Rev. Lexa Ennis had to find a way to regain her Sabbath practice. She was feeling burned out and physically exhausted. She knew something had to give.
Ennis and her co-pastor husband, Mike, serve in a thriving body of local believers at Broadview Wesleyan Church in Broadview, Illinois, an under-resourced area on the west side of Chicago.
Seventeen years ago, before she was married and ministering in Chicago, time spent with God was an integral part of Ennis’ life. The rural Iowa native fondly remembers regular times with God behind a barn, watching the sun set over the cornfield. She savored those life-giving moments.
But as the years passed, life became more complex. While so many positive pieces made up her life—ministry studies, a husband, two children and a multiethnic church—Ennis found that a new rhythm had imposed itself upon her. Her ministry experience proved richly rewarding, but there was a cost.
“It was like whiplash where I felt stripped of that Sabbath time,” she said. “There is always more to do, a sense that it is never finished, always a higher level to achieve. It is constant.”
Over time, Ennis found that it became “really hard to shut my mind off, to shut my heart off from heavy situations and lives.”
Like most pastors, she found it easy to ignore her own limitations and margins in favor of helping others. Eventually Ennis began to notice early signs of possible burnout, such as feeling physically worn out and experiencing lower energy levels. This realization led her to believe something had to change.
While on a mission trip three years ago, Ennis attended a seminar on practicing Sabbath that challenged her to reclaim her former God-ordained rhythm.
“I had to learn to slow down,” she said. The Ennises intentionally regained Sabbath practice. They sit down each year and look at their annual calendar centering their Sabbath practices around school schedules. Each spouse has a personal day to practice Sabbath: Tuesday for Mike and Thursday for Lexa. To mark the end of their respective Sabbaths, they engage in either a game or an intentional moment of connection together as a family.
For me, Sabbath is a whole kind of rest, a rest for my mind, my emotions, my heart, my body, my soul.
Ennis protects that day from anything ministry related. For one day, she avoids ministries she has to do and does activities she wants to do. She understands Jesus’ teaching that the Sabbath is a gift from God for our wellbeing, not a legalism. The Hebrew word for “Sabbath” simply means “to stop,” to cease from all work.
“For me, Sabbath is a whole kind of rest, a rest for my mind, my emotions, my heart, my body, my soul. I do things that restore my soul and body.”
She wisely begins to prepare herself before her Sabbath day arrives.
“I start the night before by mentally beginning to shut my mind off from ministry. On my Sabbath, I do not read ministry-related books, but works that are more renewing.” Other activities that breathe life into her soul include gardening, journaling, writing and prayer.
Sabbath practice extends to their church too. The couple wisely talked to their lay leadership team about the nature of Sabbath and their plans for reclaiming a Sabbath rhythm for themselves. Ennis was delighted with the team’s response. “They were supportive 100 percent! That has been a huge help to us. They help us protect it.” The Ennises have since preached and taught about Sabbath practice so others can also learn of God’s design for them.
Ennis has finally reclaimed a Sabbath rhythm that is “renewing and sustaining.” She senses deeply that “Jesus is my bread” in sustaining her life.
It took time to find a rhythm that would allow both Lexa and Mike to practice Sabbath while leading their church. Following their God-given desires for practicing Sabbath has helped them be better leaders, strengthened the bonds of family and increased their sense of hearing God in daily life.
If God himself rested and was refreshed by practicing Sabbath (Exodus 31:17), they must do the same as they lead and disciple others in Chicago.