At the point in ministry where I googled “burnout,” Kyle and I were not taking weekly time to rest. For years, we consistently rejected God’s invitation to put work and ministry aside, slow down, and receive refreshment. It’s no wonder we were falling apart. When I look back at this time, I’m mortified at our pride in believing we could color outside God’s lines without consequence.
And yet, so many pastors and pastors’ wives I speak with think they are the exception to the rule when it comes to Sabbath rest. They feel guilty for taking time off, doing something fun, not answering the phone, taking a nap, or going on vacation. Some don’t even entertain the idea of time off because they feel (or perhaps want to believe?) they’re essential or irreplaceable within their church. Some don’t want to face imagined criticism from their congregants. Some wives are waiting for their husbands to take the lead in this area, and some husbands are being pushed by their wives to work harder or to “fix” the problems she sees in the church.
But what does God say? He doesn’t simply invite us to rest; he commands it. He indicates that life and ministry will go better for us and be more fruitful if we stop work and rest at regular, consistent intervals. There must be no guilt in obeying what God has commanded; guilt only indicates a false belief or idol. And even if someone in the church doesn’t fully understand, the example of saying no and observing a Sabbath rest is in itself a powerful sermon about first allegiance and being a biblical and healthy disciple of Jesus.
How we choose rest
I’ll share with you what we do to receive God’s gracious gift of Sabbath rest, but it is in no way prescriptive. The way we rest has shifted according to our season of life, our children’s ages, and our work. We’ve experimented with Kyle taking different days of the week off and with what we do on those days until we’ve found a rhythm that works for us. Currently, we have three boys in school, so Kyle takes Fridays off. Fridays are sacred days in our home. He and I don’t do household chores, check email, answer our phones (although Kyle does check his caller ID, in case it’s an emergency), or cook. Instead, we often go out for breakfast, take a long walk together, read, and nap. Sometimes we drive to a nearby town and window shop or play tennis in our neighborhood.
When our children were younger, we’d switch off doing activities to recharge as individuals. He would take the kids for a long walk, giving me time in the house by myself, or I’d keep the kids at home while he’d go to a coffee shop to read a book unrelated to work. We’d also save up our credit card points so that once a year or so we could send each other off to the nearest big city for a stay in a hotel and a personal retreat.
It’s far more important, however, for you to consider how you rest or Sabbath than it is to consider how we do it. Your husband may be reluctant to take a day off because of the pressure he feels. How can you encourage him and help him rest?
When we first started making rhythm adjustments in our marriage and family, adding in Sabbath rest was the most uncomfortable change, because it meant letting work and ministry sit unfinished. That’s hard to do when you’ve been running at full speed for years. Common sense pushes us to finish the work and then rest, but in ministry, the work is never finished. We have to purposefully set it aside.
In addition to discomfort, I personally felt guilty on our Sabbath day. When I considered why, I recognized that I tend to idolize productivity and performance. These things aren’t bad, but when I take them to the extreme, I am acting from a belief that I know what I need better than God does. I act outside God-designed limits and set myself up for consequences later.
As Sabbath rest has become normal in our life, Friday has become our favorite day of the week. The Lord renews us, and we can see how God’s provision of rest has enabled us to endure and persevere in ministry. I no longer wonder if we’re going to make it in marriage and ministry, because we’ve carved out space to connect with God and one another.
Friend, are you receiving the care of the Lord through Sabbath rest? It is absolutely one of the best gifts he gives.
This article is an excerpt from Hoover’s new book, “How to Thrive as a Pastor’s Wife,” from Baker Books.