← back to list

Sabbath Rest in the Midst of a Pandemic

Posted by Deborah Woo on


My small group kicked off 2020 by reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. It was a challenging but welcome push for our group of mostly 30-somethings to consider how our pace of life might be impacting our emotional and spiritual health.

One of the chapters we were all a bit anxious to read was about the concept of Sabbath. The idea of taking a day every week to, as Comer writes, “stop working, stop wanting, stop worrying” sounded daunting to most of us. So, to make it a little more accessible, our small group leader proposed the idea of a group Sabbath. We would all set aside the same 24 hours to experiment with a Sabbath and check in with each other at the beginning and end of it.

When the Shelter-in-Place order was first announced on March 16, we decided to continue on with our planned Sabbath that coming weekend. At that point, we were intrigued enough to try to engage with a day set apart “for nothing but rest and worship,” as Comer described.

Our Sabbath ran from Friday, at 7pm, to Saturday, at 7pm. Some of us put our phones and devices on a shelf for the whole time. A lot of us read more than we have in a while. People sat on their porches, in their hammocks, or in their yards. People had long conversations with friends, or quiet time in prayer. Some people napped. I tried my hand at some coloring and puzzles.

Image courtesy of Deborah Woo

When we came back together to talk about how things went, responses were overwhelmingly positive. In a week where we all had worked from home and been largely in isolation from people, there was still something beautiful and needed found in intentional silence and solitude with God. Many of us were surprised that it was actually easier than we thought, and mused about how helpful this pause would probably be in ‘normal life’.

I remember being most surprised that, when I put my phone away as Sabbath started, there was a feeling of relief. Especially in that first week of Shelter-in-Place, I was attuned to every single alert from my phone, wondering what the latest news and statistics were, wondering how restrictions were evolving, worried about being notified that someone I know has the disease. I expected to be anxious to be cut off from the news or from the outside world, since I hadn’t necessarily warned people I wouldn’t be reachable. But instead, I felt excited to just press ‘pause’ on being inundated with it all.

I could see how helpful that will be in ‘normal’ life, where the constant pinging of emails and doorbell alerts holds me captive to the demands of my phone. The idea of having a day each week that I can be free of the relentless pulls on my attention is a welcome invitation.

I’m not sure how long this pandemic will last, but for now I am trying to keep up a Sabbath—to build a habit of setting aside regular time and mental space. I’m making space for less screen time and more games, more reading, more silence, more slowing down. For less doing and more tuning in to what God might be saying. Each week I feel a stirring of anticipation and invitation as I set aside my phone and grab a pile of books or a puzzle.

Image courtesy of Deborah Woo

In the past I’ve written about hiking as a Sabbath practice, and I do long for the days where I can connect with God in nature and not be worried about over-crowded trails. But I’m thankful I’ve been pushed to think about Sabbath more holistically and to set aside not just a few hours, but a whole day.

I’m also grateful for an emerging picture of what it could look like not just to take Sabbath alone, but what those rhythms might be in the future with a family.

Image courtesy of Deborah Woo 


Deborah Woo has been attending The River since 2014. She is a Bay Area native who grew up attending First Covenant Church Oakland and loves watching The River get integrated into the Evangelical Covenant denomination. With a bachelor's in psychology from Azusa Pacific University and master's in organizational leadership from Northeastern University, she essentially loves figuring out what makes people tick and how to bring out the best in them. She joined The River staff team in 2016 and enjoys using her administrative gifts to help our growing community! Deborah's favorite thing about The River is that it's a place where people are honest about the nonlinear nature of their faith journeys and the invitation for people from a variety of backgrounds to learn alongside and from one another in pursuit of the heart of Jesus.


to leave comment