The featured sponsor for this summer is Sabbath in the Suburbs, a soon-to-be released book from author MaryAnn McKibben Dana. Please join me in welcoming her today, as she shares some reflections about the inspiration behind her new book:
For the past several years, my family has practiced the art of Sabbath—a weekly time in which we do no chores, no errands, and no extracurricular activities. The practice is slowly transforming our lives, so we remain committed to this work—for indeed, it is work to abstain from work.
Our Sabbath routine was born at the same time as our third child. On one level, it seemed crazy to give ourselves one less day each week for laundry, grocery shopping, and housekeeping. There was already more stuff to do than time in which to do it. My husband and I both work outside the home; weekends were our time to catch up on the myriad tasks that make up life with kids in the twenty-first century.
But weekends were also our opportunity to spend long, uninterrupted moments with our children. Dragging them all over northern Virginia, from car wash to dry cleaner to gas station, was taking its toll on all of us. We wondered: what were we teaching them in our frantic busyness? Would they come to see time as an enemy, something to be chopped up and consumed? Or could we help them to relish the passage of time, to enjoy the delights of this world, as they matured? Sabbath seemed like one way to take a stand against the chaos of our lives.
Some years ago my older daughter’s school made some changes to the bus route that delayed the kids’ arrival home in the afternoon. Many parents in the neighborhood found this unacceptable and decided to mount a petition and letter-writing campaign. After three weeks of phone calls, letters, and updates at the bus stop, the schedule got changed: other children would stay on the bus longer so that the kids at our stop would get home four minutes sooner.
Such machinations are not unusual in the suburb where I live. We are fortunate to have countless opportunities for enrichment: cultural events, sports, music lessons, etc. But when does it end? Or more precisely, when does it start? I had a woman explain to me recently the importance of helping kids “build their resumes.” Her kids are in elementary school.
I don’t want to live the kind of life in which an extra four minutes are so crucial to my family’s schedule that I will petition the county government to get my way. But the bus stop petition exposes a similar insanity in my own life. Even after several years of Sabbath-keeping, I still treat time as a scarce commodity to be hoarded. It is a constant struggle to keep from gripping tightly to every four-minute nugget of time, maximizing every moment, multitasking as if my life depends on it.
During the worst of these maximizing, multitasking times, Sabbath becomes a day for spiritual detox. It’s not a pleasant experience. I become twitchy and anxious. I circle the rooms in our house, on the prowl for some task to fill the void, some chore to make me useful, relevant, indispensable to the world.
Other times, the five of us sink into moments of unparalleled beauty and peace. The gratitude washes over us—an entire day to rest, play, laugh and love. We build with blocks and play card games. We read books aloud to the kids, chapter after chapter, not limited by the tick-tock of the bedtime ritual. We eat when we are hungry and we linger at the table. The grownups follow the young ones’ lead, because they still understand how to live at a savoring pace—and we become like children again.
Then the Sabbath day ends, but that transition, too, is a gift. I move back into the chaos of life with careers, children and a cat, and somehow there is sufficient time for the most important tasks.
What’s more, I am breathing more deeply and seeing the world differently: Today is their childhood.
Today is my life. Right now is all I have, and it is enough.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer in Springfield, VA, in the Washington DC area. She is author of Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time, coming this fall from Chalice Press. The book chronicles her family’s successes and failures with Sabbath-keeping and provides practical hints and tips for others to follow.
She and Robert Dana are the parents of three children ages 9, 6, and 4. She blogs at The Blue Room and is pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church, a small and growing congregation. She is an infrequent and imperfect knitter and a committed but slow-moving runner.