By Albert Y. Hsu
Over this next year, InterVarsity staff are intentionally practicing Sabbath together in ways that fit our unique roles, passions, ages, and stages. We’ll offer testimonies from current and former staff that help us all reenvision how we can engage in this important practice with joy and intention. Today’s post is by Al Hsu, Senior Editor for IVP Books, a husband and the father of two teenage sons, and part of an Anglican Church in the Chicago suburbs.
Eleven years ago, my family joined a new church plant. One of the reasons we gravitated toward this church was because the core members included legendary InterVarsity/International Fellowship of Evangelical Students spiritual formation leaders Marilyn and Doug Stewart, and we wanted to grow to be like them in 30 or 40 years. The church met on Saturday evenings because we rented space in another church’s building, and the building wasn’t available on Sundays. So we meet at 5 p.m. on Saturdays at sundown, starting each service with the “Phos Hilaron,” a vespers evening prayer.
Having worship on Saturday evening is kind of like a Jewish rhythm of Sabbath starting at sundown and lasting through the next day. Our church didn’t originally plan it this way, but an unintended consequence of this schedule is that our Sundays have been completely freed up to practice Sabbath. We no longer had to rush to get the kids out the door to church on Sunday mornings. Now we could sleep in (as long as the kids would let us), take our time getting ready, maybe make pancakes and have a leisurely breakfast. It became an opportunity to read, rest, go for walks, and spend time together as a family.
Our church’s website says, “We begin our Sabbath with Saturday evening worship and are finding a rhythm of work and rest that is restorative to our souls. We are calling one another to radically resist the hurry and busyness of our culture.” So our church is intentional about not scheduling meetings on Sundays, except for activities that build community like morning prayer breakfasts in a park or book discussion groups. We might have dinner with friends after Saturday church, or we’ll get together with folks on Sundays for brunch.
At first it felt weird to have nothing to do on Sunday mornings. If we ran out to Target on a Sunday morning, we’d mentally defend ourselves to others, thinking, We went to church last night! Really! So we avoided shopping and consuming on Sunday as part of our Sabbath rhythm. We’ve noticed over the years that we don’t need to be legalistic about this; we’ve naturally done less shopping on Sundays anyway because it gets in the way of our rest. We also don’t check work email on the Sabbath, and we save chores like cleaning and laundry for Saturdays rather than Sundays. There were some seasons during my PhD program when I’d have to do research and write on Sundays, but the Sabbath rhythm gave me space for that.
Another thing that gradually happened is that my wife and I made Sundays our regular date night. We wanted to avoid the crowdedness of Friday nights, and Saturday nights are for church. On Sundays, there’s less traffic and restaurants are less busy. And Sunday matinees and shows are often more available and cheaper than other weekend times. Season tickets for local theatres are a concrete way of getting dates on the calendar, so we have a habit of seeing a musical on Sundays usually once or twice a month. It’s a fun way of reconnecting, and we’re glad to support the arts in our community.
Now that I’m in midlife, I find Sabbaths all the more important. While I’m not quite as driven as I was earlier in my career, I still need the space to take a breath, clear the decks, and recalibrate. I’m grateful that our church has helped me learn the rhythm of Sabbath, and I’m glad that InterVarsity is pursuing it as a movement.