Creating Sabbath Together

Finding a Rhythm of Rest in Marriage

Part of 3 of in
BY BEVERLY CHEN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EUNICE HO
Oct 01, 2015 | min read
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I SCRUTINIZED THE FAMILIAR SCENE before me in the living room and felt a flash of annoyance. It was a November post-church Sunday afternoon, which only meant one thing: football.

My husband, Chandra, was settled comfortably on the couch, wearing his Green Bay Packers shirt. His rapt attention to the TV screen and spirited responses to game commentators made it clear he was completely absorbed in the game. Meanwhile, I was mentally running through the long list of things to get done — errands to run, chores to finish, and emails to answer. “This is a ridiculous way to spend Sunday,” I grumbled to myself. “What a waste of three hours.” The game continued, and I grew increasingly irritated. Focusing on accomplishing tasks became my silent protest. “At least one of us is doing something constructive!” I thought as I prepared sandwiches for lunch.

What was supposed to be a day of rest and renewal somehow turned into an unspoken battle. The louder Chandra played the football game, the noisier I clanked the dirty dishes. The more enthusiastically he interacted with the game, the longer I let the sink faucet run. And on it went.

At the end of the day, we were remorseful for our actions and admitted that neither of us had observed true rest. We apologized for our sniping comments and bad attitudes, but I still felt restless. I was frustrated that this was yet another Sunday that passed without quality time with Chandra or God. I was unsettled by our inability to observe Sabbath together.

How could we sync our patterns when our notions of rest looked so different?

It’s already challenging enough to slow down and rest as an individual. It’s even harder when you’re married and there’s another person to consider, since Sabbath becomes a shared time. Even after being married for nearly four years, we are still learning how to spend Sabbath together.

DISCOVERING OUR RHYTHM TOGETHER

As wonderful as marriage is, it is also a great disruption to one’s former way of life. One of the first things I recognized was that I could no longer experience Sabbath the same way I had as a single person. When I was single, Sabbath rest was like going on long dates with God. I hadn’t always seen it like this — I began to seek out a deeper meaning of Sabbath while I was going through a spiritual dry season as a single person. Practicing silence and solitude became central to how I observed Sabbath.

When I was single, Sabbath rest was like going on long dates with God.

Gradually, Sabbath became an invitation to settle my whole being into God’s love and to experience greater intimacy. Some of my most cherished Saturdays involved spending a whole day in the Los Angeles Arboretum by myself. I would go with no expectations or set schedule. The only thing on my agenda was to simply listen to my heart. I gave myself full permission to do whatever my heart and soul needed most in order to fully rest.

Adjusting to another person in my life disrupted this rhythm. And connecting another person to my Sabbath time proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated.

Creating Sabbath Together

Our family upbringings played a major role in the different ways we approached Sundays. Although I grew up attending a first-generation Chinese church, I never heard any sermons about Sabbath. Sundays felt more like a time to serve than a day of worship and rest. I was raised observing a “proper” time for work and rest. My mother was very clear about priorities and never wasted a single minute. This model led me to believe that I could only enjoy leisure and recreation after a solid day of hard work.

I was raised observing a “proper” time for work and rest.

On the other hand, Chandra grew up in a Hindu family that didn’t observe any “church going” habits until he met Christ as a young adult. Raised in Wisconsin, Sundays meant football and fun for him. I quickly noticed that Chandra didn’t have set times of rest. It puzzled me to see a college professor take breaks during the work week even when he had an upcoming writing deadline. I couldn’t understand how he could find time to play “Words with Friends” or enjoy a game of tennis when there was still unfinished work to do. He explained to me that having margins in his day is a way of survival. To my disbelief, he even said that when he appeared to be vegging out, he was actually outlining ideas in his mind.

Initially, I had my own notions of how Chandra ought to manage his time better. But I couldn’t negate Chandra’s ability to produce quality work and complete tasks in a timely manner. He simply had a different rhythm than me. Over time, we’ve learned to accept our different approaches to the work-rest balance and to give each other space to work with our different methods.

We’ve learned to accept our different approaches to the work-rest balance and to give each other space to work with our different methods.

At a certain point, we began to have conversations about what constitutes an ideal Sabbath day. This required acknowledging and accepting that we have different ways of resting. I prefer to have some period of solitude, to be in nature, to explore new places, and to reflect and write. Chandra’s list includes fellowship with others around food, watching a sporting event, playing tennis, or watching a good movie.

Slowly but surely, we are finding ways to share certain Sabbath experiences we both can enjoy, while also giving each other leeway to do what nurtures us individually. I try to allow Chandra to spend his leisure time as he chooses, while I retreat to quiet places where I can enjoy solitude without distractions.

On top of that, we intentionally find time to observe Sabbath together in order to connect with one another and with God. We are discovering that going for long walks along the beach helps us to slow down, reflect, and dream together — ultimately deepening our bond. We also find that Sabbath can be a good day for us to set apart extended time to pray for our loved ones. We’ve really appreciated the prayer book “Common Prayer — A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals”, which has allowed us to mutually participate in praying for the global church.

We intentionally find time to observe Sabbath together in order to connect with one another and with God.
Creating Sabbath Together

THE BENEFITS OF SABBATH AS A COUPLE

In spite of our differing preferences regarding how to practice Sabbath, Chandra and I agree that it is vital to rest from work and create time for reflection and prayer. We both recognize that the demands of our work and the allure of careerism can leave us dry and more estranged from one another. As a therapist, my capacity to listen and provide emotional support quickly diminishes if I don’t deliberately choose to rest and return to God. Committing to purposely observe Sabbath together keeps us accountable when times get busier. My whole perspective improves when I am internally rested; Chandra observes I am happier and describes me as having my “Tigger bounce” back.

It is vital to rest from work and create time for reflection and prayer.

Observing Sabbath reminds us that our true identity — individually and as a married couple — lies in the truth that we are God’s beloved. This truth calls for us to reorient our priorities to where God is at the top. Our bond does not come from our busyness, our need for control, or even from the Packers! Sabbath provides the space to reaffirm our commitment to Christ, which accordingly nurtures our bond.

Learning to spend Sabbath together on the weekends has also challenged me to examine my daily rhythm of work and rest. Chandra has encouraged me to cultivate margin time in my work day; instead of moving from one task to another without pausing in between, I give myself permission to take breaks. This new rhythm has improved the pacing of my work schedule with clients.

Finding a shared rhythm is an ongoing process. I wish I could say we are cruising on autopilot now, but the reality is we’re still learning how to be flexible and extend grace to each other as we continue to adjust to various demands. Syncing our rhythm can feel more like being between gears before we adjust into the right gear.

But one thing I know is that my narrative of Sabbath is broadening. I am learning to embrace Sabbath as an opportunity to welcome my husband into a growing intimacy with God. Sabbath is now an invitation to experience a wider connection with God and my husband.

Sabbath is now an invitation to experience a wider connection with God and my husband.
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Beverly Chen

Beverly Chen, LCSW is a psychotherapist and spiritual director at a private practice in Santa Barbara, CA. Her passions include teaching and spiritual formation among young adults. She is married to Chandra Mallampalli, a history professor at Westmont College.

Eunice Ho

Eunice Ho is an ethnic studies graduate from the University of California, San Diego, and is passionate about empowering people to fearlessly engage in social justice issues. She hopes to become a teacher one day. In her leisure time she enjoys reading, rock climbing, and petting dogs.

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