Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
When I first converted to Christianity, one of practices that was most foreign to me was the idea of Sunday being a day of rest. I already tried to do about ten days’ worth of work in the seven days of any given week, so the idea of subtracting one seemed impossible.
Then one day a wise spiritual advisor pointed out something that got my attention. One way to get an idea of how much God expects us to accomplish in a week, she suggested, is to look at the traditional Christian cycle of work and rest: No work on Sundays, and minimal work after Vespers at sundown.
It got me thinking about how much I try to accomplish versus how much I should try to accomplish. I realized that I have a bad tendency to push myself past my God-given limits, and pile more and more and more on my plate until I reach a breaking point. It was probably easier for previous generations to live within their limits: After Vespers, the prayer of the lighting of the lamps, there wasn’t enough light to accomplish a whole lot. And in many times and places there were hardly any businesses or markets open on Sundays, so there weren’t as many opportunities to run around and frantically check items off of your to-do list on the Lord’s day. But now we can switch on the lights to keep working well into the night, and we can run errands and do business on Sunday just as well as any other day. This modern setup is convenient in many ways, but it makes it really easy for people like me to bite off more than we can chew.
Even though it felt like it would be impossible, I decided to get more serious about making Sunday a day of rest. Also, on the other six days, I tried to get most of my work done before sundown. The results were striking.
First of all, I learned that growing in holiness is a lot easier if you have some buffer in your life. With my to-do list cut in half, I was amazed at how much more peaceful I was. For once, I could take time to enjoy simple moments that would normally have passed me by. I actually made regular time for prayer when I didn’t feel like I constantly had to be rushing from one thing to the next.
I learned that my overloaded lifestyle requires that nothing go wrong for it to work. During this experiment, one of my children got a bad cold, and I was surprised by how easy it was to handle. Normally I lived like a juggler trying to keep a dozen balls in the air at once—if the slightest thing went wrong, it would all come crashing down. Because I was no longer running in the red zone every day with my new schedule, I could give this unexpected situation the attention it needed without having to worry about it setting off a chain reaction of chaos.
I learned that living within your limits requires you to trust God. It was far from easy to ratchet back my expectations of what I could get done in a day. Turning down requests to do more work in the organizations with which I’m involved made me feel guilty. I worried that I’d get too far behind on everything if I set such strict limits on what I tried to accomplish in a day. But what I found, over and over again, was that the practice of accepting my human limits brought tremendous grace into my life. When I didn’t work on a project on Sunday, even though a Tuesday deadline loomed, it turned out even better than if I’d slaved over it both days of the weekend. Amazingly, I seemed to have more time than back when I was pushing myself to exhaustion seven days a week. I came to see that God doesn’t require more of us than we can accomplish in a sun-up to sundown workday; that when we do our best within reasonable limits, and respect ancient Christian customs about times for rest and prayer, God will bless our efforts more than we could imagine.
All that said, I am not always great about observing these limits. Ever since the homeschool year began, for example, I’ve been back to pushing myself too hard, too often seeing Sundays and evenings as opportunities to check more items off of our endless household to-do list. This Advent, one of my plans is to get more serious about setting limits on work, and make sure that our week includes regular times of rest.
What about you? Do you always make Sunday a day of rest? Any practical tips for making this a reality for the long-term?