Adventures in Healing and Wholeness #12 – Practicing Sabbath Time

Today, many people suffer from hurry sickness. Their attitude toward time is literally killing them. Many of us multi-task, go from project to project, make ourselves available 24/7, and don’t know how to let go of our tasks when we’re off duty. Hurry, or time sickness, is a matter of attitude; it is also a spiritual issue.

Mark 6:30-46 describes a rhythm of action and contemplation as an antidote to burnout, brown out, and compassion fatigue. The passage contains a strange comment: “For many were coming and going and the disciples had no leisure even to eat.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How often do you eat on the run, or go to a nice bistro for lunch and spend more time on your Blackberry or i-phone than enjoying your repast? How often do you spend your lunch at your desk, between bites, checking your e-mail, glancing at memos, or making calls?

Amid his own busy schedule, dominated by his compassion for persons in pain, Jesus invites his followers to go on a retreat as they sail across the lake. We don’t know how long the retreat lasted, but it was enough to refresh them, as they met the crowds that followed them across the lake. The first thing, Mark notes when he describes Jesus’ return to work is: “Jesus had compassion on them.” Could that simple time apart been an antidote to the weariness, stress, and compassion fatigue that often accompanies faithful and caring ministry? Just today, a pastor wrote me about her compassion fatigue. She is a high-functioning pastor, but now she’s on the verge of burnout. She needs to go away for awhile. She needs Sabbath time to deepen her faith and restore her spirits.

Contemplation and action, Sabbath and hard work, exist in dynamic relationship. Today, most of us struggle to take time for Sabbath. We have trouble getting away from it all to spend time in recreation and rest with family and friends, to study and reflect on important philosophical and spiritual issues, or to take even an afternoon’s retreat. But, such retreat time is essential for our spiritual nourishment. In my own life, I try to take at least two walks each day – these short 45 minute Sabbaths refresh, renew, and revitalize; they inspire me with new ideas and enable me to respond compassionately to the people around me. Time spent in Sabbath comes back to me in greater creativity, inspiration, and compassion. I try to take more extended Sabbaths – an afternoon or a day apart, without internet or working, on a regular basis. On Sundays, I try to study and spend time with my family rather than do business tasks.

The passage ends with Jesus sending his disciples to their next destination, and going away by himself once more for prayer and meditation. Jesus practices what he preaches: he takes time for spiritual refreshment as a prelude for the mission that lies ahead. Martin Luther is reputed to have noted, “I have so much to do today that I need to spend extra time in prayer.”

Today, make a commitment to a few minutes of Sabbath – a time of prayer and meditation, a walk, a conversation with a friend, devotional reading. Time is relative and Sabbath opens us to spacious living, and rest that rejuvenates.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He has taught at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is currently theologian in residence at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His most recent book Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed will be released in May 2011. He can be reached for lectures, seminars, and retreats at

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