Quarantine, Sabbath, and Still Souls

Our mandatory time at home undoubtedly has changed and will continue to change the world as we know it. Some of us have discovered that more of our work can be done online than we originally thought; others of us have realized that we function better when we have a routine. Quarantine has been a testament to human resilience and creativity in the face of legitimate danger. Yet, for many of us, stay-at-home orders may have also highlighted our inability to rest—not the fall-asleep-on-the-couch-during-Netflix-reruns kind of rest, but the Sabbath rest that only comes from a still soul. 

Extended isolation is magnifying our pervasive discomfort with this kind of stillness.

I’ve found myself repeating the popular “I don’t know what day it is anymore” joke. Indeed, days run together when we’re stuck in our homes. But, when we step back and look at our “normal” non-quarantine weeks, I’m not so sure they’re any different. We’ve just exchanged seven days of busyness for seven days of boredom. Besides maybe attending church on Sunday morning, can we really distinguish between each day of the week? More to the point, do we have one day that is noticeably set apart from the other six?

Many of us probably don’t, but not because we don’t want to. Rather, it’s because we don’t know how. Our busyness has become a facade for our ignorance, and quarantine has left our ignorance exposed.

In both Sabbath and quarantine, normal life is paused. During Sabbath, we have more time on our hands because we aren’t working or doing our normal weekly activities. During quarantine, we have more time on our hands because our work commute has been shortened from thirty minutes to thirty seconds and because we aren’t doing as many social activities. During both, the extra time leaves us feeling confused and agitated. Like dogs chasing cars, we don’t know what to do with opportunities to rest when we finally catch them—and we just caught a big one. 

Often, I view the Sabbath as free time—a day with no work where I can do whatever I want. Yet, even at the end of days I haven’t worked, my soul still feels tired. Simply not working doesn’t bring me rest, which makes me think: maybe the Sabbath is not so much free time as it is freeing time—a day to remember the freedom we have from the cares of the world. A day for the soul to be reoriented toward its eschatelogical purpose.

Remembering our eschatelogical purpose breeds stillness. No longer do we need to sit and worry about how many followers we have on Twitter or what we’ll do if we lose our jobs, because in stillness we remember God loves us and will provide our daily bread. No longer do we need to wonder if Jesus is really in control and coming again, because in stillness we find the courage to hope.

For many of us, myself included, stillness can lead to feelings of loneliness. And quarantine exacerbates these feelings. Yet, our present loneliness won’t go away when stay-at-home orders are revoked. Our temptation will be to re-don our busyness masks and continue plowing through life with tired souls. It’s not fun to put our lives on hold, and even more so for scary public health reasons. But we need to learn how to be still and know that God is God; we need to learn how to live with ourselves.

While continuing to acknowledge the traumas of the pandemic, I’m trying to use this time to figure out how to move forward as someone who’s growing in his ability to rest, slowly but surely trusting that the Lord will provide the stillness for which my heart so desperately longs.

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