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As kids return to school, we must protect their right to rest. Sabbath practices can help.

(RNS) — When I was in ninth grade, I developed a consuming anxiety disorder that plagued me on and off throughout high school and college. When my daughter began ninth grade last year, I was worried. I didn’t want her to go through the same painful experience I did.

But then when the pandemic began and she shifted to remote learning, my daughter was among a small but sizable number of students who seemed to thrive. While online schooling has been disastrous for many students, my daughter — a textbook introvert and self-motivated learner — has done well with increased freedom and flexibility and reduced social anxiety.

She has also had more time for rest.

Research has shown teenagers who are overscheduled with activities tend to experience higher levels of self-reported anxiety. Likewise, many children and adolescents do not get enough sleep. During the pandemic, teachers have observed that some students have experienced a reprieve from these pressures.

So how can we retain some of these benefits as many students return to in-person learning this fall?

Some of the responsibility lies with educators, many of whom are proactively thinking about if and how we can apply lessons to the way we approach classroom-based instruction — including for students with disabilities. But parents and churches also have a responsibility. We must provide support and make space for kids to rest. In my family, this has involved recommitting to a weekly Sabbath observance.

I adopted Sabbath-keeping as a spiritual practice late in life, and establishing a weekly cadence of intentional rest has been transformative for me. Now, I want to hand down this gift to my daughter. I want her to know rest is both a mandate and gift from God. In Genesis we learn creation was not complete until God rested. Likewise, we cannot expect to be in right relationship with God, our neighbors or ourselves if we turn our back on rest as an intrinsic and beautiful part of creation.

But figuring out how to implement a Sabbath observance can be tricky for families with complicated schedules. A friend once told me she might consider a Sabbath practice after she gets her “volleyball-obsessed, tournaments-at-all-times child off to college.” As MaryAnn McKibben Dana, author of “Sabbath in the Suburbs,” writes, family life often feels “like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle with 600 pieces.”

Yet it is also imperative for us to role model and set limits so there is space for Sabbath time for our children. In my own struggle with clinical anxiety as a young person, I desperately wanted someone to show me how I might live differently. Since then, I’ve learned that creating and sustaining habits of rest requires effort and intention. This is why Sabbath-keeping is a discipline as well as a gift. It took time to negotiate a Sabbath schedule that works for our family, but it has been worth it.

Case in point: I opened my laptop to work on this article during the day we have set aside for our family’s weekly Sabbath observance. (At the time, I rationalized it as being “fun” so not technically part of my work.) My daughter walked by and frowned when she saw me. “Mom, isn’t it the Sabbath?”

Kate H. Rademacher. Photo by Steffanie Lafors

Kate H. Rademacher. Photo by Steffanie Lafors

So, in these moments, our kids become the teachers. We all need to be reminded of these lessons. Rest is a gift from God, but we must make the choice to accept that gift, including when school is back in session.

(Kate H. Rademacher works in international public health and is the author of “Reclaiming Rest: The Promise of Sabbath, Solitude, and Stillness in a Restless World,” published by Broadleaf Books in 2021. You can find her online at www.katerademacher.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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