How can keeping a sabbath help avoid burnout? Is it really necessary to keep a sabbath for 24 hours in order to make a true difference?

Lynne Baab spent the last few years in conversations with nearly 150 church-goers. Some perspectives emerged that dispute or challenge some of today’s sabbath keeping myths.

Myth #1

I have to keep a sabbath for 24 hours in order for it to make any difference.

Another view:
Many people find benefit in taking half day sabbaths or even two-hour sabbaths. While many long-time sabbath keepers find it takes 24 hours to come to a place of rest, others enjoy watching for and taking opportunities throughout the week to slow down and listen to God.

Myth #2

I can’t afford the time to give up a whole day of productivity each week.

Another view:
One study indicated that people who worked seven 50-hour weeks got no more done than those who worked seven 40-hour weeks. All the devoted sabbath keepers interviewed agreed. They find they get more done when they keep a sabbath because they feel focused and rested during the work week, even though they may work fewer total hours.

Myth #3

I have to stop all kinds of work and engage in “spiritual” activities in order to benefit from a sabbath.

Another view:
The word “sabbath” means “stop, cease, desist, rest, or pause.” What do you need to cease from? Multitasking? Using your computer or cell phone? Overloading yourself with information? Worrying? Many people simply cease one overused activity on their day of rest.

We stop on the sabbath in order to learn in an experiential way that God is in charge of the universe and we are not. So one of the most important things we can do is to simply stop being productive. We stop on the sabbath in order to make space to listen to God. Sometimes making space involves walking, gardening, laughing with our children, or just sitting and looking out the window.

Myth #4

Older people can relate best to the sabbath. They grew up with it and understand it. Younger people have no interest in something so old fashioned.

Another view:
More than a dozen people in their twenties talked about how precious the sabbath is to them. “We obey the other nine commandments,” several said. “Why not this one?” Twenty-somethings talked about informal gatherings with friends, long walks, cooking wonderful food, and board game extravaganzas as favorite sabbath activities.

Myth #5

The most important way to avoid burnout in congregational volunteers is to thank them enthusiastically for what they have done.

Another view:
The most common burnout-prevention “technique” heard throughout the interviews was keeping a sabbath. The second most common idea for preventing burnout among congregational volunteers was transforming committees into communities and building teams.
In closing, one of the greatest obstacles to sabbath keeping is the notion that we have to do it perfectly in order to gain any benefit. As we experience stress, overwork and overload, the sabbath invites us simply to stop. This invitation can be a great gift.

Lynne M. Baab is a Presbyterian minister who lives in Seattle. Her most recent book, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest, was released in January, 2005. Her 2003 Alban Institute book was Beating Burnout in Congregations.


Featured Resources

AL264_SMBeating Burnout in Congregations by Lynne M. Baab

“I can only shake my head in the face of the irony that all too often the very place where we look for life and health, the very place where we expect to nurture and deepen a loving relationship with God, can cause so many to experience the exact opposite…” So remarks author Lynne Baab in this timely and discerning examination of burnout in congregations.

AL252_SMThe Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self- Care by Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley

The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-Care is an ideal companion for clergy, lay leaders, and others who would like guidance about how to make changes in their personal life and ministry but do not want to read a text-heavy book about self-care. Readers may work through one of the 52 sections each week or adopt a more leisurely pace. The guide includes journal writing suggestions, personal reflection questions and activities, guidance for sharing the discovery process with another person, an activity for the coming week, and suggested further resources, such as novels, videos, and Web sites.