Sabbath Rest by Elizabeth Hodges
The doctor’s warning still echoes in my mind: “Elizabeth, I can give you medicine, but your body needs rest...an extended period of rest. What are you going to do about it?” After traveling internationally, a parasite’s visit sharply curtailed my ministry responsibilities. Unable to carry out my normal hectic routine, I sought professional help. Born into a ministry family and marrying a pastor means ministry life is all I have ever known. On call 24/7, your body craves seasons of rest. Sundays are often the busiest day of the week. Even as a high school student, the typical Sunday involved teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, and Bible Bowl practice followed by choir practice just before the evening service, with a youth activity afterwards. Youth Bible study was Monday night, visitation Tuesday, prayer meeting Wednesday, and a youth activity Friday or Saturday night. Taking college prep classes demanded hours of homework and paper writing outside of the regular school day.
During college, I carried 15-20 hours per semester and worked as many or more hours each week to pay the bills. As a pastor’s wife and educator, I remember decades of Sundays filled with services, guests for meals, extra church meetings, and choir practices. Though I became more aware of this tension as I aged, I was 63 years old before I reached this dangerous crossroads.
The canon of Scripture begins with the creation story. Genesis 2:2-3 shares the culmination of that incredible week, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” Nestled within these verses we find the timeless principle of Sabbath rest—a crucial life principle that seems so difficult to achieve.
With the doctor’s admonition ringing in my ears, I canceled travel commitments for six weeks, worked shorter hours in the office, and simply rested. It was difficult, but to serve Him most effectively, I had to incorporate Sabbath rest into my schedule and routines. This required being attuned to my body and its need for rest.
God began to orchestrate reminders. I heard Jonny Diaz sing, “Breathe, just breathe; come and rest at my feet and be, just be. Chaos calls, but all you really need is to take it in, fill your lungs, the peace of God that overcomes. Just breathe; let your weary spirit rest; lay down what’s good and find what’s best. Just breathe.” The entire song begs for God to order life, so He alone gets glory. He worked six days and rested. Why did I ever think I could improve on His design? Yet, that is how I lived the majority of my life.
The reminders continued. Rest appeared often in my devotional readings. Several leadership books mentioned rest. Friends mentioned the need for rest in casual conversations. The American lifestyle is fast paced, with overcommitted schedules, incessant deadlines, etc. We are pulled in all directions and unable to balance the plethora of plates we keep spinning. I found myself doing some deep soul searching. Did God want me to do all of these things? Had I assumed responsibilities that really belonged to someone else? Had I been still, so He could speak to my heart? Did I just give Him the leftovers of my allotted time each day? I was reminded I cannot know His heart and will for me if I do not know His Word, and that takes time, energy, and determination.
During this season, I talked with Leanne, a fellow educator. She began describing her life, and I was amazed. Her school year had been crazy, her husband had experienced a cancer scare, and her mother’s death was preceded by months of life-consuming caregiving. To help her husband’s grandson with alcohol issues, he moved into their home, adding another layer of stress. She confessed she was “making it one day at a time by leaning heavily on God” but did not take care of herself. At this point, she realized changes had to occur, and she begged God for help.
She had no idea I had embarked on a similar journey. I shared what God had been teaching me, and we agreed to hold one another accountable, to check in frequently, to ensure we instituted rest into our routines and schedules. Leanne said, “It was incredible you and I were on the same journey. I had not shared where I was with anyone else. I started praying for God to help you, and He keeps reminding me of my own need for rest.”
This was not the first time God made me aware of this important principle, but I did not listen. When my mother’s health broke, her doctor told us her crisis was “50 years in the making, a result of stress.” From that point forward, she suffered with various health issues until her death. After college, our daughter learned to practice Sabbath rest and often reminded me I was not allowing myself to rest. “Mom, you can’t keep this pace.” Sadly, I did not heed the advice, thus my doctor’s warning.
Today in the Word, the daily devotional from Moody Bible Institute, concentrated a recent entry on Hebrews 4:9: “So then, there remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” The devotion began, “Many people joke that they need a vacation after their vacation.” That short reading hit a nerve!
In a world of frenetic activity—multiple jobs, volunteer activities, church work, social media—the idea of rest hardly seems attainable. Yet, Scripture calls us to strive for true spiritual rest in God, anticipating the final rest we eventually will know in Him. Find time to put away distractions today and ask God to help you experience a taste of His promised eternal rest. Remember Diaz’s challenge and “breathe, just breathe.”
The Psalmist David penned these memorable words: “Thou are my God. My times are in thy hand…Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake” (Psalm 31:14-16). As I practice this well known truth, He will enable me to incorporate seasons of Sabbath rest so I can serve Him to the best of my ability. My times are in His hand, and so are yours. It’s time to seek Sabbath rest.
About the Writer: Elizabeth Hodges is director of WNAC, overseeing all ministries and office operations. Elizabeth is a pastor’s wife, a mother and grandmother, WAC leader, and for many years served as educator and school principal. Learn more: www.WNAC.org.