Sabbath for Caregivers and Helpers

April 27, 2018 by J. Dana Trent

I’m what self-help author Gretchen Rubin calls an “obliger,” a helper. I am likely to respond promptly when I check email before bed rather than waiting. I will put students' desire to learn before my seemingly trivial needs. I easily commit without assessing my own needs and work to the bone when someone else is depending on me.

When I read Rubin’s book The Four Tendencies, I saw myself in her description of people who uphold external—and internal—expectations and take care of others first.

I tend to overdo it. There are times when I pay so much attention and energy to others that I don’t meet my own needs and expectations. The result? Burnout.

As a child, I was taught that Sunday is a time for the Divine, when replenishment and slowing down was a guilt-free and natural part of life. God “rested” on the seventh day, and called it “good.” But through the years, finding time to rest in the stillness and presence of God has become a challenge for me. Sabbath, a day of “rest”? What’s that?

When I was more focused on unfinished tasks when I was supposed to be praising God, my sabbath living suffered. I made the mistake of not putting God first, and my body, mind, and spirit suffered from stress, tiredness, and anxiety. Then I realized that I didn’t need to recreate childhood and depend on Sunday family time and 11:00 a.m. worship to find a sense of sabbath again.

Through these experiences, I learned that I do my best self-care when I seek human connection and community experiences that hold me accountable, not when I just oblige and help others but pause and care for my own personal and spiritual needs: setting aside moments of quiet time, making quality time for loved ones, growing a closer relationship to God, moving my body at least 30 minutes a day. I need external expectations in order to follow through with these internal goals and needs.

I do best when the expectations of others actually help me take care of myself. When I was a child, I was expected to set aside time and go to church on Sundays. Sunday was a break from the normal routine of the busy week. Now, in our culture, Sunday has become just another day for errands, chores, shopping, doing business. We’ve lost something. We have lost the external expectation that we need to break from the norm and break from the busy.

I wrote For Sabbath’s Sake for “helpers” like me, who need a reminder that God put in place the perfect tool to fulfill our human needs: sabbath.

Sabbath is a time when we step out of our ordinary lives (work, school, schedules, errands) and into spirituality. It’s time for rest and renewing our bodies, for devotional practices like worship, and time to strengthen the threads of deep relationships in our families and communities.

Sabbath has become my muscle memory, springing forth from my deep roots in rural North Carolina and Indiana. I remind myself over and over, again and again, that I need to return regularly to the well – and actually drink.

We have to make time for sabbath.

One way to do that is to hold ourselves accountable with structure.

Preview some of the content in the For Sabbath's Sake Upper Room eCourse today. You’ll enjoy accountability and a structured outline and time for learning how to say yes! to sabbath, including practical tips and content from the book For Sabbath’s Sake.

Whether you are an obliger or not, mid-burnout or not, start afresh right now with 52 chances to make time for sabbath.


J. Dana Trent is the author of For Sabbath's Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community and Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk. She is writing One Breath at a Time: A Skeptic's Guide to Christian Meditation, which will release in January 2019. Dana is on the faculty for a Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation at Pine Knoll Shores, NC, September 23-28, 2018. For more information, visit For more information about Dana, visit

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