Photo: Kristin Van de Water

There’s a lie I tell myself that goes something like this: Resting is lazy. Taking a break is for the weak. Stay-at-home moms love motherhood, so we don’t need time off.

Thanks to this lie, I feel guilty for taking even a moment to pause. Hence, I immediately clear my empty lunch plate instead of lingering over the rest of a magazine article. I quickly set down my phone when the kids come over or start doing sit-ups when my husband walks in on my nap. I snap out of a daydream and instead plan out meals for the week. After all, down time isn’t compatible with my lie.

And yet, I know that making time for regular rest is an essential rhythm for a joyful, sustainable life.

Therefore, I’ve been experimenting recently with what it could look like to keep a weekly sabbath—a day off from work (including the unpaid kind that defines life as a mom of four young kids). I realize full well that parents can’t just take 24 hours off from mom and dad duties. But there is definitely room for experimenting, especially if spouses give each other time to recharge individually and families look for ways to delight together. (Froyo Fridays, anyone?)

A friend suggested how to start. Take an inventory of what you spend most of your days doing. Now translate that into a visual of a nondescript skyline. (Imagine endless skyscrapers representing laundry, rows of apartment buildings that are repeated trips to the playground, towers of dishes, etc.) Now picture the steeple of a beautiful cathedral jutting out and up from that sea of ordinary structures. That’s what a sabbath should look like—a delightfully different day that invites you to turn your eyes upward and gives you space to find joy as you pray and play.

I took a month to experiment with how a sabbath might look in real life.

That first week, true rest meant time away from my children. So that Thursday (a rare day when the kids had in-person learning), I dug my ice skates out of our basement storage bin and spent a lovely morning people watching as I spun around the Bryant Park rink. Fresh air and exercise mingled with fond memories of the park—movie night picnics, poetry field trips, library visits. This change of scenery and solitude amidst the masses of New Yorkers brought abundant joy.

The second week I spent a Sunday worshipping with my church community via livestream, sledding, video chatting with Grandma, baking zucchini bread, puzzling, and watching the Super Bowl. All in all, a pretty awesome day. But then 10 p.m. rolled around, and I scrambled to craft and send my weekly class parent email. Note to self: Next time, draft it during the week so I can just hit send on Sunday. Planning ahead can make a full day of rest more feasible.

The following Sunday it dawned on me that sabbath could appear different from week to week based on what the days around it entailed. For instance, after a week of skiing in Utah, I craved a day off of the slopes to sleep in, rest my muscles, and leisurely pack up six sets of ski gear. However, if that Sunday had instead followed a regular week of school and playground routines, then a day of skiing with extended family could have served as a refreshing sabbath.

Last Saturday I woke up at 10 a.m. (a first since birthing my twins 8 years ago) and proceeded to spend the day in recuperation mode. It was glorious. I could tell that the scheduling and logistics part of my mommy brain just needed a day off, so I planned absolutely nothing. Presence trumped productivity.

I listened to an entire sermon podcast on the elliptical machine without interruption. We launched a baking soda and Coke rocket, the ingredients for which had been sitting on the counter since Christmas. I sat down mid-day to read by the fire, which caught my daughter’s attention: “Do we really have nothing planned?” she asked in amazement. “That’s right. You can play ALL day.” It wasn’t until I climbed into bed that night that I realized I had just experienced an unintentional day of true rest. I assumed my day off would happen on Sunday, but Saturday worked incredibly well. Sure, my housework piled up, but it could wait.

Because I allowed myself a lazy Saturday, free from the guilt I would typically feel from ignoring my to-do list, I had the mental and physical capacity to jump back into my job as a homemaker on Monday. I set aside the day to eliminate eyesores around the condo—everything from crammed bookshelves and deserted crafts to mangled headphone cords and sticky floors. Like Superwoman donning her cape, I threw on my workout clothes. But instead of heading to the exercise room as usual, I tackled closets, end tables, and counter space with determination.

I filled a bag with old dollar store puzzles and dress-up clothes to donate, making room for current favorites. We sifted through magnets, photos, and artwork gathered from my in-law’s house after they passed away. I mended a ripped mask and finally read the kids’ report cards. We cleaned out the catch-all bins in our entryway that had remnants of summer lawn games mixed with single gloves and dried out wet-wipes.

The surprise weekend sabbath followed by an uber-productive Monday felt so satisfying, I’m adopting this as a regular practice. The interplay between work and sabbath seems refreshingly sustainable. I can greet my household tasks with gusto as the week drags on when I know that doing so will pave the way for me to celebrate sabbath come the weekend.

Going forward, I hope to replace my striving for constant productivity with a new truth: my work will remain incomplete, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed as a mother. In fact, it means I’m learning to live a more purposeful life.