This year, we have all experienced grief in a new, confusing and prolonged way.
We have collectively realized grief does not operate on our timeline, and we are exhausted. We are tired of lamenting, tired of mourning, tired of sitting in brokenness.
But even though we long for an end to the hard, slogging walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we are still here, and the losses continue to pile up.
Social injustices, natural disasters and a turbulent election have compounded the tragedy of this year and have worn our spirits raw over and over again.
Even if we have remained relatively unscathed within our own personal bubbles, the biblical exhortation to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) calls us to take on the suffering of others as our own.
Grief – communal grief, especially – is not for the faint of heart.
So where might we find respite from the seemingly never-ending onslaught of loss?
Where do we make room for celebration – as much a spiritual discipline as lament – while still being honest about our reality, sensitive to those who are not ready to celebrate and true to the path of grief we are still walking?
Sabbath may be the oasis of celebration that awaits us in the vast expanse of this desert of grief.
So much more than just a day off or a chunk of unplanned time, Sabbath is a formative reorienting of ourselves to God and to one another. It is an exercise in not only counting our blessings but allowing ourselves to enjoy them.
We take time to intentionally center and revel in the good gifts we’ve been given: communion with God, connection with loved ones, the comfort and joy of delicious food, the restorative power of nature, the healing bliss of extra sleep.
We give thanks for these things, but we don’t stop there; we don’t leave goodness at arm’s length and admire it objectively. When we practice Sabbath, we immerse ourselves in goodness and claim it as our own.
In a conversation with The Barna Group about mental and emotional health in times of crisis, Pete Scazzero suggests that rhythms such as Sabbath help us process grief.
They create limitations that allow for defined space. “You need time to grieve, you need time to listen to God, you need time to feel, you need time to have fun,” he said.
This idea is reminiscent of Ecclesiastes 3, which reminds us that being human is a complex experience. Sometimes, we must draw boundaries that allow us to see the parts of ourselves that have been clouded by the chaotic swirl of crisis.
In this way, Sabbath offers us a glimpse of clarity. It does not draw lines that magically exclude grief from our existence or block tragedy from our view, but it sheds light on the also.
We are reminded that amid the grief, there is also celebration. Amid the chaos, there is also peace. Amid the exhaustion, there is also rest. Amid the mourning, there is also rejoicing.
Make no mistake, though: Sabbath is not just a fancy term for finding simple joys and setting boundaries.
In a beautiful reflection, Michaele Lavigne recognizes Sabbath as a subversive theological act, a willful denial of the powers of the world. It is a refusal to live according to the myth that we must keep producing because the world – or at least our corner of it – depends on us.
In practicing Sabbath, we acknowledge our limited humanity by stopping, and we remember that there is more than this, more than us. In holy defiance of the gods of busyness and scarcity, we step into the freedom of Christ’s abundance.
I wonder if the church might take this “opportunity” (a much more positive word than seems fitting for a pandemic) to embody what it means to live a life of Sabbath – a life of meaningful intention focused on communion with God and others, and celebration of good even amid disaster.
Could we rethink our metrics of success and model Sabbath-minded patterns that prioritize delighting in good gifts, honoring boundaries and resisting the empires of habitual busyness and more-is-better mindsets?
Admittedly, this is no small task.
In sharing his personal experience, Christopher Wilson acknowledged the difficulty of creating space for Sabbath and offers the guiding reminder that “the rhythm of [our] life before the pandemic may not be the rhythm [we] want to return to when the pandemic is over.”
What if the church led the way in a drastic shift toward Sabbath living stretching even beyond the pandemic?
Would we be more effective in helping others hold grief and celebration together, as Sabbath continually points us to the God who is present in both?
In Sabbath, we celebrate goodness. We celebrate God’s provision. We celebrate our dependence on someone bigger than us.
These celebrations might not take the form we once would have expected – no rousing church services filled with shouting and singing, no parties packed to overflowing with all the ones we hold dear, no carefree festivities in which the only thing on our mind is the joyful occasion at hand.
Every celebration is bittersweet and tinged with heaviness these days, and for that, along with so much else, we grieve.
But Sabbath reminds us there is more than grief. There is still goodness. There is still hope.
In Sabbath, we claim the goodness and hope of Christ, and we celebrate.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit their article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.