Once upon a time, in a little land called America, the Sabbath was a day of rest. Shops closed. Church bells rang. Girls in white stockings and patent-leather shoes and boys with slicked-down hair and stiff white collars marched off to church with their parents.
Sometimes they went to church twice a day. Afternoons were reserved for family dinners and Bible study.
That was once upon a time.
It’s hard these days to differentiate the Sabbath from any other day of the week. People work. They shop and go boating and mow the lawn and watch or play sports.
Every family has different traditions, and as my husband and I have grown our own family, we’ve talked a lot about Sabbath day traditions. What exactly are we striving for, and how do we keep the commandment to honor the Sabbath in a way that fits with our own circumstances?
For instance, the scriptures say the Sabbath should be a day of rest. As a young mother trying to juggle four toddlers on a church pew, followed by afternoons alone with the children while my husband made visits, followed by the expectation of a fancy evening meal, I became frustrated that the Sabbath was anything but restful.
As I’ve studied the scriptures, I’ve come to understand that the “rest” the Lord is talking about isn’t found on a pillow. It is simply a different kind of work — his work. To be in the rest of the Lord means to build the kingdom of God. For members of the LDS Church, that can be an intensive Sunday process: early-morning meetings, long hours of worship, duties to teach and instruct, followed by visits and often more meetings or gatherings.
If you look at the schedule of our church leaders, who often travel on weekends to attend stake conferences across the world, the Sabbath day is their most intense day of the week, certainly not the day of leisure we sometimes equate with our ideal vision of the Sabbath.
What about our children? What should they be doing on the Sabbath? In our family, we’ve tried to make Sunday a day of instruction, with Family Home Evening, individual interviews and scripture reading.
But we’re also realistic. We have four boys, and their energy knows no limits. We’re coming off a seven-month winter, nearly all of it spent huddled indoors. So we spend a lot of time outside on Sundays, exploring the trails near our home, visiting with neighbors and giving our kids a decent break from the structure of school, homework, music practice and activities.
The Sabbath is something that adapts with callings and life situations. Years ago my husband worked as a sports editor of a large newspaper. Because of the nature of the newspaper business, he often worked on Sunday. Of course it wasn’t ideal, but he did his best to honor the Sabbath in his own way. He listened to conference talks on his commute. Jeans are standard dress in a newsroom, but on Sundays he wore his white shirt and tie to the office as a reminder to himself that it was still the Sabbath. We held Family Home Morning because he wasn't around in the evenings. We made it work.
I find it interesting that the Lord, through his commandments, is constantly trying to quiet our minds and slow us down. We’re told to pray often. We’re told to attend the temple, a place of peace and whispers. And we’re commanded to take a day to rest from the tasks that crowd our typical schedule.
That seventh day should be looked at as a gift. When we make it something different and special, not complex or structured, then it’s a day the entire family can savor. I remember a wise CES instructor telling us that he wanted the Sabbath to be his family’s favorite day of the week. I have that goal too.
Our Sabbath day may not include the nap we’ve been hoping for, but it can be a day of worship, of honor and a different kind of rest.
And in a world that doesn’t know how to slow down, I believe it’s as relevant as ever.