By Justin Soong

Finding Freedom Through Sabbath

When I was in high school I went to Taiwan on a mission trip. My home church in Fremont, CA had been planted years ago by Taiwanese immigrants and now, we were helping plant a small church in Taiwan.

My role was simple: I was to spend one week teaching elementary school children English, generally taking care of them, and also helping with their high school ministry.

One day my father asked me to give a little speech. All I had to do was stand in front of the youth group and tell them a little about my life as an American student. I don't quite remember every detail I relayed to them, but this was the basic gist:

“Every day I wake up, go to school, go to sports practice, go home, study like crazy, conk out at 2 or 3AM, rinse, and repeat.”

I honestly thought nothing of my daily routine at the time, but looking back on it, the reaction of the students was an awkward mix of shock and pity for the American student who sorely needed a hobby.

Now to be fair, Taiwanese schools aren't exactly known for being laid back either, but as I reflect on this years later, I'm beginning to understand why they responded the way they did. What I described to them was the life of someone who was entirely defined by his work. Granted, I gave only a vague overview of my life which lacked the nuances of my personality and interests, but I shared only the things I felt at the time to be truly relevant: being productive.

An Exhausted State of Mind

That was my mind state at the time, but I'm probably not alone in this. Most of us knows someone (or is someone) who works or studies five days a week and then utilizes the weekend for catching up on projects and chores. Our culture moves so fast and we've got to move faster to keep up with it. We may not be constantly working, but we are doomed if we're not constantly moving.

Now that I am a college student at San Francisco State University, different things have taken center stage of my life. Besides school, I'm also a graphic design major—both demand much of my time as well as the world of freelance and internships. I've also become a Bible study leader at my InterVarsity chapter and have a small community I feel responsible for growing, serving, and counseling.

Although I'm passionate about the work I do, I began to realize that something was wrong. I began experience cycles of burnout, depression, and generally wondering why I'm putting myself through it all. I began to feel like I was only valued for the work I did for my InterVarsity chapter and in my heart I began to resent other people, especially those I was supposed to be serving.

A few months ago, I looked at myself in a mirror on a plane ride—to yet another internship—and barely recognized my own face. I looked exhausted physically, burnt-out spiritually, and a few prior anxiety attacks had begun to take their toll on me emotionally.

Honestly, I didn't like what I saw.

A Life of Joy and Peace

The Bible tells us that serving the Lord can be hectic yes, but it's to be characterized by joy and peace. I realized that I wasn't honoring God by being a workaholic and I certainly wasn't doing myself any favors. It took a whole lot to get me to the point where I began to look to God for a change.

I'll admit that I've never been a fan of rituals, since I feared it would make me feel trapped. But the more I've examined the path I've been on, the more I realize how difficult it is to belong to God when in reality I belong more to my school work, my job, my community, and so on. While the concept of ceasing work for the Sabbath seems incredibly counterintuitive to me, I realized it was time to put down my excuses and actually try taking a Sabbath. 

Bit by bit, I'm finding that instead of being trapped by rules, I feel a sense of freedom when I stop the endless toil of everyday life, for the sake of reaffirming that I belong to God first. 

Some Helpful Tips for Taking a Sabbath:

  • Write out your weekly schedule and sit down with an older mentor who will help you identify where in your week you can set aside a full 24 hours for a Sabbath.
  • Ask your mentor to keep you accountable (in taking your Sabbath)
  • Think about what kind of activities revitalize and revive you? What brings you rest?
  • On your Sabbath, forget your ‘to-do lists’.
  • Here are some ideas of what kind of activities other people do on their Sabbath (pick one or two):
    • Go on a hike, go see a movie, read, take a nap, go on a road trip, workout, go out to lunch, spend time journaling, playing a musical instrument, listening to music, spend quality time with God/friends, go on an adventure, go to farmers market, take another nap, go swimming, paint, go skateboarding, go to a coffee shop, go rock climbing, kayaking, volleyball, baking, cooking, bowling, eat again, etc.
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