“What are you doing for Sabbath rest?” my sister-in-law asked me. After sharing how overwhelmed I felt in this season of raising young children, I laughed. “Sabbath? I don’t have time for a Sabbath!” I replied.
A few minutes later, she told me to open my phone to a Venn diagram. With a few strokes of a pen, she had mapped out all my major commitments, how they overlapped, and the deeper heart issues they revealed. Although I didn’t ask her to, she took the liberty to itemize my life and point out, in love, that I was overcommitted, striving, and needed rest.
Over the course of several days, conversations, and prayer, I realized I needed a new definition of rest. I didn’t just need the kind of rest where I kick my feet up, I needed the deep soul rest that comes from dependence on Christ and is commanded by God: Sabbath rest. Out of his goodness and mercy, God rested from his work on the seventh day of creation (Gen. 2:15), setting a pattern for his creatures to follow.
I realized I needed a new definition of rest.
The Sabbath is an essential break from our normal work. More importantly, though, it’s a spiritual rest; we remember that as God’s people, we are to be like him, set apart and made holy in Christ. When we rest, we imitate God. We remember the Lord of our salvation and focus our delight and joy in him and his accomplished work, not our own.
Discipline in Gospel Trust
I’ll rest after I get a little more done, I say to myself while washing dishes, doing laundry, and paying bills. We often feel better resting when we know dinner is in the crockpot and the toys are picked up. Sunday may be a day of rest, we think, but I’ll rest when I’m done with all this.
This faulty line of thinking is rooted in a deeper belief that the success of life and motherhood depends on ourselves. We’re not just working on a completed to-do list; we’re working on achieving “good mom” status. We’re afraid to rest, because we don’t trust God to rule over our world—or at least, do it the way we would.
Yet, in Christ, our striving for “good mom” status was nailed to the cross. When Jesus defeated death, he deemed us righteous, loved, and accepted. It’s because of Christ’s actions—not ours—that we find our rest in the Lord, rather than in a completed to-do list.
In Christ, our striving for ‘good mom’ status was nailed to the cross.
There will always be unfinished tasks in the home, but taking time for Sabbath is a necessary discipline in gospel trust as we outwardly embody our inward reliance on Christ. It’s not something we’ll get to “later”—that day, or in a few years when the kids are older. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that only God holds the world together, even when we stop.
Working Hands, Resting Heart
For many of us, once we choose to prioritize a Sabbath, our natural tendency is to define it by our rules: No computer, no paying bills, no errands. Go on a walk, take a nap, read a book. But what happens when the baby gets sick, or the naptime revolt begins, or we hear about a neighbor who needs help? What happens to Sabbath rest when the work of life gets in the way?
When it comes to the Sabbath, there’s a Pharisee lurking in us all. Just like the self-righteous people of Jesus’s day, we want to focus on legislation. But Christ shows us a better way. In the Gospels, Jesus makes clear our highest priority should be to love God and neighbor, even on the Jewish Sabbath. When the Pharisees called Jesus out on the Sabbath for plucking grain from the field and for healing a withered man’s hand, he responded, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 12:7), and just a few verses later, “Do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12).
The essence of Sabbath rest isn’t found in the terms of our do-and-don’t lists. Instead, we remember weekly that our God is holy, and as his people, we are to be the same. When we Sabbath with this in mind, our hands may “do good” while our hearts continue to rest in the good news of the gospel.
That means sometimes the Sabbath looks like momma getting a nap, and sometimes it looks like washing soiled sheets. Sometimes it looks like reading a book, and sometimes it looks like bringing a meal to someone at church. When Jesus is our rest, it can be a day of showing mercy and love, being in the mess, making sacrifices, and being content with the inefficiencies of young children. It can be a day of high cost to ourselves, in order to show Jesus to others.
That’s because our weekly rest isn’t about tightly-kept boundaries, it’s about delighting and finding our joy in the Lord. As we spend our Sundays going to church with our fellow saints, taking time for personal Bible reading and study, or heading outdoors for a prayer walk, we deepen our dependence on Christ. As mothers, we can bring our children alongside us—telling them Bible stories, practicing Scripture memory, or bringing them with us as we visit the sick and needy—to teach them the regular rhythms of a believer and reveal a mother wholly reliant on God, not her own efforts.
Live Like His Word Is True
I often think back to that Venn diagram of my life. Since then, some circles have shifted, new ones have been added, and others have disappeared entirely. It’s a reminder that life is always changing, but our God is not. Christ came and completed all the necessary work for us. It is finished.
It’s possible to make Sundays a day of rest, even in the season of young children. If you’re working with no rest, stop and repent. Believe God is who he says he is. Live like Jesus’s words are really true, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).