Recently, I drafted a piece for The Gospel Coalition on how to work well at home. What many of us didn’t expect, probably, when we began social distancing was how difficult it would be to find rest at home. For those that live alone, or those who have a house full of family members young and old, we have figured out by now how to make it through the work week. What we haven’t figured out, yet, is how to turn it off.
Our culture is not one that loves ritual. Our national identity was built on a sort of protest against, not only the rule of monarchy, but all of the trappings that went along with it. We have in our national consciousness, an attitude of “Oh, you think you’re better than me?” or some version thereof in our American subculture, when it comes to ritual. The vibe of “ritual” connotes to most people either creepy religious undertones or pretentious overtones. Ritual is not usually seen as a good thing.
But ritual is a good and necessary thing. Most people are aware millennials have found tremendous value in liturgical religious rites, not only in content but in form as well. Many young people have left their Bible church, and its loosey-goosey approach to modern worship—hyperbole intended—in favor of centuries-old liturgies or, at the very least, the impression that their worship forms are so historically rooted.
To that end, let me propose to you thinking about ritual as a good thing. In fact, I think rituals are the key to recovering Sabbath rest during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is a ritual?
A ritual is any form of visible habit or behavior that images an invisible reality or change. One example we can all relate to is a graduation ceremony (another word for ritual). The ceremony, in and of itself, is meaningless. Nobody at graduation became better educated at the moment of crossing the stage. Yet, the graduation ritual had tremendous value in marking the transition between academic immaturity and academic maturity. In other words, the ritual established a change.
In a religious context, a ritual is more significant. Baptism is a sacred ritual, different from lesser kinds. The Lord’s table is a sacred ritual, different from lesser forms of ritual. Both, regardless of your denominational views, signify spiritual realities that are important for people to see visibly. So we perform rituals in order to communicate both to ourselves and others.
Our ordinary rituals, the daily signifiers that we are moving from one activity to the next, are not as important as our spiritual habits, but they are important nonetheless. I love the idea behind the book Every Moment Holy. An Anglican priest, Douglas Kaine McKelvey wrote liturgies for reading or recitation upon certain everyday situations, such as the first snow, or for a birthday, or for a sick day, or the first cup of coffee, or for road rage, or for a sunset. Perhaps the most banal liturgy of all is the two-part entry “For the Changing of Diapers.”
Work at Home vs. Rest at Home
The lines are blurred between our “work at home” and our “rest at home.” These days, the line between work and home has become invisible. Our kids don’t know the difference and neither do we. In order to mark the transition, visibly, between the work and the weekend, we need to ritualize our transition from work to home.
Here are some suggestions I sent to my team last Friday:
- Make a plan to transition your from “work at home” to “rest at home.”
- Unless we make a hard break from work today (Friday), you aren’t going to experience that feeling of “weekend.” Design a ritual to initiate “weekend mode” right where you are.
- I noticed a couple of overachievers working/sending emails last weekend—I’m calling you out!
- Resist the urge to use text messages with work colleagues (use Slack and email instead). As we try to “turn off work” everyday, having work communication siloed in Slack and email is going to provide us space in our minds and personal devices to keep work in its proper place while we rest this weekend.
- If you haven’t already, you’re going to reach your energy limit. Give in! Get rest! Admit we need rest to God—that’s why He gave us Sabbath.
- Spend some time today, rather than hustling more, to plan for next week. Minutes of planning this week will give you hours of productivity next week.
- Know that every member of our team has contributed in amazing ways that so many people see. And know that the ways that are not seen are treasured even more by the Lord. You guys are the best!
For me, my daily ritual to transition from the work day is to physically shut down my iPad and Macbook, close them both, walk out of my home office, and go down the hallway to put on my running shoes. After I am out the door jogging, when I return, I consider my time from then on the same way I would as if I had commuted home from my downtown office. This ritual communicates to me, and my family, “Daddy’s home.”
My weekend ritual is very similar. The difference is that in between my laptop and my running shoes, I order pizza for my kids (three little boys). When I return, the pizza has arrived, and we watch LEGO Masters together. At that point, we all feel like it’s the weekend—it’s our family ritual.
Your daily and weekend rituals might be different. But without a ritual, without a plan, you are probably going to continue in a heightened state of alert that is difficult for your body to sustain over time. Anxiety and stress will follow you into parts of your life that are supposed to nourish (Sabbath rest). Keep the stress and anxiety in their proper place by approaching your weekend differently this week—ritualize your life.