How to Prevent Holiday Burn-out Before It Starts

You don't have to stress this season.

BY NANCY SLEETH LIFE November 25, 2016

If your life gets more hectic during the holidays, you’re not alone.

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 85 percent of people report that time pressures increase during the holiday season. In fact, “lack of time” beat money pressures, commercialism, travel, and a host of other factors for the number one spot among holiday stressors. When my husband was a doctor, he’d notice an uptick in Emergency Room visits around Christmastime: the stress, dense foods, and disrupted routines of the season were literally making people sick.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to reduce holiday stress.

It’s been proven effective for over two thousand years. God thinks it’s important enough to make it one of his top ten commands: Sabbath. The word “sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word sabat, which means “to rest or stop or cease from work.”

This Advent, consider giving yourself and those you love a gift: one day each week without shopping malls, deadlines, worry, or guilt. 

Sabbath is a day when we unplug, pause, and reflect. It’s a time to acknowledge that we are not in charge and let God be God. Instead of human doings, we are human beings, loved not for what we achieve or what presents we give or how well we can cook a turkey, but for who we are—beloved children of a generous and comforting Father.

My husband and I have been keeping the Sabbath for fifteen years. Sabbath became our family’s onramp for a counterculture, Jesus-led life.

On Saturdays, the kids got their homework done and we cleaned the house together. On Sunday mornings, we walked to church, came home, ate a simple meal, and then put it in park for the rest of the day. What we quickly found is that we had something none of our friends had: a full day of complete rest. No work. No shopping. No to-do lists. Just time to be together as a family and focus on the relationships that really matter. Paradoxically, we also found that by “giving up” one day to God, we became less stressed and more productive the other six days of the week.

The more drained you feel, the more important it is to recharge. Here are some practical tips to help you and your loved ones implement Sabbath during what can be the most draining season of the year:

Prepare

Because Sabbath is no longer the cultural norm, you have to be very intentional or it won’t happen. Sit down with your family or housemates and develop a Sabbath Plan. Start by determining when you will rest. For most Christians, Sunday is the best day, but health care workers, church leaders, police, and others may have to move their Sabbath to another day. If you need to move your Sabbath, mark it on the calendar several months in advance. Then, figure out what you need to get done in the days preceding Sabbath to truly rest and renew. Answering emails, going grocery shopping, and doing laundry become joyful tasks when they are part of Sabbath prep.

Pray

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, says that there are only two rules for honoring the Sabbath: pray and play. For most Christians, church is a central part of Sabbath. There we can worship corporately, confess our sins, and encourage one another. Reading the bible or an edifying book out loud, spending time outdoors appreciating God’s creation, keeping a gratitude journal, singing the psalms, listening to music—or listening to silence—can also become favorite parts of your Sabbath practices.

Play

Sabbath should also be a time to rest, renew, and reconnect. I recommend using Philippians 4:8 as a guide: engage in whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. In practical terms, this means avoiding “time killers” like TV, computer games, or internet browsing. Many of our friends also avoid listening to the news or engaging in any kind of marketplace. Incorporating simple pleasures like guiltless naps, long walks, and breakfast-traditions with blueberry pancakes and real maple syrup can quickly make Sabbath the highlight of your week.

Partner

Social support is key to maintaining your Sabbath behaviors. Some people pray together by phone every Saturday or Sunday evening, so they can support one another on their Sabbath journey. Others send an encouraging text or email once a week. Still others rely on technology blocks to help them maintain their screen-free Sundays. Seek a friend for encouragement and accountability, so you don’t fall back into the unhealthy—and unholy—habit of being on the go, 24/7.

What do my husband and I do on our Sabbath? We sleep in. We walk. We read the Bible together. We pray. We eat simple, delicious food. We listen to music. We spend time in silence, listening to God’s voice. Often I read aloud a book we both enjoy. Sometimes we leave a candle burning all day to remind us of the light of Jesus. Weather permitting, we spend a large part of our Sabbath enjoying God’s creation.

Eugene Peterson once said that Sabbath is the best gift he ever gave to his marriage, his children, and his relationship with the Lord. This Christmas, give yourself and your loved ones a priceless gift: Sabbath rest.

NANCY SLEETH

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