”

I felt called to honor the Sabbath-rest by taking Sundays off and truly rest, rather than attempting to rest half-heartedly after Mass, while still trying to check things off my to-do list or mentally weighing how I could increase my productivity later in the week to “make up” for the time off I was taking.

Providentially, around that same time I started reading a book on rest, and learned that God’s design for us to step away from our work yields benefits far beyond what I imagined.

True Rest

Many of us might think of rest as simply not working – binging on Netflix, for example, or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook – but in his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explores the science of what he calls “deliberate rest” and the benefits it holds for us.

Deliberate rest, he maintains, is a learned skill “which helps you recover from the stresses and exhaustion of the day, allows new experiences and lessons to settle in your memory, and gives your subconscious mind space to keep working.”

Sounds great, right?

Things like good, regular nighttime sleep, and exercise make the list of things that comprise “deliberate rest,” but so do napping, walking in nature, and deep play: all things perfectly suited to a restful Sunday afternoon.

Who doesn’t love a lazy Sunday afternoon nap? Turns out, napping offers loads of benefits to our overworked bodies and brains. It not only restores our physical energy, but it can also improve our memories, emotional regulation, and self-control. One study cited by Pang found that a 60- or 90-minute nap provided the same kinds of cognitive improvements seen in people who had slept for 8 hours.

Another study found that walking in nature can help us relax and divert our minds from our problems. The researcher “could tell from their brainwaves when people were walking through parks and green space and when they were in busy commercial areas: their minds became calmer and less aroused when they turned from the high street into a park... Natural scenes provide just enough diversion to occupy the conscious mind, leaving the subconscious free to do its own thing.” Walking in nature allows our minds to relax. I find that when I take a break for it, I can come back to my work with all sorts of new ideas and solutions to problems.

And while playfulness is a characteristic we usually associate with children and puppies, it’s actually incredibly beneficial for all of us, leading us to be more active and productive in the rest of our lives. For a hobby or pastime to qualify as deep play, it has to be mentally absorbing, offer a new context for skills used in current work, have clearer rewards than most work, and provide a living connection to the player’s past. We don’t have to be great at the activity, we just have enjoy being absorbed in it. Deep play offers us a respite from work, while still helping us to renew and refresh our tired minds and bodies, and it looks different for everyone. For Winston Churchill, it was painting. For Victor Frankl, it was climbing.

Find What Works for You

Of course, this is true for deliberate rest in general. What refreshes one person may actually stress someone else out. Some people find a pick-up game of soccer on a Sunday afternoon to be a delight, but for me it would be a chore. I prefer to sit with a good novel, but for an English teacher that might actually be work.

Discerning how to rest well on a Sunday after Mass may take some time, but I’ve found that since I’ve embraced the practice, the remainder of my weeks have actually been more productive, creative, and peaceful. What does a deliberately restful Sunday look like for you?

Kerri Christopher is a life consultant. She helps individuals learn to discern well, discover their priorities, and make plans to move forward. From “what am I doing with my life?” to “why is my closet always a mess?,” she loves helping people sift through the tough questions by integrating the wisdom and truths of the Christian life with the best practices of human “self-help.” Kerri has both an MA and STL in theology and has taught at universities in the US and UK. With her British husband, she lives in London, where she enjoys discovering cozy pubs and beautiful architecture. You can find her online at Clarity Life Consulting.