The mischievous Katzenjammer Kids never aroused so much sympathy as when the cartoonist depicted them in their Sunday clothes, buried in starched collars and imprisoned in suits and cravats that could not be messed up. Sunday was the worst day of the week for them!
And yet the Lord gave the Sabbath to man as a gift—a day of rest, a day for good deeds and kindness, a day to withdraw from the concerns of the workaday world and enter into the fulfilling world of the Spirit. Sunday should be the best day.
But just try telling that to a three-year-old who considers that the bench at church is a very hard thing that he must avoid at all costs.
Try convincing many teenagers that a game of basketball will “ruin” the Sabbath!
And what are the chances that a husband and wife, frazzled after a busy day and cooking a huge Sunday dinner and dressing and redressing a half dozen children, will look at each other and say, “I love Sundays, don’t you?”
So how can we make Sunday into a genuine Sabbath?
“My attitude is what sets the tone for Sunday, I’ve found,” says a young mother in Virginia. “When I start out the day a little bit behind schedule, and then nag everybody to hurry, everyone gets tense, tempers flare, and the hour-long drive to church is a battle to keep the kids under control. It’s no surprise that I hate Sundays like that!”
But with a good attitude? “I get up as early on Sunday as any other day. When my husband leaves for priesthood meeting I’m already dressed and ready for Church. Then I lay out my children’s clothes, and wake them one at a time. I have a good few minutes with each one.”
And then, perhaps, the key to making the children enjoy Sunday: “I tell each child about how wonderful it is that this is Sunday, and how we get to drive through beautiful countryside until we get to church, and we sing some Sunday School songs, and I remind them about what fun and wonderful things they did and learned in church the week before. Then we leave a little early and take a different route to church, and I point out sights to them, and we sing songs on the way.”
What is the result? “My children keep asking me during the week, ‘Mommy, can’t today be Sunday?’ And even though I get up earlier, it’s actually less work for me, and I feel far more rested at the end of the day.”
What about those hours between meetings, or after sacrament meeting is over? The children want to play in the dirt, of course, or ride bikes. Telling them, “No, you can’t do that,” whenever they suggest something to do only frustrates them, and gives them the feeling that Sunday is a day of doing nothing fun.
“Steer them to a better activity,” suggests one mother in Pacifica, California. “We have ‘Sunday books’ with religious pictures and stories, and some old Tabernacle Choir records that the children are allowed to play on our old record player. They’re more scratches than sound, now, but the little ones love to play them just the same. And our two daughters love to put their dolls in their best clothes and play ‘Going to Church.’”
Debra S. Hadfield has a “Sunday Table” for her family. “Actually, it’s a hundred-pound storage can covered with a circular cloth,” she says. “When our family meets in the living room early Sunday morning for our special Sunday devotional, either my husband or I introduce a theme for that Sunday. For instance, once our theme was the Word of Wisdom. The table display included a bowl of fresh fruit, a bottle of home-canned tomatoes, and a vase of dried wheat that the children and I had picked together. For other themes we sing songs, read stories and scriptures, and point out examples of the theme throughout the day.
“When we meet again by the table in the evening, the children summarize what they’ve learned about the theme. And they’re so excited about Sundays that they keep our Sunday theme suggestion box full of ideas for themes!”
“Our teenagers are actively involved in the Church,” says a father in American Fork, Utah. “Between teaching in Junior Sunday School, attending priesthood meeting or Young Adult Relief Society, going to Young Adult Sunday School class, attending firesides, and planning for activities, they don’t have time to get bored on Sunday!”
But not all young people have the opportunity to be involved in so many Church activities. Their friends’ swimming pools look very attractive on hot summer Sundays; the football games on television seem “too important to miss”; and the idea of sitting around home seems deadly. What can parents do?
The Carlson family of the Beverly Ward, Chicago Heights Illinois Stake, found a Sabbath activity that included the whole family, from teens down to early grade-schoolers: They organized a “genealogy club.”
Each of the children was called to a position in the club. Martin Carlson held a private interview with them, one at a time, and carefully explained the duty of each calling. The Carlsons’ oldest son, Martin, was made first counselor in the club. His duty was to organize special events for the group.
Albert was called to be family examiner—ordering sheets, filling out TIB slips, and submitting sheets to the ward examiner.
David, the president, called meetings to order and arranged trips to the places of research.
Margaret, the secretary, kept minutes of meetings and kept track of what research was being done. And Elsie, then age seven, handed out sheets to be filled in, while three-year-old William picked up scrap papers.
And everybody did research.
At first the club set out to discover family history. Later they moved into the huge task of finding names to submit to the temples for ordinance work. Yet genealogy became the key to their Sabbath success: though most research had to be done during the week, it was on Sunday that they shared their findings. Among their ancestors were knights—some of them beheaded for supporting the wrong side in a medieval conflict. There was also a witch-hunter!
And besides the fun of stories, the family members learned to feel a personal love and interest in the people they researched. They began to call some ancestors by their first names! And when Albert found ten generations of one line on his first trip to a library, he said, “They didn’t try to hide from me! They really want to be united!”
“My parents laid down the law about Sundays,” said a teenager from Santa Clara, California. “But that just seemed unfair. Then I remembered being taught that on Sunday we were supposed to visit the sick and afflicted and stuff like that. So I thought, as long as I couldn’t do anything fun, I might as well do something good.
“I had the surprise of my life. My sister and I went to visit an older lady who has trouble walking and doesn’t come to church very much—the bishop told us about her. We started out by telling her about some good points from Sunday School lessons and what the sacrament meeting talks had been about. And we ended up hearing some great stories about her life as a child in Nephi, Utah, in the early 1900s, before she got married and moved to California.
“We go back to see her at least once a month—she’s one of our favorite people. And every Sunday we go visit somebody. Someone who’s sick, someone who’s alone, and sometimes we just go see somebody that we want to get to know. Sundays are people days for us now.”
A newly married sister remembers her discovery of the Sabbath in her teens. “I was Junior Sunday School chorister and had to learn all the songs. I had piano lessons, and I needed time to practice ballet for my beginning class at school. But the social life at my school was pretty intense, and I’m not one of those people who can get good grades without studying, and I wasn’t long in high school before I discovered that something had to happen!”
She asked her father, and all he suggested was that she stop studying on Sunday. “I almost laughed. ‘Here I need more time,’ I thought, ‘and all he can tell me is to give up some of the little time I have!’” But then she decided to do it.
“I began to read good Church books and scriptures on Sundays, between meetings. Then I discovered that my twelve-year-old sister was really a nice person, and we began to have regular Sunday talks. It was in one of those talks where I taught her how to put on make-up so it didn’t look like you were wearing make-up, and we talked about everything from school to boys to the doctrine of repentance.
“And finally I realized that Sunday was the perfect day to look at the week ahead and plan for it. I figured out all the things I had to do, all the things I wanted to do, and all the things I could put off. I made sure that I spent at least a couple of nights a week with a friend, and limited myself to one night a week on a date. I held out plenty of time for study, plenty of time for practice, and by getting myself organized on Sunday, I found out that I had more time than I knew what to do with.”
Couldn’t she have done it on any day? “Sunday is quiet for me now. And because it’s a day of prayer, and because I take the sacrament, I feel closer to the Lord, better able to sense his will and obey it. I kind of feel like every Sunday I have a personal interview with Heavenly Father, and I come out of it feeling refreshed and good.”
A father in Rochester, New York, has had a Sunday project going for years. “Few things help people grow in the gospel more than giving talks,” he explains, “but how many chances do young people have? One or two a year. So ever since our children were little, we’ve helped them prepare a talk every Sunday. Now they’re grown up, but we still have our Sunday night meetings where we gather in the living room after supper and each of the teenagers, in turn, delivers the talk he or she prepared that day. It has meant that every Sunday all the children have spent at least an hour studying the scriptures or good Church books, thinking about the gospel; they’ve had experience putting their ideas into words; and they have notebook after notebook full of talks and stories and speeches they could give at a moment’s notice. Sundays are good because we all have something to do.“
Another father holds his personal interviews with his children on Sundays: “It’s a good day to communicate with each other, a good day to rely on the Spirit to promote understanding.”
And many families have reported that Sunday is the day for visiting family, keeping the ties close between cousins, between grandchildren and grandparents, between brothers and sisters. And those who live too far to visit often use Sundays as a letter-writing day, keeping in touch with distant loved ones.
“My wife,” one husband remembered ruefully, “used to spend Sundays in the kitchen preparing a lavish Sunday dinner. And then another hour cleaning up after we ate. She was hot, she was exhausted, and we all spent half of Sunday lying around the house sleeping off the meal.
“Then one day I said something about Sunday being a day of rest and she got a funny look on her face and left the room. I found her crying in the bedroom—she was so tired and upset—and she said, ‘Honey, I can’t remember ever resting on a Sunday at all.’
“So we repented. Sunday lunch is just that—lunch. Cold cuts, sandwiches, maybe a salad prepared the day before. And supper is always simple—soup or leftovers or something from the freezer. Not only does my wife get a chance to relax, but also I don’t get so stuffed that I sleep through meetings!”
Parents often have found that the things that make Sunday a good day for their children make it a good day for them, too. A young father in Murray, Utah, said, “On Sunday I spend more time with my children than any other day. Saturdays I always have so much work to do around the house—or I have to go to National Guard—and the kids don’t get much attention. But on Sunday, my wife and I read them more stories and sing them more songs. We go on walks through the neighborhood. We listen as they tell us stories. And our little girl loves to dress in her Sunday best, especially because we keep telling her how pretty she looks that way. The children love Sunday because they get more from us—and we love Sunday because we get to give more to them.”
“We just don’t let anything from the outside distract us from each other,” said one mother, echoing the policy of many families. “Whatever we do on Sunday, we do together. That means no television—unless it’s an exceptionally fine movie that the whole family should watch. That means no games—unless it’s a quiet game that all the family can enjoy participating in. We go visiting relatives—as a family. We hold special firesides for our children and make sure that the program is aimed at pleasing all age groups. It’s such a habit now that our children just automatically turn down invitations from friends to do things that would take them away from our home on Sunday, unless it’s a Church meeting.
“Maybe this only works because our children are each other’s best friends. Or maybe our children are each other’s best friends because this works so well!”
The Sabbath, like all the other gifts of God, only works to our good if we treat it as a stewardship we must improve on. One-seventh of our life has been set apart by the Lord for rest, for worship, for kindness and love. Far more important than what we can’t do on Sunday is what we are free to do. And by using that time creatively, families can turn Sundays into a day to look forward to—the best day of the week.