Religions throughout the world designate certain parts of the week as holy, and other parts as ordinary. It’s one way to call our attention to time as a sacred gift. Muslims congregate for Jumu’ah prayer every Friday afternoon; Jews observe Shabbat from Friday to Saturday evening; and Christians traditionally worship on Sundays.
This ancient and widespread practice of setting aside part of the week for a special purpose has a great deal to teach us. It gives structure to the week, which makes us feel more stable and grounded. It also connects us with other people who are part of the same rhythm.
So what are some ways that you might mark Sunday as a special day of rest? Here are some ideas:
1. Take a break from work
With the expansion of work-from-home opportunities from the COVID-19 pandemic, the boundaries between “work life” and “home life” are easily blurred. It has become even more likely that we will continue working long past our “work hours” when we are checking email and Slack notifications from home. What does it mean to “leave work” when I spend my day working from my kitchen table?
There’s something special, and even daring, about setting firm boundaries between work life and home life. Whether you are a student or a professional, unplug from your work on Sunday — the break will allow you to return on Monday with a fresh perspective and renewed vigor. For this to be feasible, the other six days of the week must also be part of this practice; it is only by being active and productive on the other six days that we have the freedom to rest on Sunday.
2. Take a break from purchases
In your preparation for Sunday, try to make all necessary purchases on the other six days of the week. On Sunday, focus on being grateful for what you have, rather than striving for more.
Refraining from making purchases also acknowledges that store clerks and wait staff also have the right to leisure on Sundays. Or, if you want to support your community, another option for this practice is intentionally patroning small, local businesses. It’s a way to show gratitude for their presence in your community, and contribute to their continued ability to do business.
3. Take a break from technology
Try to step away from technology for the whole day. You might even use candles instead of lights, bike or walk instead of driving if you absolutely need to go somewhere, play board games instead of watching TV, stay off social media, and turn off texting apps on your phone. We live in a world inundated by technology; and while technology itself is not bad, we could all stand to step back for a time. The break will help us re-evaluate our dependence on it, and the role that it plays in our lives.
4. Spend time with family, friends, and neighbors
Reconnect with all those who are important in your life. If you can’t see them in person, call, video chat, or write letters to your immediate family, your extended family who you don’t talk to regularly, your best friends, and your college friends who you haven’t caught up with in years. Call your neighbors to check in on them and see how you can help, especially if they are sick, elderly, or live alone. Show the people who have been important to you that you are here for them. Make the world feel more connected, even in a time of social distancing. (You might need to make an exception to #3 for this one!).
5. Spend time in nature
Pope Francis writes in Laudato si’: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God” (84). Surround yourself with God’s creation. Spend at least an hour outside walking, running, biking, picnicking, reading a book in the sun, or just sitting, listening, and soaking in the beauty surrounding you.
6. Engage in leisure
“Leisure” does not mean turning off your brain and watching Netflix. Spend time doing something that you love, something creative, something that brings you joy. Pick up a musical instrument, start a garden, take up woodworking or some other craft. Learn a hobby or skill that you’ve always been curious about, but haven’t had the time to develop. Lose yourself in this activity for at least an hour.
7. Cook a big meal
Whether you live alone or with others, spend some time in the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but cook something that’s a little more elaborate than what you would make on a weeknight. Be intentional about how you plate the meal, light some candles, and take your time eating. Consider inviting others to share in your meal, especially those who might not have family or close friends to spend the day with.
8. Bookend your day with gratitude
Cultivating gratitude only takes a few minutes a day, but research shows that it has immense benefits for both our physical and mental health. Start your day by looking forward to what is to come. Ask yourself: What opportunities are in store for me today? What am I looking forward to? What is exciting about today?
Then, before bed, do the opposite, and look back on your day. Ask yourself: What happened today that I am thankful for? Were there any unexpected blessings in my day? What about today will I cherish?
For a more structured approach to this, try praying the Examen, an ancient form of prayer that asks you to replay and reflect on the events of your day.
9. Be still
Take some time to just be still — it’s such a rare thing in this day and age to just be. Let go of the franticness and busyness of everyday life. Know that it’s okay if you feel bored or restless when you put down your technology and stop checking your work or school email. Consider how you can view this time as a gift — an opportunity to step back, unload, simplify, and turn to God.
Christians have been setting aside Sunday as a special day since the time of Christ — in fact, it’s one of the first practices we adopted. Sunday is special for us because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning — it’s a day that changed history. Whether or not you’re one of the millions of Catholics who gather every Sunday for Mass to remember (and participate in) this event, you can still recognize the sacred gift of time by setting Sunday aside as a special day.