Sabbath Keeping . . . A Mental Health Spiritual Practice
Yesterday I took what I named a "nearing the end of the season" bike ride out to Harrison Lake. This is a beautiful ride in the autumn of the year - one I've made each of the last three years in late October or early November. Once again I was not disappointed by the artistry of God's paint brush. The picture hardly does justice to the hues of yellow, orange and red that bounced off the earth's canvass against a perfect blue sky. I was reminded, once again, that one of my four favorite seasons is Fall!
Added to this Sabbath Monday experience (as a pastor Monday is usually my Sabbath) was the challenge and thrill of the ride. It's roughly 32 miles, round trip, a combination of flat lands (east of town) and hills (west). It was perfect cycling weather - crisp, and cool. I got a full body work out - stretching not just my leg muscles, but expanding my lungs and heart rate. A strong head wind on the way back east toward home only reinforced and added to an already challenging day of exercise.
I call these kinds of days my "mental health days". Do you have such a practice? A mental health day is a day when you divert your mind from its normal challenges and obligations to think about other things. It's a day when you devote yourself to a different pace or routine from work. It's a day when you discover new things or at least renew your discovery of the wonder of God and God's creation. And it's a day when you determine to enter into a different rhythm - often physically altering your normal daily patterns.
All of these things were part of my ride out to Harrison Lake. I diverted my mind from work - resisting even the urge to work through a sermon on my ride (which is a frequent practice). I devoted myself to the scenery and sights of the trip, acknowledging the handiwork of the Creator behind it all. I discovered the connectivity of the many aspects of my body and health - becoming consciously aware of how my respiratory, circulatory, auditory, olfactory, and visual systems were all in dialogue and feeding off the other. I determined to push myself physically and mentally beyond what a typical or routine day looks like in my life.
So - what was the outcome? Well, sore knees and a big appetite for starters. But more lasting was the benefit of having spent a Monday Sabbath/Mental Health day that propelled me back into the normal rhythms and routine of daily living with fresh perspective, renewed energy and restored hope for the work day grind.
As one who has taught and preached the benefit of Sabbath in our lives - a regular day of rest, worship, and play - it was good to once again fully put it into practice. I was reminded that a true Sabbath is not just a day to catch up on the household chores - a true Sabbath is about disconnecting with the world's production cycle so that you can connect with the One who made and loves the world.
My purpose in sharing this is not for its profundity, or that you would replicate the how and what of my particular Sabbath practice; but that you would reconnect with your own. Ask yourself this, "What does a Sabbath day - a mental health day - look like in my life?" Well, what does it look like? If you are struggling to define it, maybe it's been a while since you engaged in one? If a description comes readily to mind, you may be in a nice rhythm of Sabbath keeping.
When I worked alongside pastors as the focal point of my ministry, I discovered we are one of the worst groups when it comes to keeping Sabbath. After all Sunday's a work day and we too easily fall into the delusion that we're too valuable, too needed, too important to take another day apart - or a day away. But our failure to do so may be doing us and the parish we pastor more harm than good.
So here's my challenge to you: Divert. Devote, Discover. Determine. Disconnect. In doing so I think you will find that your attention is focused, your heart is given to worship, your senses come alive with wonder, your purpose is renewed, and your connection with your Creator is strengthened.