Social Distancing Redeemed as Sabbath

Is COVID-19 sheltering in place our chance to rest?

I recently saw—and shared—a meme that said, “Public health officials are strongly advocating for ‘social distancing’ or as Enneagram 5s call it, ‘relationships.’” I, as an Enneagram 5, thought it was hilarious, but I realize that for more extroverted people, this time of social distancing that COVID-19 gave us is a more difficult social adaptation. Regardless of how extroverted we are, it is natural for all of us to be wrestling with some level of anxiety about this situation. But on a walk the other evening, the Lord began to teach me to see this time of social distancing not as wasted, but as a sabbath. 

Our world has been far too busy. The internet and mobile technology were supposed to make the world more accessible to us so tasks would be easier. However, it also made us more accessible by the world. As technology increased, so has the world’s demand on us along with our craving for the outside world. In response, FOMO, “Fear Of Missing Out”, became a term. The internet brings us opportunities on our small screens, and we crave to go and do and be. But when we go, we aren’t fully present. Instead we are pre-occupied with capturing these moments on our pocket cameras so that everyone not there would know that we were there. I think, when we do that, there is a little bit of us that wants to make other people feel the pain of FOMO that we feel when we are on the other side of the live stream. The end result has been that, little by little, we have changed. We don’t turn off. We don’t shut down. We don’t rest. We don’t … sabbath. Perhaps, now we are being forced to. 

I find that if I don’t choose to sabbath, inevitably, I get run down and am forced to sabbath: I get sick. I am made to rest for several days because I refused to rest on a weekly basis. The difference is this forced rest is days of painful recovery, but if I had rested weekly, it would have been days of peaceful retreat. The Bible gives us this lesson when discussing the sabbath year: the Shmita. When Leviticus 25 introduces the Shmita, it says that every seventh year the nation of Israel was to let the land (and the people) rest by not planting, tending to, or harvesting crops. However, Israel did not honor this risky practice, and in II Chronicles 36, we learn that the seventy years that Judah was in Babylonian captivity were to let the land enjoy the seventy Sabbath years (seventy Shmitas) it had been denied during Israel’s time in the Promised Land.

I am not here to declare that this pandemic is a Shmita judgment upon our country or the world. I am simply suggesting that you ask yourself if perhaps you personally haven’t sabbathed enough lately. And if not, perhaps ask the Lord how He would like you to approach this time as a time of make-up sabbath rest: not as judgment, but as a gracious opportunity. And even if you have been disciplined about taking a weekly sabbath, perhaps this is your Shmita: an additional time of rest (although, we all hope we aren’t in this time of social distancing for a full year.)

While COVID-19 hasn’t broken the internet—only Kim Kardashian can do that, apparently—it is giving us a perfect opportunity to detox from FOMO. Even those of us that spend the next couple weeks binge watching everything on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV, we will not have external events to trigger our FOMO. Events are cancelled. Parties are cancelled. But life isn’t cancelled.

I also know that many of us are still working during this time. This isn’t non-stop vacation-style sabbath. But I would argue that sabbath is first and foremost a heart issue. Jesus tells us that sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. While if we just completely ignore the sabbath’s rules and principles, we truly will not enjoy His rest, God does give us grace to do good on the sabbath, and furthermore, in the Shmita year, you still had to do some work that you could avoid doing for a single sabbath day. So, find a heart of rest in this time even while working and at every turn when you are not working. 

For those of us that have lost work or seen income streams dry up because of this social quarantine, I am so sorry. That is such a hard burden to bear. I used to work in the service industry and know first-hand the strain of a lost shift. I have family members in the service industry currently, and I empathize with how challenging this situation is for them and you. In this time, I pray that you would find God’s peace and provision overwhelming your life. I pray that body of Christ would be an open hand of care and a tangible manifestation of God’s faithfulness. 

Regardless of your situation, I wanted to share some ways I have found to really lean into the heart of sabbath and redeem this season of social distancing. 

  1. Embrace sleep. Our busy world is universally sleep deprived. Now, I’m not endorsing a spirit of sloth, but I am saying listen to what your body needs. 
  2. Refuse to view slow times as boredom. View them as breaths: times to catch your breath.
  3. Be present. While we still have the internet to help us feel connected to the outside world, consider having stricter limitations on how much you use it. Enjoy the people you are really with right now. 
  4. Cherish the small gifts that fill your life every day a wildflower blooming, the soothing sound of rain, your child’s laugh, how cozy your pajamas are, how quite the roads are, how cleaner the air is with less traffic pollution.
  5. With the sources of enjoyment you do still have access to (TV, chocolate, video games, exercise), ask yourself: Am I using them as false comforts that you inhale in escapist binges? Or am I delighting in them as true drops of bliss. This has less to do with the item enjoyed and everything to do with your state of mind. 
  6. Consider leaning more into contemplative spiritual practices. Meditate on scriptures. Take more time to listen when you pray. Write down what the Spirit says to you through scripture, prayer, and people. 
  7. Consider this sabbath a gift of time. Time, unlike property or things, cannot be controlled…only embraced. It cannot be horded…only saved. It cannot be owned…only shared. Receive this gift God is sharing with you by redeeming this time as sabbath. 
Jordan Covarelli
Jordan Covarelli
Jordan Covarelli is a coordinator of Music and Worship Studies at The King's University where he is pursuing a PhD in Church Music and Worship.