The Practice of Sabbath: Soul Care vs. Self-care

In Part 1 of my posts on Sabbath, we talked about the gift of a Sabbath, how it is not an obligation to keep, but a gift to enjoy. We defined Sabbath as simply a rest from work, and for Christians, it is also a time for worship.

As a psychologist and professor, I talk a lot about self-care. I encourage my psychology students to practice self-care. I make self-care a treatment goal for almost every therapy client. To manage stress, I practice self-care in my own life as I balance my roles as a professor, wife, and new mom. Self-care was heavily emphasized in my training as a psychologist, to avoid burn-out from working with clients.

But how is self-care different than soul care? Is practicing the Sabbath simply a way of engaging in self-care?

Proponents of self-care typically encourage health behaviors like exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Hobbies like sports, gardening, or reading, and forms of relaxation such as taking a bath or getting a manicure are common types of self-care. Some people might also include social interaction as self-care, like meeting a friend for coffee or planning a night out with their spouse.

I believe soul care is different. Self-care is usually focused on the external, superficial forms of relaxation, and connection with others. Soul care is focused on internal forms of rest and stillness so you can connect with yourself and with God.

Soul care is focused on internal forms of rest and stillness so you can connect with yourself and with God.

Now for some people, the ways you connect with yourself and with God might be similar to self-care. Yoga, journaling, or hiking, for example, may help you relax, and connect you to your spirituality. There is also nothing wrong with relaxation. I enjoy reading a novel, taking a bath, and getting a massage to de-stress.

But I can’t say that those activities “create space for my soul to breathe”.

We recently began implementing a practice of Sabbath in our house. We chose Sunday as our day of rest. My advice last week was to “start where you are”, and true to this adage, we are starting with a half-day of rest from work and chores.

Right now, our Sabbath starts with going to church, then turning off the TV and setting aside my phone. Instead, we choose to take walks, nap, play with our daughter, read a devotional, and pray together.

Last week, I encouraged you to practice Sabbath regardless of your age, stage in life, personality, or socioeconomic status. In my family with both my husband and I working full-time, and having a young baby, it is challenging to commit to this day of rest. But we make it work.

We sacrifice to practice Sabbath.

I can’t take a day off from the demands of parenting and caring for a young child, but I do take a day off from labor-intensive housework. We plan ahead, to make sure grocery shopping is done, e-mails are answered, and the laundry is folded and put away.

Sabbath is not a list of rules or do’s and don’ts. I still wash a few dishes, cook an easy dinner for my family, and call relatives. So far, I am enjoying the rest this time provides me, and the engagement with my spirituality and my family.

Here are some other suggestions for practicing a Sabbath. Many of these came from Bridgetown Church’s podcast sermon series on Sabbath (link in the resources below). Remember, that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to practice a Sabbath, as long as you are resting from work and caring for your soul.

  • Start with what time you have, and eventually work up to a full day of rest.
  • Turn off all electronics, including your Smartphone, e-mail, and texting. (I haven’t tried a full day yet!)
  • As in the ancient Jewish tradition, take the day off from selling or buying. Make it a “no spend” day. Or perhaps start with only buying from small, local businesses on your Sabbath.
  • You might combine Sabbath with concerted care for the environment, such as reducing your waste, eating meat-free, or only eating locally-grown, organic foods. (This is also not something we currently do, but it’s an idea for the future.)

What are some way you practice Sabbath? Or if you don’t currently have this practice, what are some ways you define “soul care”?


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