Summer as Sabbath

The first page of the Bible begins with a dazzling narrative. The God of the universe takes the chaos and waste world and turns it into a place teeming with life—a place that is called good. But after completing this important work, God does something rather astonishing. He rests.

And not only did God rest, He also called His people to rest. This, of course, can include setting aside one day of the week as a day of rest. But it doesn’t need to end there. God urges His children (yes, even teachers) to make rest a way of life.

It is interesting that when God instituted a functional system of instructions for His people in the wilderness, He built rest into the fabric of their communal life. They were supposed to cease from their work on the seventh day. But beyond that, they were also supposed to set apart each seventh year, giving the land a rest by not planting crops. He promised that the harvest in the sixth year would be overflowing with abundance to carry them through the Sabbath year.

Further, every seven Sabbath years, there was supposed to be an even greater reset—the year of Jubilee. During this year, all purchased property was to be returned to the original owner. Hired workers were to be given freedom. It was a scrubbing clean of the slate.

And really, isn’t that what the summer months ought to be for teachers?

An extended break is woven into the fabric of how school functions. And usually, by the last weeks or days of school, every teacher remembers why it’s so needed. The students get tired, irritable, and restless. The teachers don’t always feel much better—though they may be better at hiding it.

There is a deep, bone-weariness that seems to be particular to those last days, and a deep soul-cleansing release that seems to only happen during the months of summer break.

Summer holidays look different for different teachers. Some find it easy to rest, reveling in slower days and more relaxed schedules. Some struggle with the open-ended, schedule-less days and flounder without the consistency of school routine. Some are unemployed, with abundant time to spend on hobbies and quality time with family or friends. Some take on a summer job, immersing themselves in a different sort of work for a few months.

Regardless of which of these camps you fall into, this is still true: God calls you to rest during the summer.

This will look different for every individual, but perhaps exploring some principles of Sabbath rest can create a foundation on which you can develop your own rhythms of rest during the summer months.

Sabbath is instituted as a regular rhythm for a reason.

Our Father, who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves, understands that we need rest. Teaching is a demanding work, and it depletes physically, mentally, and emotionally. In order to be able to keep pouring yourself out for your students in the long term, you need to have regular seasons of being filled.

God can meet you in your depletion when you come to Him with an openness and desire to be renewed. Your areas of need will be unique to you, but the following examples might help you recognize in what areas you need to be refreshed.

First of all, pay attention to the ways you feel especially weary. What was difficult about your school year?

  • Maybe you had a large class and spent so many hours grading papers that you had no time to do things you love to do, and you need to absorb yourself in favorite hobbies.
  • Maybe an especially needy student depleted you of emotional energy, and you need to make space for others to speak into your life and rebuild your relational stamina.
  • Maybe you struggled to get excited about the content you were teaching for the seventeenth time, and you need to do a deep dive learning about a topic that intrinsically interests you.
  • Maybe you found yourself generally grumpy and frustrated by student immaturity or institutional frustrations, and you need to spend time in nature to remind yourself that there is still beauty and goodness in the world.

Recognizing your areas of need is the first step in allowing the regular rhythm of summer rest to be most effective.

Sabbath is a reminder that God is God and we are not.

One of the reasons why God instituted Sabbath for His people was to enable them to regularly, habitually make themselves aware of their dependence on Him.

Teachers manage so much. Classroom procedures, discipline and management, lesson planning—all of these need to be in your control. In a way, a teacher becomes a little god in their classroom, tending and ruling over what has been entrusted to them.

But God is God, and we are not. A Sabbath summer can remind us of this truth.

Find ways to release control during the summer months, to slow down and relax your mind and body. Meditate on the ways that God controls the world, not you. Be intentional to cease from striving in the ways that you can. Your mind and body crave this renewed dependence on the One who is truly in control.

Sabbath is a time of release.

Surely all teachers have experienced the many ways that teaching is not a normal 9-5 job. That stack of grading that comes home in your bag, that student situation that keeps you up at night, that hurtful conversation with a parent that leaves you in tears—all of these things tempt us to wrap our entire identity in this all-encompassing work.

And while being a teacher is an important part of who you are, it is not all of who you are. Use the summer months as a way to pursue other things you love to do or devote time to activities that are very different from teaching.

It can be so easy to spend summers making bulletin boards or crafting unit plans—after all, there is always one more thing you could be doing to make the coming year easier. And there is a place for these things, (and if they genuinely fill you with joy and energy, then go for it!) However, it’s important to implement boundaries to create space for you to rest.

Just as God told the Israelites not to plant during the seventh year but to eat what grew naturally in the fields, God may be calling you to release the ways you could be striving to ensure your own provision and rest in His provision instead.

Sabbath is a time to revel in God’s abundance.

God’s gifts glimmer with infinite diversity. He is an abundant giver, but it really comes down to this: are you taking time to receive? Think of the things that make you feel alive—these are good gifts from Him. Find ways to revel in the things you love as a way to nourish your soul.

You might take a walk in the woods, craft something from wood, prepare a beautiful dinner, arrange a bouquet of flowers, read a favorite book, gaze at a sunset, sit by a lake with a fishing pole in hand, restore old furniture, take wildlife photography, or any of a myriad of other activities provided by an infinitely creative Giver.

Sabbath helps us become more human.

On day six of creation, before God rested, He created humans, with all their complexities. And when He did, He called them “very good.” Your humanness, with all its intricacies and quirks, is very good in the eyes of the one who made you.

Carrying the stress, busyness, and burden of the school year erodes a teacher’s humanness. The demands of the classrooms are weighty. It is all too easy to become trapped in fear, caught up in duties, and hounded by stress. The broken parts of being human keep us from the abundant life Jesus offers. That’s why Sabbath rest is so needed, to try to bring you back to the best version of yourself, the one who walks with God in the cool of the day.

As Walter Brueggemann says in his book Sabbath as Resistance, “We used to sing the hymn ‘Take Time to Be Holy.’ But perhaps we should be singing, ‘Take time to be human.’ Or finally, ‘Take time.’ Sabbath is taking time . . . time to be holy . . . time to be human.”

Take time this summer Sabbath to rest. Your kind heavenly Father not only gives you permission—He commands it.

Photo by Barry Zhou on Unsplash

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