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Keri Wyatt Kent


Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of six books and a co-author or contributor to several others, and is currently working on another book. When she’s not busy traveling around the country to speak and lead retreats, she’s writing. She’s a regular contributor to several magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense and Outreach magazine, as well as several websites and blogs. She’s a member of Willow Creek Community Church, where she has taught, led groups, and volunteered in a variety of ministries over the last 21 years.

She and her husband Scot have been married for 17 years and live with their son and daughter in Illinois.

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January 2009

Journalist and public speaker Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of several books, including GARDEN OF THE SOUL, LISTEN and OXYGEN. Her latest release, REST, expounds on the idea of the Sabbath, a topic she introduced in her 2005 publication, BREATHE. In this interview with's Marcia Ford, Kent discusses the physical, spiritual and practical benefits of keeping Sabbath, and explains how to plan to do so amidst hectic work and personal schedules. She also describes how keeping the Sabbath can level social hierarchy, provides advice on incorporating play into days of rest, and shares details about her upcoming book, SIMPLE COMPASSION. REST is your second book on keeping Sabbath. How does it differ from the first one, BREATHE?

Keri Wyatt Kent: In BREATHE, I introduced the idea of Sabbath Simplicity: a sanely-paced, God-focused life. I told stories of real women and the pace of their lives. I wrote about three spiritual practices: simplicity, slowing and Sabbath. It explored how we can slow down to create space in our lives for God.

REST goes much deeper because it focuses only on the Sabbath. There’s a whole chapter on what Jesus said about Sabbath, and then we look at six of its aspects: resting, reconnecting, revising, pausing, playing and praying. Again, it’s illustrated with true stories of men and women who keep Sabbath. I wrote REST because I got so many questions from people who read BREATHE, wanting to know more about Sabbath, and how to approach it. It’s a very practical book, but I don’t tell people exactly what to do or not do. I guide them toward seeking God’s direction.

FR: Many people in deadline-driven, nontraditional jobs, such as freelancing, find it difficult to take off one day each week. As a freelancer, author and speaker, how do you manage to keep Sabbath and keep up with your work?

KWK: I actually think it’s easier as a freelancer. When I worked full-time for a newspaper, we had to take turns working the weekend shifts. I remember getting called into the office unexpectedly on a Sunday because a big news story broke. I know people in the corporate world who will get a call from their boss asking them to come in and work on Sundays. When you are self-employed, you are in control of your schedule. Of course, if you have a Monday deadline, you really have to see it as a Friday or Saturday deadline. And start the project sooner. Sabbath requires a bit of forethought and preparation.

I think we assume that if we take a day off, we won’t be able to keep up. But I have found if I take a day off, I am more productive during the week. Think about it --- if you never got any sleep, and just worked 24 hours a day, would you get more done? No, you’d start to make mistakes and be inefficient.

God created us to function optimally when we get rest --- and not just sleep, but rest, which is different. Two very prolific authors, Liz Curtis Higgs and Eugene Peterson, have this in common --- they are dedicated Sabbath-keepers. How do they find the time to do all the writing and speaking they do, in six days a week? I think there’s a correlation between their amazing body of work and their Sabbath practice.

When I rest on Sunday, Monday is amazingly productive. I get so much done because I’ve had a break, and I’m excited to get back to work.

Now, as a speaker, it’s a little trickier. I am often hired to lead retreats, and some of them last from Friday evening until Sunday. In some cases, I add an extra day to my trip and give myself a little time to rest. When I did a weekend retreat in Washington, for example, I spent a day exploring Seattle on my own on Monday --- it was my Sabbath that week. But I’m also learning that I can offer to do just Friday and Saturday, and if a group wants a longer retreat, to give them materials to do on their own for Sunday. Because people often want us to do things, Sabbath requires setting some boundaries.

FR: You describe Americans as "deeply committed to a belief in our own importance." Describe how this affects our ability --- or rather, inability --- to keep Sabbath.

KWK: We correlate busyness with importance. So if we are not busy, we’re what --- not important? We can’t handle that idea --- of being ordinary, or humble. So in order to appear important, we keep busy. Yet Christ calls us to humility. God himself rested --- are we greater than God that we don’t need to take a day off? I think we are afraid to admit we need rest. We believe that our value lies in our accomplishments. That’s the way the world thinks, but God looks at things very differently.

I’m not talking about being self-deprecating or looking down on yourself. You can have self-esteem, but still be humble. You matter to God, but you are not God.

FR: You call the commandment to keep the Sabbath "the hinge upon which all other commandments hang." What do you mean by that?

KWK: The Sabbath command is the fourth commandment. The three before it are about how we are to love God. The six that follow it are about how we love others. But the Sabbath command is about both. It’s the hinge in the middle. It’s about honoring God, but if you look at the commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, both add to the Sabbath command a list of who should not work on Sabbath. It’s EVERYONE, including servants, even animals. Sabbath flattens social hierarchy, extends God’s rest to all people --- regardless of gender or ethnicity. So the Sabbath command holds within it what Jesus said are the two most important commandments --- love God, and love your neighbor.

FR: For millennia, Christians have argued over which day should be considered the Sabbath. How do you respond to questions about that?

KWK: This is the issue I get the most reader mail about. I’ve had people tell me “God says to rest on Saturday.” I’ve searched the scriptures, and I can’t find the word “Saturday” anywhere. That’s because there was not a day called Saturday when the Bible was written. That calendar evolved later. And after that, other calendars --- including the one we use today --- evolved. I have a whole section in REST about the history of which day. Briefly, what I argue is that the various calendars in the ancient world are different from the one we use today. At one point, Saturday (named for the god Saturn) was the first day of the week. But it shifted due to Jewish influence.   

But more importantly, if someone who is just starting to explore the idea of Sabbath, someone who never takes a break at all, finds out that it has to be Saturday, they could easily give up on the practice altogether. And then they would miss the most amazing gift. Sabbath Simplicity is a journey. The first step in that journey is coming to believe that taking a day of rest is both biblical and also necessary for our physical, mental and spiritual health. The whole process needs to be bathed in grace, not legalism. And we ought to seek God’s direction on this. We don’t want to make others stumble by exercising our freedom (see first Corin. 8), but we do have freedom.

I think you have to pick a day and be consistent with that same day each week (rather than just taking a day whenever it’s convenient). Eugene Peterson, whom I mentioned earlier, was a pastor for 30 years. He and his wife took Monday as their Sabbath, because Sunday was a day when they had to be preaching and ministering at church.

FR: How does Sabbath "flatten social hierarchy," as you wrote in REST?

KWK: I answered this in part in your question about the ten commandments --- that Sabbath is for everyone. But let me add: the only way you can begin to live in what I call Sabbath Simplicity is to truly believe that you have “enough.” You have to believe that you can take a day off from being a consumer, from spending and earning, and you won’t starve. Now, believing you have enough is also a prerequisite for being generous. God taught the children of Israel how to practice Sabbath by giving them manna. They were only to gather “enough” for their household. If they hoarded the manna, it rotted. Sabbath is a call to trust, that God will take your six days of work and bless it so that you have enough for seven days.

The Deuteronomy command also mentions this reason for keeping Sabbath “because you were slaves in Egypt.” Why? Because slaves can’t take a day off. We enjoy a day of rest because we can. But many people can’t. That ought to inspire us to pray for, and act on behalf of, those who do not have the freedom to take a Sabbath.

Sabbath is also tied to the command for the Year of Jubilee, in which slaves were set free, debts were cancelled (see Leviticus 25). The Year of Jubilee took people from the lowest rank (slaves) and gave them back their family land. It leveled the playing field. I go into a lot more depth in this in my book, but the heart of the Sabbath command is a call to trust, to generosity, and to justice.

FR: How can churches help their parishioners keep the Sabbath?

KWK: Many churches schedule business meetings on Sunday afternoon, which keeps people from being able to rest. Changing that would be a huge step. Churches should focus on worship and fellowship on Sundays and schedule business for the other days.

Examine how you put on your services. Are only a small group of people involved every week? Share the load and you will lighten it. I advocate a team approach, so that teams can take turns leading worship, ushering, rocking babies in the nursery, or whatever. I led a retreat for a church once, and they told me stories about volunteers being publically chastised for taking a Sunday off --- because they didn’t have anyone else to do that person’s job. That’s not right.

The early church did not have just one person leading the service. Everyone used their gifts to contribute. This may not seem connected, but churches can help parishioners keep the Sabbath by helping them discover their spiritual gifts. When you are serving within your giftedness, your service becomes a form of worship. In other words, to get more people involved, you can’t just assign them jobs arbitrarily, but rather, invite them to serve where they are gifted.

Also, the pastor needs to model it. He needs to be willing to admit he’s not Superman, that he also needs a day off. And be willing to take it --- perhaps on Monday, as Peterson did. I think preaching on it is a great idea --- as long as you are willing to model it. Or having small groups read my book (it comes with a study guide).

A church has to be a safe enough place that people can be free to suggest changes, too. Many churches have a workaholic culture, and no one feels free to question that. While the work of ministry is important, we must remember that God calls us to both work and to rest.

FR: How does play figure in to the way we can keep Sabbath? In earlier times, play was not considered an appropriate Sabbath activity.

KWK: REST has a whole chapter on play. Play is an antidote to the self-importance I talked about earlier. Jesus called us to be like little children. What does that mean? Children of Jesus’ day were the lowest rung on the social ladder. Our society tends to idealize childhood, but Jesus’ culture did not. He was calling us to humility. But for those of us who are so busy (self-important), taking time to play helps us to not take ourselves too seriously. I recommend playing with others --- taking a walk or bike ride with your family, playing a board game, whatever recreation actually “re-creates” you. Play builds relationships. Like the Sabbath command, our Sabbath practice should focus on loving God and loving others. Playing with your children, or with friends, is a great way to show love.

FR: What advice do you give to Christians who are reluctant to keep Sabbath because they see it as legalistic?

KWK: Read my book! REST offers a non-legalistic, practical approach to Sabbath keeping. And take a look at how Jesus approached Sabbath. He kept it, but in a new way, which confounded the legalists of his day. If he preached against Sabbath legalism, it’s ironic that his followers would create our own Sabbath legalism. Jesus brought us freedom. But he also said, “come to me, and I will give you rest.” (See Matthew 11:28-30). God’s rest is a gift. God’s rest is really about relationship with him.

FR: Tell us about your next book, SIMPLE COMPASSION.

KWK: SIMPLE COMPASSION is about how to live more compassionately and justly in your neighborhood, your city, the world. It looks at the passages in Scripture that point to God’s heart for the poor, his zeal for justice.

It’s a devotional, but has just one short chapter per week. Each week has a compassion step, a suggestion of something you can do to show God’s love, to live out your faith. There’s also a community step, which makes this a great book to read with a group.

Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” How do we do those things, right now, right where we are? That’s what SIMPLE COMPASSION is about.

A few people have asked, isn’t this a lot different from your other books, because those are about spiritual formation? I think it is simply a logical progression. If our spirits are being formed into the image of Christ, then eventually, we should start acting like Christ. Showing compassion, seeking justice for the oppressed, caring for the needy, is what Jesus did. As His followers, we are called to do just that --- to follow Him, to live as He lived.

I’m excited about this book, because writing it really stretched me to live my faith in a new way. I’m hoping it will have the same effect on my readers.

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