The Sleeths live out the Importance of Rest, Retreat, and Family

I’m often struck by the irony of my parents’ ministry: they work hard teaching about rest.  They’re traveling or speaking constantly–some years they’re on the road more days than they’re at home.  They take a Sabbath every week, of course, but the other six days are crammed to the gills.

7a80ff43-6c1f-4a06-bbed-4933277484c3As their office manager, I see how full their schedules are and how many balls they keep in the air at once.  As their daughter, I see how tired they are after long trips, and how happy they are when they get to sleep in their own bed.  There is no doubt in my mind that they work even harder now than when Dad was a doctor doing 24-hours shifts and Mom was a full-time teacher.

The strange thing is that, although they work so hard, my parents aren’t workaholics.  They love their work and feel blessed by all the opportunities God has given them to teach and preach, but they’re not defined by it.  Their identity comes from God and our family.

To remind us of that, Mom and Dad took us all on a family retreat a couple of weeks ago.  The whole family has been working pretty hard lately: my husband, Zach, took four summer classes for seminary; my brother, Clark, had just taken his internal medicine board exams; and my sister-in-law, Val, had undergone the ultimate labor of giving birth (to the most perfect niece ever!) in July.  So it was nice to get away for a few days and just enjoy each other’s company.  After all, it’s not just Sabbath that God gave the Israelites, but annual feasts and holy festivals–times to cease working and remember that God is good.

We prayed together and read the book of Acts aloud each morning and evening.  We all sat down to home-cooked meals around the same table.  We played in the pool (Hannah for the first time–she was a fan!).  We took naps and read.  We hiked.  We cooed over and cuddled with Hannah.  We didn’t talk about work.  We didn’t run errands (except to get another bag of potato chips–vacation is treat time!).  We weren’t trying to figure out who was taking which parent to the airport when.

Life can’t always be a vacation–nor would we want it to be, since God has given all of us valuable work to do.  But it was a special time of rest and renewal with each other.

If you can’t remember the last time your whole family spent a few days just enjoying each other’s company, I’d highly recommend scheduling a family retreat.  You don’t have to go anywhere particularly special or plan a lot of activities while you’re there.  Just enjoy being together and remember that even though your work is important, your rest is, too.

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Come Sunday: Sabbath Thoughts from an Old Testament Professor

The following reflections are taken from Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt, by Dr. Renita J. Weems. One of the nation’s leading African-American female preachers and theologians, Weems shares her early memories of Sabbath through the lens of the “colored” community. Special thanks to Cynthia V. Vaughan for sharing these excerpts with Blessed Earth.

weems“Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week. This was back before malls were ubiquitous and when shopkeepers after six days of receipts thought nothing of locking up Saturday in late afternoon and not opening their shop doors again until Monday morning. This was a time when colored people like those I grew up with still believed that it was enough to spend six days a week trying to eke out a living, worrying about whether you were ahead or behind, fretting over the future, despairing over whether life would ever get better for coloreds. Six days of worrying were enough. The Sabbath was the Lord’s Day, a momentary cease-fire in our on-going struggle to survive and an opportunity to surrender ourselves to the rest only God offered. Come Sunday, we set aside our worries about the mundane and renewed our love affair with eternity.”

“Our working-class hearts were ultimately fixed on one thing alone. Sunday held out to us the promise that we might enter our tiny rough-hewn sanctuary and find sanctity and blessing from a week of loss and indignities. Remembering the Sabbath where I grew up involved delighting oneself for a full twenty-four hours, ultimately in good company, with fine clothes and choice meals. The Sabbath allowed us to mend our tattered lives and restore dignity to our souls. We rested by removing ourselves from the mundane sphere of secular toil and giving ourselves over fully to the divine dimensions, where in God’s presence one found ‘rest’ (paradoxically) not in stillness and in repose but in more labor–a different kind of labor, however. We sang, waved, cried, shouted, and when we felt led to do so, danced as a way of restoring dignity to our bodies as well.  We used our bodies to help celebrate God’s gift of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath meant more than withdrawal from labor and activity. It meant to consciously enter into a realm of tranquility and praise.”  

“It was as though time stood still on Sunday. It was a day of magic. Time was different; life was different; the very air we breathed was, it seemed, different on Sunday. We ate together as a family. We went for drives in the country as a family. Husbands and wives called a halt to their bickering on Sunday and spoke in hushed tones in front of children. Even the drunks in the neighborhood quit drinking on Sunday, and the prostitutes were grateful for a day to sleep in.”

“Knowing that the Sabbath was just around the corner made demands upon us and disciplined us in certain directions. The Sabbath demanded that we do better, even if we weren’t intrinsicallyListening for God any better human beings on Sunday than we were on Saturday. It reminded us what we could be. It gave us something to aim for — peace, tranquility, love, Paradise, eternity, a vision of heaven on earth.”

“The Lord’s Day allows us to bring our souls, our emotions, our senses, our vision, and even our bodies back to God so that God might remember our tattered, broken selves and put our priorities back in order. The Sabbath makes sure we have the time to do what’s really important and be with those we really care about.”

“I miss the Sabbath of my childhood. I miss believing in the holiness of time. I miss believing there was a day when time stood still. Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week. . . This is the Sabbath I miss.”

Photo credits: American Baptist College website and Amazon.com. 

Robert’s Rules and God’s Rest

Near the banks of beautiful Lake Junaluska sits a house called “Roberts’ Rules,” built by Rev. Bill Roberts and his wife Lisa. But this is more than just a vacation home. The house is intended for Sabbath use, for the Roberts’ as well as family, friends, or colleagues who need time away.

Three months before the house’s completion in August 2015, Roberts met Blessed Earth Sabbath Program Coordinator Bill Hughes at an event at Duke Divinity School. Hughes shared a copy of 24/6 with Roberts, who devoured it. Its message reaffirmed the importance of Sabbath and confirmed his family’s desire to use the house for Sabbath purposes, not only for themselves, but to bless others as well.

“We accept this house as God’s gift to us, and as with all God’s gifts, it is God’s plan that we share,” said Roberts. “Dr. Sleeth reminds us that generosity and Sabbath go hand in hand.”

Bill and Lisa named the house thinking of all the meetings they have attended at Lake Junaluska Conference Center, following Robert’s Rules of Order. But the Roberts’ primary rule is that the house is intended for Sabbath.

“It reminds us of one of the greatest spiritual truths a Christian can follow—that God, as our designer, knows our need for rest so well that he has commanded us to take Sabbath. It allows us to grow closer to our God as well as care for ourselves.”

Rev. Jonathan Brake, who pastors at Centenary UMC in Winston-Salem, recently spent a night there while attending his daughter’s college freshman orientation. Grateful for the Roberts’ hospitality, Jonathan reRoberts House Picfers to “Roberts’ Rules” as the “Sabbath House.” Having recently suffered a tragic loss in their family, the Brakes hope to find time soon to relax and heal there.

Hospitality, generosity, and Sabbath–the trifecta of God’s shalom. Through the Kingdom hearts and open hands of people like Bill and Lisa, we see a beautiful example of how Roberts’ Rules can order God’s rest!

LEFT: Rev. Roberts and his wife Lisa wrote Scripture passages and meaningful quotes on the walls of their house during construction. 

Sabbath Rest: Setting Your Rhythm

By Cynthia V. Vaughan 

A couple of months ago, I found myself—after twenty years as an ordained clergyperson—on the brink of compassion fatigue, a precursor to burnout.  In addition to the challenges of being a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor in a hospital setting, I was dealing with prolonged grief from multiple major losses; had just become president of the North Carolina Chaplains’ Association; had recently started as Sabbath Chaplain for the Harbor District; was active with the Outreach Committee at the church I attended; and was involved with the World Pilgrims, an Interfaith Coalition group out of Atlanta.  Professionally, I was serving on two national committees with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, and, socially, on the Board of the Cape Fear Jazz Society.  In the midst of all of that, as an African American woman, I was acutely aware of the societal discord raging around racism and sexism.

The annual Carolinas Black Clergy Leadership Event could not have been more timely.   It was a workshop presented by Rev. Dr. Joseph W. Daniels, Jr. entitled, “Setting Your Rhythm.” That got my attention.  Dr. Daniels shared that he served as the District Superintendent in the Greater Washington District in the Baltimore Washington Conference and  the lead pastor of  Emory United Methodist Church in Washington, DC; was a nationally sought after preacher, teacher and speaker; and was a loving husband and father. At some point he realized he had to stop. He wasn’t just burning the candle at both ends: his candle was engulfed in flames!

Dr. Daniels knew a little something about being headed for burnout. One of the many things he did as he began to get the fire under control was he made an intentional commitment to Sabbath rest. He also asked to be released from the DS position so that he might concentrate on fulfilling his call to pastor the Emory Church and to lead them through the construction of a $56 million affordable housing and church renovation project. After a brief conversation with Dr. Daniels at the clergy event, he reached into his briefcase and gave me a copy of his most recent book, The Power of Real: Changing Lives, Changing Churches, Changing Communities.

In the book, Pastor D mentors Joe, a young man who is newly appointed as pastor of a dying church called Church of the Last Chance.  Over many months, Pastor D and Joe talk about praying, fasting, worshiping, studying the Word and assessing the needs of Last Chance Church.  In the following excerpt from The Power of Real, Pastor D introduces Joe to an unexpected spiritual discipline that will change his way of being:

“Sabbath rest.  It is essential that you and your fellow leaders and congregants commit to Sabbath rest. Scripture is clear that God created Sabbath to be a blessing to humankind. In fact, Watchman Née, in his book Sit Walk Stand, reminds us that God worked six days and then rested on the Sabbath, and that God created human beings on the sixth day. Therefore God began with work and rested on the seventh day. Humans, however, began with rest; the first day for human beings was the Sabbath day. God was trying to send a message from the very beginning . . .

“Many people are fractured, broken, and frustrated, and as a result we have fractured broken and frustrated congregations and communities. Thus brokenness can be attributed in part to our lack of discipline around prioritizing Sabbath rest. Simply put, Sabbath is refraining from work or from our normal routine and using that time to rest, reflect, and draw closer to God. Eugene Peterson wrote a book called Working the Angles, and he refers to Sabbath as a day of praying and playing. It is not a day off, but a day to break the normal routine and reconnect ourselves to the God of our lives. Taking Sabbath rest recharges us, replenishes us, refocuses us, and redirects us into God’s intended plans, purposes, and destinies. It allows us to look back at the accomplishments of the last six days and refocus us for what is about to happen in the next six days. Sabbath gives rhythm to life. Without Sabbath, we become lost and burned out.”

In the book, Dr. Daniels shares a lesson he learned with some of his colleagues from a resident rabbi:

“He taught us how the Sabbath is practiced in the Jewish tradition; because we are Judeo-Christian people, Christians should practice it the same way.  He said that the day of Sabbath has various components to it.  There ought to be time for prayer, worship, and study.  Also, time spent with family and friends doing fun things.  There ought to be a lot of eating.  Traditionally, feasts are conducted on Sabbath days.  And obviously there should be time for rest—sleep.  The rabbi also said—he had everybody laughing with this on—that the Sabbath should be a day for sexual intercourse! (Clearly discrimination against single people!)  All the single clergy in the room shouted, ‘Uh-oh!’ and most of the married people in the room had big old smiles on their faces and were laughing like crazy. . . . The Sabbath should be a day when we cease from the normal working routine.  A time where we recharge, refocus, renew, reflect, revisit, review, refresh, and reignite ourselves for the journey ahead–or at least for the next six days until the Sabbath comes again.  As congregations practice this God-given gift of rest, we find our balance and position ourselves to be powerful agents of transformation in the world. . . . We must have Sabbath. Even if we need to start with a few hours a day until we can build up to a whole day, just start! Your life will never be the same again.”

Dr. Daniels goes further to say that there are “distant relatives to Sabbath rest that when exercised properly, can contribute to positive spiritual balance.  These include full vacations, mini vacations, time with family and friends, and a commitment to fitness, physical and emotional.”

After reading this book, I decided to jump-start my Sabbath keeping with a week of Sabbath rest.  I sought to reset my rhythm, regain my spiritual discipline by staying at home praying, reading, reflecting and resting; making phone calls to both my pastor in Atlanta and my spiritual and exercise accountability partners; and setting and keeping appointments with my local therapist and medical doctors.  I was seriously seeking to reset my rhythm; I was way out of sync. With the prayers and words of encouragement from family, friends, my Bible study group and Sabbath Chaplains—praise God!—I’m almost back in sync.  I am aware that I did not lose my rhythm/discipline overnight; it will take more than a week to reset it.  It will take a lifetime to maintain it. But more importantly, I also realized how important Sabbath-keeping should be to everyone, and especially to pastors and others who are set aside to represent God to the masses.  It made me rethink my work as a CPE Supervisor, my ready access to seminary graduates, pastors, and chaplains, and the secondary role I had taken on as part of the staff of the Spiritual Care Department at the hospital.

My colleague at the hospital is a great teacher.  She is creative and easily gets into a zone when she makes a presentation or teaches on skill building, etc.  I tended to defer to her as the educator. During my Sabbath week I re-discovered that I am also gifted in teaching—on spiritual things, a component that is often left out of CPE curricula.  I immediately took the lead on a “Sabbath by the Sea” event we were planning and suggested to my colleague that we be intentional about enhancing our curricula with more spiritual activities in the future.  She readily agreed and suggested I should take the lead in doing those!  How easy was that!  Via my Sabbath keeping experience, my colleague has been relieved of the weight of doing the majority of our teaching sessions and I have regained a valuable part of my love for being a CPE Supervisor!   I can feel the rhythm coming!

In addition to her hospital chaplaincy, Cynthia serves as Sabbath Chaplain for the Harbor District in the North Carolina UMC Conference. She is ordained in the North Georgia Conference of the UMC, appointed to extension ministry in North Carolina as a CPE Supervisor/Chaplain at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.  She attends Wrightsville UMC in Wilmington.

“52 Snow Days … and counting” an article by Rev. Willis Greene

52 Snow Days … and counting*
by Rev. Lara “Willis” Greene
First United Methodist Church, Newton, North Carolina

 

I knew something had changed when I did not completely freak out with excitement when the announcement arrived that school would be closed due to inclement weather – a SNOW DAY!!! Really, who doesn’t love a good snow day? You get to sleep in, binge watch Netflix, eat junk food, read good books, watch movies and most importantly, stay in your pajamas the entire day. A snow day is a day with no responsibilities, no expectations, and nowhere to go. Normally, when a snow day is called, you will find my children and me dancing around the house.  Snow days are the bomb!   So this past January, when the huge snow storm hit North Carolina and the school closing announcement was made, why wasn’t I high-fiving with my teenage son?   What had happened to me? I was not overcome with enthusiasm like I once used to be at the prospect of a day on which I could do totally nothing. What in the world had changed?

It just might have something to do with the fact that over the last year, I have had fifty two snow days. Yes, do the math, that’s one snow day a week. The “call from the school” comes around 9:00pm on Thursday night and while no meteorologists are involved, I know that the weather will begin to clear up on 9:00pm on Friday. I prepare for my snow days by getting the house in order. I finish up the laundry, pay a bill or two and clear off my desk. For the next 24 hours I will not be checking texts or e-mails so I decipher which ones are urgent, reply to them and inform folks not to expect to hear from me again until Saturday. Around 9:00pm I let go. Whether it is all done or not, I simply stop (and yes, there is a part of me that still wants to get “one more thing” done) but I stop, trusting that the world will keep revolving even if I do not get the spatula returned to its’ proper place or the birthday present wrapped or the light bulb changed or the expired coupons cleaned out or whatever it may be that is enticing me to stay busy. I simply stop “doing” all these things because I trust that God will keep the world (including my little corner of it) spinning fine without me – it is this deep trust that turns my snow days into Sabbaths, a twenty four hour period in which I do nothing work related. Let me clarify, Sabbath is not my “day off.” To distinguish the two, I try to follow these four guidelines which I have adopted from the work of Pete Scazzero and his ministry, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

  1. Stop. I cease work – paid and unpaid. Sabbath is first and foremost a day for me to stop. The word itself, Sabbath, comes from the Hebrew word that means “to cease, to stop working.” It has always been difficult for me to stop. Prior to celebrating Sabbath, I was always trying to get the “next thing done” and I would not stop until I got everything done. But the truth is, there is always, always one more thing to “do” so now when I stop on Thursday nights, I do so with the assurance that God will keep the world in order without me. I do not work around the house or catch up on errands, as I do on my day off, I simply stop. It’s actually quite fun when I look at a load of laundry and give myself permission NOT to do it! Saturday will be here in just a few hours and then I can do all the laundry my heart desires (as if my heart desires laundry!)
  2. Rest. So you may be asking, what do you do if you’re not doing laundry and running to the post office? I take a nap, I take long walks, I read a book, I watch a movie. I do anything which is relaxing and releases my mind from work related issues. I know what you’re thinking so let me just state it – what a waste of time, it is completely unproductive and inefficient – yes it is.   But as Catholic theologian, Leonard Doohan, says, “To fail to see the value of simply being with God and doing nothing is to miss the heart of Christianity.” In resting, God reminds me that I am loved regardless of what I achieve and that I am a human being, not a human doing.
  3. Delight. Being relaxed and unhurried, enables me to pay attention to God’samazing gifts and delight in God’s creation. I look at the ordinary things through the lens of delight. I savor my food, smell the grass in the backyard, enjoy the conversation with a good friend and even pay attention to the gift of warm water as I wash my hands.   As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

On Sabbath, I take off my shoes and delight in God’s gifts. My husband also celebrates Sabbath, so together we will ask, “What would bring us delight today?” We’ve answered that question with day trips to fun places, long drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway, eating unhurried meals and other experiences that remind us that God’s world is a playground when we look at it through the lens of delight.

  1. Contemplate. The focus of every Sabbath is to reflect on the love of God. It is during Sabbath that I am acutely aware of God’s presence in all the gifts which are given through God’s creation. I do not necessarily spend any more time in silence, prayer, scripture reading and reflection than I do on the other six days but what I do is deliberately look for God in the people I encounter, the experiences I enjoy and even in the food I eat. I have a heightened awareness of God’s presence in all that I experience. In many ways, contemplation is an extension of delight. I am intentional about looking for God’s love in all of the things that God has given me to enjoy.

I have been practicing Sabbath for a year now and I am still experimenting on how to fully honor and celebrate this spiritual discipline. Protecting the 24 hour period is on ongoing learning process.  For instance, after a long and weighty church meeting on a Thursday evening, I found it impossible to relax on Friday (Sabbath). I learned not to schedule important meetings on Thursday nights. Their proximity to Sabbath had an adverse effect. I’ve also learned that while I delight in other people’s company, if I commit to social engagements on Sabbath, I may be sacrificing my time of rest. In addition, I’ve learned that when a pastoral need arises such as a surgery or a death, I still attend to them on Sabbath but it is not out of a sense of obligation, but rather out of a sense of humble privilege. I have discovered there is no “set” way or “right” way to do Sabbath. I simply try to keep the four principles of stop, rest, delight and contemplation in each weekly celebration. And to my surprise … the lessons learned from Sabbath have now spilled over into the other six days of the week. Most noticeably, I no longer operate at a harried pace. I pay attention to God’s presence as it is revealed in people and creation. I delight in the small things and I am no longer constantly rushing around. And here is the amazing thing … I am more productive in 6 days then I ever was in 7, a result of the rest which God gives me on Sabbath.

No other spiritual discipline has changed my life as significantly as Sabbath. It is more than just a Snow Day.   I could give scriptural reasons for Sabbath (it is the longest and most specific of the 10 Commandments). I could list the physical and emotional benefits of Sabbath but for me, what it boils down to is the issue of trust. I trust that I am cherished by God for who I am, not for what I achieve. I trust that ultimately there is only one God so I have stopped applying for the position and now I simply accept and enjoy the gift of Sabbath … fifty two snow days a year!

*This article was first published on the Western North Carolina United Methodist Conference’s website. It is re-published here with the author’s permission. 

 

 

Deseret News interviews Matthew on the benefits of Sabbath

Deseret News reporter Jennifer Graham recently did an article on the state of Sabbath in the family. Dr. Sleeth was interviewed for the report.

Keeping the Sabbath isn’t optional, at least not in God’s book. But observing the day of rest prescribed in the 10 Commandments can be more difficult for busy families than honoring their parents or not swearing.

“The fact is, everybody’s having trouble with this right now. There are surprisingly few people who are doing it,” said Dr. Matthew Sleeth, the author of “24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier and Happier Life” and a proponent of rigorous Sabbath keeping.

You can read the full article at the Deseret News website.