By Frank Liao
SFU 4th Year Business Student
Have you ever stopped to think about why our lives are always so busy and overburdened?
Our lives always seem to be in a hurry to be productive and in order to advance in our life goals. In the Christian faith, we are invited to practice Sabbath, which offers us the opportunity to rest with God and our communities so that we can enjoy what God has provided for us. I’ve had many conversations with friends, classmates, co-workers, acquaintances, and even random strangers about my faith. However, of all the topics that we touched upon, Sabbath was rarely addressed. Strangely, we overlook this when we talk about what it means to live the way of Jesus because we always seem to be in a hurry. I think more of us need to learn the difficult way of slowing down.
Growing up, I’ve always been very busy. I frequently had extra-curriculars scheduled, and that included a lot of table tennis, other school sports, volunteering at school, volunteering at my home church and more. It became a running joke for my friends, as when they would ask how I was doing, I would always say “I’m busy.” Being a competitive table tennis player, I was constantly thinking about doing my best and trying to get the results that I wanted, so there was also a tremendous amount of internal pressure that I put on myself to succeed. I thought that doing well and being successful would help me to gain self-confidence and provide happiness in my life, among other benefits, so I regularly pushed myself to keep going in order to do more and get better. So many people in my inner circle also wanted me to do well, which was an added weight. As a side effect of this constant pressure and busyness, I became quite tired often. My car rides to table tennis training sessions would be a prime time to take a nap, and sometimes I ended up falling asleep while doing homework. I thoroughly enjoyed all the extra-curriculars and activities that I participated in, but I was busy, tired, and always seemingly in a hurry to get things done.
Sabbath in of itself is very counter-cultural. So when I first heard about Sabbath as a discipline, I was really confused. I had never heard about the concept while growing up in church, and it didn’t fall in line with my lifestyle at all. What was the point of taking a break and slowing down for a whole day when we’re always being told to be productive? This especially applied to me as a business student, with everyone constantly looking for ways to get ahead in their own career path. However, it was becoming painfully obvious to a few close friends and mentors that I was not living a healthy lifestyle with my constant “go, go, go” mentality. So they suggested that I should try it out and see if it helped.
I started out by choosing one day each week to try to participate, and it was hard. I just didn’t know what to do. It felt like I was just wasting time potentially not doing any work that I needed to do, and I honestly felt bored. It didn’t help that I was in the middle of many personal life changes during my first year of university, so it was difficult to avoid thinking about everything. Some people told me to “do activities that are restful,” but I didn’t know what that meant. My first attempt to implement Sabbath didn’t really help to slow down my busy lifestyle, but that’s okay.
After talking to one of my mentors about this experience, he explained to me that participating in the Sabbath discipline included not only stopping the work, but spending time with God in prayer and in His Word, while doing things that I enjoyed to do. Keeping my focus on God on my Sabbath was something that he clearly emphasized. The idea of allotting a specific time of the week with God intrigued me, as spending a whole day with God in prayer and in His word, while also having the opportunity to slow down from everything and focus on what was important to me, sounded really freeing and heart-warming. I thought that having this mindset could really help me to feel rested and refreshed for the rest of my week. I decided to give it another try in the middle of my second year with this mentality.
Having a clearer goal of putting down my work while also picking up practices of worship and communion with God helped me tremendously. I was able to spend time reading Scripture, deeply reflecting on my life, and doing things that I enjoyed. Thankfully, my life circumstances during this time also helped me out in helping to create a consistent overall weekly structure. The result? I felt way more rested, happy with where my spiritual life was heading, and discovered that doing things that I enjoyed “gave me life.” My weeks were still hectic, while still being involved in many different activities alongside school, but I was starting to look forward to my Sabbath everyday because the day helped me to decompress and slow down. At the end of the day, my focus for each Sabbath was on rest and worship, and placing my emphasis on those two ideas helped me to decelerate and truly take a break.
Currently, I still struggle with Sabbath at times. Understanding what I need for my Sabbath is something that I constantly think about. Trying to figure out what is restful, while also trying to understand how to draw closer to God is difficult. Sometimes, external circumstances also make it tough to even take a Sabbath, such as important school assignments coming up, or extra-curricular commitments that feel urgent. Keeping myself centered on what Sabbath means in the first place helps me to stay on track and focused on what God has for me on that day.
Throughout my short life so far, I’ve already experienced the limitations of how hard we can push ourselves and how restless we can be when we worry about everything in our lives, while hurrying to complete the task list. Slowing down and lightening my workload has become a priority, and continuing to grow in practicing Sabbath will certainly help. My aim is to have Sabbath become something of a celebration every week, where I can enjoy what God has provided while letting go of the tension and pressure that comes with life here in Vancouver. Experiencing joy, feeling free, and being satisfied with my ordinary life is something that I want God to transform in me, and carrying this mentality forward to the rest of my life beyond university would be something special.