My Secular Sabbath, Again

Warning: this gets personal.

In the fall of 2014, I stepped way off track. For several preceding years, I had practiced what I called a “secular Sabbath,” a time of peace and connection with myself, nature, and people that mattered. At that time, that was my wife and son, mother, sister, and friends, many of whom were scattered around a handful of countries. Growing up Seventh-day Adventist, I’d been instilled with the value of this powerful ritual, although as a child, I mostly viewed Sabbath as a day that I couldn’t have any fun. I left all religion behind well over a decade ago, but I continued to see the value in taking time away from work and rushing around, shopping and doing menial chores, and entertaining myself by mindlessly consuming entertainment media. (In some ways, the days I set aside from screen-based entertainment during the More Social Less Media program echo these same values).

In 2011, my then-wife (and business partner) and I wrote a blog post making “a case for Tuesdays,” sharing how we were living out this concept in our own lives. We had started this practice in 2010 as a way to protect what was was important to us (quality time together, and peace away from the busyness of our nonstop work), and had kept to it all the way through 2014. Tuesdays were nearly sacred to us, and we were unbending in our commitment to setting that time aside. We wrote, “Every Tuesday, we take the day off. Like, OFF off… We don’t work – not even in an emergency. If the website blows up, it’s going to have to wait… All of it, in fact, will wait.” And it did. But by early 2014, our marriage was in trouble. Our first book, It Starts With Food, had become a New York Times bestseller, we were getting lots of requests for major media appearances, and our Whole30 program (founded in 2009) was starting to gain serious traction on social media. We were in talks with publishers about a book on the Whole30. In September of 2014, the producer of the Dr. Oz Show contacted us about coming on the show to talk about the Whole30… the following Tuesday.

I said no. Well, I said no, but then I faltered. My wife had responded enthusiastically to the producer, and told me that she was going to appear on the show. I balked, arguing that our Tuesdays were important, that they represented us standing for our relationship and our family’s values. Hell, we had even written that our Tuesdays only work “because we’ve committed to the idea one hundred percent… We both believe this concept is crucial for the health of our relationship, our family, our sanity.”

I caved to the pressure to “succeed,” to gain notoriety (alongside my partner) for the work I had done for the previous 6 years, and to not be “left behind.” My mother – always a bastion of reason and pragmatism – also argued that I should go on the show in order to promote the life-changing work I’d begun sharing with my family, friends and patients back in 2007 and 2008. It sounded reasonable.

I went to New York. I went on the Dr. Oz Show, and I hated it. I felt like such a fraud, talking on national television about healthy living but having just caved to the pressure to promote our business by abandoning a really important symbol of our family’s values. I was stressed, I was lonely, but mostly… I felt adrift. Unmoored. And if you watch the clip of us on the show, I don’t look like I was having any fun (because I wasn’t). I love the Whole30 like my own child, but promoting the Whole30 at the cost of abandoning a years-old symbol of our family’s values during a time of disintegration of my marriage was simply too much for me.

Sure, it’s easy in retrospect to dismiss my feelings as petty or immature. I’ve argued (to myself) that an arbitrary thing that I made up (a secular Sabbath on Tuesdays) should be easily “flexed” to suit changing life circumstances (and incredible opportunities). But it didn’t feel that way, and it still doesn’t.

Going on a slew of national TV programs didn’t make me happy… but it wasn’t what made me unhappy, either. I did that to myself by making another person’s actions mean something about me (which, of course, they did not). I violated one of the most important guidelines for peace and happiness: don’t take it personally.

I can’t say that I regret going to New York that Tuesday in 2014, but it did come at a cost. In the year and a half since then, I’ve learned and grown a lot. I’ve sought and found ways to forgive, and I’ve reconnected with myself. I’ve read dozens of books and spent countless hours introspecting and conversing and therapizing. Travel, photography, motorcycling, and lots of introspective time have helped. Most of all, pure and present time with my son has helped. I’m coming around, and it’s really good.

Recently, I came across a little book called The Art of Stillness at a hermitage on the rugged California coast. This morning, I sat in the sun in a quiet little courtyard, sipping coffee and musing about connection and stillness, and I read that book. The last chapter is titled “A Secular Sabbath,” which hit me right between the eyes because I was just talking earlier this week about recreating that specific ritual after having left it behind in my discouragement and resentment in 2014. In my hurt and loneliness, I abandoned myself and a potent mindfulness practice that had been part of my life for the majority of my years. I abandoned it, but now I’m coming back to it.

I’m ready to prioritize my quality of life and my people and simply being present.

I don’t believe in divine intervention, but I do believe that we see what we are ready to see, and I’m ready to see the value in my Secular Sabbath again. I’m ready to prioritize my quality of life and my people and simply being present. I’ll be sharing more about how I do this in the coming weeks, and I hope it’ll help you establish a practice of carving out a little sabbatical time for yourself. Sometimes, the tired, dark and discouraging times give way to the vibrant, bright and beautiful.

The shadows let us appreciate the light.

Share on Facebook


  • Gabi Pezo

    embrace the shadow. thank you.

  • Theresa

    Thank you for sharing this…

  • Celia

    If there was no darkness we wouldn’t know to appreciate the light.

    • Christine


  • Kerri Porter

    Perfectly put.

  • Virginia

    You have a gentle influence, good and true. That means success. Keep going and thank you.

  • Lucille Bouwman

    May the Lord grant you what you need, Dallas, as you continue onward in this trying time – what other words can be said.
    I wish you and Melissa the best. God hates divorce…He loves both of you so-o–o-o much.
    I wish I could hold each of our hands and pray with you, but I assume this comes too late – I am not a media follower.
    Just a lover of Christ Jesus.

    All the best to you.

    May God bless our journey towards Him…

  • Packy

    Love this reminder! Thank you sharing this about taking a break from the busyness of our lives to embrace the stillness. Recently I have been given the role of a caregiver and the importance to take a sabbatical is so extremely crucial, to get refreshed. Thank you the reminder! Gotta put the oxygen mask on yourself before one can help others.

  • Lisa

    Thanks for the warning about taking time out for marriage maintenance and rejuvenation. My husband and I take Saturday nights as date nights as well as annual vacations together around our anniversary to keep our marriage strong. So sorry for your trouble in yours! Maybe you’ll reunite someday. That would be a blessing.

  • Becca

    Dallas my friend, you are one of the most amazing men I have ever met and had the pleasure of working with in Maine. You are kind and gentle and never once let your team down. I still have the pictures you gifted me of the climb you made on Mt MP that is the Dallas I know and remember, I faith that you will always find your way because your light my dear shines bright. Sincerely Becca

  • Nate

    It’s not you, it’s Melissa. Sometimes people can be selfish without even realizing it and they’ll take advantage of everyone around them just for their own personal gains, and move forward after they’ve sucked the life out of you quite easily.

    • Dallas Hartwig

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment, but I’d like to nudge you gently in the direction of love and compassion, rather than blaming. Did Melissa hurt me deeply? Yes, undoubtedly. Did I show up as a loving, supportive partner? No, I sure didn’t. We both tried hard. Deeply wounded people wound other people deeply. I’m working on healing my old wounds so that I can be a better, more loving partner going forward.

  • Chris

    She ruined her first husband too.

  • sarah

    I have been craving a Secular Sabbath, as I gave up my religious one years ago. When I stumbled across this post, I gave out an audible chuckle – I follow your podcast, have read your books, and have very rarely been disappointed in your thoughtfulness. Of course you have gone through this. Thank you once again, Sir, for your vulnerability.

  • Heather

    I loved it all, like almost everything you contribute… until I got to the part where you said…”I don’t believe in devine intervention”. Huh? I know religion, in particular with a very disciplined, mission impossible expectancy such as Seventh Day, can be discouraging, disheartening and several other dis’s; but I would be remiss if I did not say aloud, YOU ARE A DEVINE INTERVENTION! A gift from God. From the little I know of you, my impression is you are somewhat of a tortured soul, which is why the work and love you pour into this world is constantly and consistently flowering, at a very rapid pace. And it is also why you never feel like it is enough. Even in your struggles, you are a gift from the Devine Interventionist (is that a word?). But not here to preach, rather to prioritize my life and the quality of myself I share with other through truth and grace. And, you’re pretty hot:). Bless your heart. (Interventionist is indeed a word..but not at all defined as it should be!)

Post A Comment