Have you ever looked forward to a general conference because you were certain in your mind that the apostles were going to address some of the crazy issues that are taking place in the world? “There’s got to be some big announcement this time” we might say. “Maybe this is the year we’ll be asked to ‘flee to Zion,'” you might think. But then they talk about something like “Sabbath Day observance” and we tune out because “we’ve heard this all before”…right?
Over the last year, the world seems to be crumbling in every way imaginable…and yet all we seem to hear about is the Sabbath? I’ve been curious to know why.
As the Sabbath has been talked about with greater intensity, I’ve noticed quite a few people online say that they’re sick of hearing about it. For me personally…it’s generally the things I’m not doing so well with that I get sick of hearing about. “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard for it cutteth them to the very center.” I’ve been there…especially when it comes to the Sabbath.
The other reason people might get sick of hearing about the Sabbath is because of a lack of understanding. With that lack of understanding comes an associated lack of importance. If a person doesn’t truly understand the “why” of the sabbath, then it just becomes a day of guilt, confusion, and boredom.
It’s hard for the Sabbath day to become a “delight” when you never know if what you’re doing is right. (Did you like that rhyme?)
When I hear someone give their Sabbath Kumbayah stories about how everyone sits in a circle on Sunday and reads scriptures all day after singing hymns together, sometimes it feels hard to measure up. Honestly, it just doesn’t seem like reality.
Maybe I’m weird, and my thinking was off, but over the years, I’ve felt like all I could do on the Sabbath was eat, drink, sleep, read scriptures, pray, and go to church. This was because I was supposed to be “resting” from my labors and making the day “holy.”
It also seemed to me like the most prevalent description of Sabbath Day activities from others was that of “sleeping” or “napping” after church. But I hate sleeping during the day, so that just doesn’t work for me. If I sleep all day Sunday…I feel horrible. It ruins my sleep pattern and I can’t go to sleep Sunday night, making Monday morning dreadful, setting me up for a brutal work week. I feel much better if I go for a walk or a hike outside in the sun/wind/rain anything that involves nature.
But am I breaking the Sabbath?
Am I making the day less holy by taking a hike instead of being conked out on the couch all day “resting?” Some might say that I am.
For me personally, I’ve spent many a Sunday after church in my parents backyard shooting baskets with my dad before dinner with the family. My mom would come outside and talk some trash to my dad when he missed his shots or just to jump into the conversation. It was so much fun and I always looked forward to those times. We might play horse…or around the world, or just stand there holding the ball under our arm for hours. We’d sit as a family in our backyard chairs talking about things we never had time to talk about during the week. During the week, we were too busy with our own things. My parents were working, I was playing on multiple sports teams and hanging out with friends. Honestly…I feel like the work week separated us. Every day takes us further away from each other. The Sabbath brings us back together. And it can be “delightful” if done in the right spirit.
This may seem sacrilegious to ask…but would I be a better person today, or have a better relationship with my mom or dad if they left me by myself and were inside on the recliner sleeping or reading their scriptures all day? I mean…no one would ever fault them for “reading scriptures all day” would they? But surely people would fault them for bouncing that ball or firing up the BBQ outside…while not in their church clothes.
Fast forward 20 years and I have kids of my own that are shaping their own perceptions of the Sabbath.
But is it alright to have fun on the Sabbath?
After church a few Sunday’s ago, it was beautiful outside. We got home from church at about noon and my kids begged me to go out back on the trampoline with them. Should I have said “no?”
Instead of saying no…I said, “let’s do it,” and we spent the next 5- 10 minutes bouncing around on the trampoline. Rarely do I actually get the opportunity to do this. After I was too tired to bounce anymore, I laid on my back and looked up at the sky. Within 2 seconds, both kids were laying next to me, each placing their head on my left and right shoulders. They also stared up at the sky. In that moment, I was in their element, and they opened up to me. I was able to teach them, and talk to them, and strengthen them more so than I would have been able to do in any other setting. I could have told them to go to their rooms and sleep. I could have told them to go read scriptures. I could have told them to go stare at the wall and be quiet because it’s Sunday. But seriously?
I’m certain that there was no better thing that I could have been doing with my Sabbath at that time. I could have been upstairs writing church blogs or reading scriptures and no man would condemn me. But I know that if I would have been doing anything else at that exact moment, I would have been condemning myself and ruining the most effective opportunity for me to bind with and strengthen my family.
This may sound crazy but I truly believe that I would be breaking the Sabbath if all I did was read scriptures all day after church. Anyone that knows me well knows that it would be a dream for me to barricade myself in a room and read scriptures all day. I’m that nerdy. But if I did that, I seriously believe that I would be dishonoring the purpose of the Sabbath.
Again…no one would argue with someone for reading the scriptures or “taking a nap” on the Sabbath, but there are certainly some that would confidently suggest that we were breaking the sabbath with every bounce of that trampoline.
So…again…is it alright to have fun on the Sabbath?
According to both Elder Cook and Elder Bednar…of course it is. (2016 Training On Sabbath Day Observance)
Does that mean we should do whatever we want as long as we’re “with our family?” No.
Recently we had to create another Sabbath tradition in our family. We decided…together, that we aren’t going to play individual or team sports in our family on Sunday. My son was only seven and he made his little baseball all-star team. We were told that half of the games would be on Sunday. These games would cause us to miss church and by association, miss the sacrament. We’d also be required to be separate from each other for a good part of the day because of conflicting schedules.
Were we going to do double headers on Sunday every time he made an all star team or for travel ball? Would my son and I go to the games while my wife and daughter went to church because of a relief society responsibility? Would I shirk my callings to go to the Sunday games? Would my daughter, who loves sports also start having Sunday conflicts? If one child was giving a talk in church, who would go watch the game and who would stay and watch the talk? Or would we just refuse the speaking opportunity altogether? We tracked the implications to what we considered to be a bad place for us…and from there…we made a tradition.
We weighed the arguments we’d hear against the tradition that we established.
“You’re letting down the team.”
“You made a commitment to the team.” etc. etc.
We came to the conclusion that #1…it’s just a game. And #2…we made a commitment to God first. There was no way to satisfy both commitments without one or the other suffering. For us…there was no way to commit fully to both, and if we were going to be letting anyone down…it was going to be the team. Not God. It needed to pass our Sabbath Day “God and Family first litmus test.” So from there…our traditions set a precedent for the future.
The cool thing is that this “no organized sports” tradition doesn’t bother our kids because they look forward to the other traditions that make the Sabbath so enjoyable. In fact…they helped make the tradition. So now they’re invested.
As far as I know, the church has never…and I believe, will never come out with a definitive list of what is and is not considered “keeping the sabbath day holy.”
I don’t know if everything we do on Sunday (our traditions) are right or wrong, but what I do know is that our Sunday’s are set apart for God and family. That day is sacred to us. We all know that. We all feel that. We all look forward to it. It’s a day in which our family comes closer and becomes stronger. It’s also a day in which we bless other families through our callings.
Isn’t it funny how everyone has their own perceptions of what is and is not allowed. I’ve had this discussion with countless people over the years and I don’t know of one family that does Sunday the same. Some think it’s perfectly fine to come home after church and sleep all day on Sunday but then they condemn the person who takes their family on a Sunday hike.
There are those that stay in their church clothes all day as a way of keeping the day holy. Others run home and throw on sweatpants and feel just as holy. Some think the crockpot should be prepared on Saturday night so that they don’t cook on Sunday. Others like to fire up the BBQ and pitch in together to make a meal on the Sabbath. Listing the various preferences could take us all night…
My point is that none of that is doctrine. None of it is even policy. Like the Pharisees of the past, we’re so concerned with honoring our self-conceived lists…that we forget to honor the Sabbath and enjoy it for what it is. To watch people argue about why their way of keeping the Sabbath is right while condemning others is quite the sight to see.
Elder Christofferson said that instead of focusing on what we can and cannot do, that we should be focusing on outcomes.
So…what’s the desired outcome of that day?
Is it to rest?
“Resting” is relative to our definition of rest. Did God “rest” from His labors on the Sabbath Day because he was tired? Does anyone really believe that when God “rested” from His labors on the seventh day, that He went and found a cloudy recliner to isolate himself on for the afternoon?
In Genesis 2, when it says that God “rested” from His labors, the Hebrew lexicon defines “rest” as something very different from what we might take it for in the English. Two Hebrew definitions stuck out to me:
- “To Repose” (When I looked up “repose” in the English, it was defined as “Peace” and “Tranquility.”)
- “To Celebrate”
Nowhere in the various contexts and definitions of the Sabbath have I found the concept of sleeping to be what the Lord intended us to do with that day. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite.
When I was a missionary, Sunday’s were always my busiest days. Ward council in the morning, then off to make sure investigators made it to church alright. Then we’d stay close to those investigators and worry about making sure they had a good time. We’d make sure they got home safely and then go find people to teach. Then we’d have baptismal services for which we were many times solely responsible for. Anyone who’s been there and done that knows what I’m talking about. When you hit the pillow on Sunday night…you’re whooped.
Talk to a mother or visit your local Stake Presidency or Bishopric and ask them if they’re tired at the end of the day? They’re beat!
That doesn’t seem like resting now does it?
Unless…we define rest as it was originally given in the Hebrew. Even though I was tired on Sunday night after a busy day of missionary “work,” there was never a time in my life that I experienced more “peace” and “tranquility.” There was never a time in which I felt a greater desire to “celebrate” than at the end of those busy Sundays. I’m certain many others have felt the same way.
In a recent training on the Sabbath Day, Sister Linda K. Burton talked about a tradition that began in her home with three teenage daughters. She talked about how it became a tradition for them to come together and make cookies and then deliver those cookies to people whom they thought might need them. Now you can just imagine three teenage daughters and a mom in the kitchen making cookies. It’s a lot of work and it probably makes a big mess to clean up. It’s not what someone might consider “resting.” Some may contend that they were breaking the Sabbath, and if they were making cookies to sell for money, or for self indulgence…I might agree. But they were making those cookies to bless and strengthen their “family”…the fatherless and the widows and others that might need strengthening on a day that was set apart specifically for that kind of activity.
It’s interesting. The same physical activity of making cookies can yield different Sabbath Day outcomes.
Some people say to “give the Sabbath Day back to the Lord.” But I think that the Lord would give it right back to us and say…”the Sabbath was made for you…and not you for the Sabbath.” In commenting on that scripture in Mark 2:27, Elder Nelson said that “I believe He (God) wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us.” (The Sabbath is a Delight)
Isaiah said that the Sabbath should be a delight. Not a party…but a delight. Make cookies for each other, have dinner together, sing songs together, mix in some scriptures, have fun, recharge!
The Sabbath Day conversation is interesting because you think to yourself, “It’s just a day of the week…what’s the big deal? Why is it one of the big ten commandments? Why do modern apostles focus on this seemingly ancillary commandment?”
My personal belief is this. I believe the primary purpose of the Sabbath is to preserve the “religion of our families.” The word “religion” comes from the Latin “re-ligare” which means “to bind.” The Sabbath has always been thought of as the day in which we “get religion”…but if we take the true meaning of religion as our guide…the Sabbath is actually a day set apart for us “to bind” with our families.
So the apostles might go to the Lord and ask, “What is the most important thing we should be focusing on?” If I had to guess the answer to that question, I believe it would have something to do with preserving families from this final onslaught of the last days.
“So what is the best way to go about preserving and protecting families?”
“Bind yourselves together on the Sabbath! That is why it was made!”
So when Elder Christofferson says that we should focus on outcomes…in my mind, the most desirable outcome for the Sabbath is that we would come together and bind ourselves back to each other with Christ’s atonement at the center of those activities. The at-one-ment is the ultimate reconciliation, binding, and sealing agent. It is at the heart of pure religion.
Pure religion as James defines it…is to “visit the fatherless and the widows” and to “keep yourself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
Why the fatherless and the widows? Because they lack family members to bind (re-ligare) with and derive strength from. That is why we come together on Sunday. To be with and strengthen both our immediate and ward families.
How do we keep ourselves unspotted from the world? “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” (D&C 59:9) Sunday.
Pure religion then, is the act of preserving families through the application of the atonement of Christ. Almost all of this takes place on Sunday for us.
Each major Sabbath has been an act of grace worth celebrating. The creation of the earth, the Exodus (God’s deliverance of his people out of bondage in Egypt), the Resurrection of Jesus Christ…all of these events revolved around one concept. That concept dealt with the deliverance, preservation, and progression of God’s covenant families…and that is a concept worth celebrating!
The Sabbath has been something that has nagged at me for many years. It’s always bugged me because I never had a hard and fast rule to determine whether what I was doing on the Sabbath was right or wrong. But I’ve finally come up with a rule that brings peace to my mind for any and every Sabbath activity…
My Sabbath rule:
Always make sacrifices that strengthen your relationship with God and with family. You know you’re violating the Sabbath if you are making sacrifices that weaken those relationships.
When I apply that rule to each Sabbath activity…I find peace, tranquility, and a cause to celebrate. To paraphrase Elder Bednar’s words, the Sabbath becomes like a cool drink of water after a hot day of working in the sun.
Happy Sabbath to you all…and congratulations on reading such a long blog on a topic that most people will just pass by.