#LentTogether: Practicing Sabbath as a Lenten Discipline

#LentTogether: Practicing Sabbath as a Lenten Discipline

Lent Together Al and Ellen Hsu

Guest Post by Al and Ellen Hsu for the #LentTogether Blog Series on Behind the Books

Lent is a season of recalibrating. It can be a time of giving up things that we need to withdraw from, and of taking on practices that help us realign with God. One of the spiritual disciplines that has been meaningful for us is the practice of sabbath.

Thirteen years ago, our family joined a new church plant. We met on Saturday evenings because we rented space in another church’s building, and the building wasn’t available on Sundays. So we meet at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, starting each service with the Phos Hilaron, a vespers evening prayer.

Having worship on Saturday evening is kind of like a Jewish rhythm of sabbath starting at sundown and lasting through the next day. Our church didn’t originally plan it this way, but an unintended consequence of this schedule is that our Sundays have been completely freed up to practice sabbath. We no longer had to rush to get the kids out the door to church on Sunday mornings. Now we could sleep in (as long as the kids would let us), take our time getting ready, maybe make pancakes and have a leisurely breakfast. It became an opportunity to read, rest, and spend time together as a family.

Our church says: “We begin our Sabbath with Saturday evening worship and are finding a rhythm of work and rest that is restorative to our souls. We are calling one another to radically resist the hurry and busyness of our culture.” We appreciate that this is built into our church culture, and that it’s a countercultural posture to our busy suburban context. Our church intentionally does not schedule any meetings for Sundays. The only Sunday gatherings we have are occasional activities that build community, like morning prayer breakfasts in a park or book discussion groups. We’ll have dinner with friends after Saturday church, or we’ll get together with folks on Sundays for brunch.

At first it felt weird to have nothing to do on Sunday mornings. If we went to Target on a Sunday morning, we’d mentally defend ourselves to others, thinking, “We went to church last night, really! We’re not pagans!” So we avoided shopping and consuming on Sunday as part of our sabbath rhythm. We’ve noticed over the years that we don’t need to be legalistic about this; we’ve naturally done less shopping on Sundays anyway because it gets in the way of our rest.

We also don’t check work email on the sabbath, and we do chores like cleaning and laundry on Saturdays rather than Sundays. There were some seasons during Al’s PhD program when he’d have to do research and write on Sundays, but the overall sabbath rhythm created space for that. We also have date nights once or twice a month on Sunday evenings, which avoids the crowdedness of Friday nights. Those times allow us to reconnect and reflect over dinner together, and to anticipate the week ahead.

We have two sons, and we try to be intentional about spending sabbaths together as a family. We decided when our kids were young to not have any extracurricular activities or sports on Sundays that might make us feel overscheduled or frazzled. Instead we got in the habit of being together at home most of the time in ways that we find relaxing or restorative, whether reading, drawing, or playing board games. In warmer weather, we might go for walks at local parks or forest preserves. They are now a tween and teen, and Sundays are still mostly quiet and restful.

Now that we’re in midlife, we find sabbaths all the more important. We need the space each week to take a breath, clear the decks, and recalibrate. We’re grateful that our church has helped us learn the rhythm of sabbath, and we commend it to you this Lenten season.

Recommended Reading

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison WarrenLiturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren is a great book to read during Lent as you wish to become aware of God’s presence in your ordinary life and routine. Drawing from her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship. These are her words in the book about Sabbath:

“When we practice the Sabbath, we not only look back to God’s rest after his work of creation but we look forward to the rest ahead, to the Sabbath to come when God will finish his work of re-creation. We recall together that we are waiting for the end of the story, for all things to be made new.”

About the Authors

Hsu Family
The Hsu family from left to right: Al, Josiah, Elijah, and Ellen

Al Hsu is senior editor for InterVarsity Press, and Ellen Hsu is IVP’s senior rights and contracts manager. They met in college in Minnesota, have been married for twenty years, and have been at IVP for twenty-three and twenty years respectively.



2 Replies to “#LentTogether: Practicing Sabbath as a Lenten Discipline”

  1. Your thoughts on Sabbath practices are so freeing and helpful. I loved reading Liturgy of the Ordinary, and seeing in here reminds me that it would be good to bring it out again for Lenten reading!

  2. Al and Ellen, your comments are so helpful. Thanks for such helpful examples of sabbath. I just finished Liturgy of the Ordinary. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 50 years since Brother Lawrence’s, The Practice of the Presence of God, had a significant impact on me. Liturgy of the Ordinary is just as powerful. I’m thankful for daily changes I’m already seeing from Tish’s suggestions.