Turning Sunday into a Sabbath: One Family’s Experience

Turning Sunday into a Sabbath:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”—we all want to obey the law, but how do you translate the general commandment into specific practices? The challenge is particularly great when we see so many cases where what is perfectly acceptable to one active Latter-day Saint family is taboo to another. For Sandy and me the challenge is: How can we be sure that our own understanding of proper Sabbath observance conforms to the will of the Lord?

The Lord has purposefully refrained from spelling out everything that can and cannot be done on his holy day. Having instructed us by revelation as to the purpose and spirit of the Sabbath, the Lord then gave us our agency to manage our individual stewardships of that day. He is treating us as spiritually mature and responsible beings, free to conform to the purpose and spirit of his Sabbath commandment.

But we believe that the answers to proper Sabbath observance are largely universal, even though the search is an individual effort. We believe that the Lord has not left the answers up to us individually; rather, we feel he has left them up to us to find—individually.

Soon after Sandy and I were married eleven years ago we devoted a family home evening to finding answers about the Sabbath. After we had come to an agreement on what the Sabbath should mean to us, we wrote down the kinds of things our new family would and would not do on Sundays. From time to time we review and reevaluate these commitments in family home evening in order to correct and strengthen our Sabbath habits. Now, with six children under the age of eight, we feel good and optimistic about making those commitments and about how they’re working out.

In trying to determine what activities are appropriate, we have taken as our principal guide the great revelation of promise where the Lord explains that he has set aside a Sabbath for the protection and joy of the Saints. “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;

“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; …

“… On this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.

“And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:9–13.)

For many, the hardest part to understand properly may be “And on this day thou shalt do none other thing.” None other thing than what? We generally are not asked by the Church to be engaged at the house of prayer all day each Sunday. Some of the day’s time is left free of meetings and Church assignments for most of us. So apart from eating food that is prepared with singleness of heart, what are we to do with that time?

For our family’s purposes, Sandy and I have determined that we should strive to “do none other thing” than that which contributes to the worshipful spirit of the Sabbath. We accept the Sabbath as a gift of time and opportunity—a blessing of spiritual development and joy, and of physical peace and rest. We feel that by conservative and careful Sabbath observance the Lord allows us to put aside the fallen telestial world for a day and enter into a wholly different Sabbath world that can be made to mirror things celestial. What a blessing it is to know that the Sabbath is a day to raise the level of one’s own spirituality, that it is not the Lord’s purpose for us to worship him merely for his own satisfaction.

Having decided that the true purpose of the Sabbath is for worship and spiritual development, Sandy and I began to list activities we felt would contribute to those goals. (Our list is tailored to our family and is not meant to be exhaustive; each family will benefit by conducting such an analysis on their own.) And we discovered something exciting: rather than being narrow and restrictive, our list was so full of activities that there is never enough time to embrace them all! Consider the opportunities:

Church attendance, of course, is a primary activity. But to us, Church-going is an organizational privilege and necessity which by itself is only partial Sabbath observance. And it is also very possible to attend a meeting and yet be far removed from it in spirit and intent. It often requires diligent effort to set aside the cares and activities of the other six days and to truly worship, even while in Church.

We feel there could be nothing more appropriate to the Sabbath than for a parent to counsel privately with a child—to listen, enjoy, and advise. To love. The Monday family home evening is generally a time for the family to enjoy each other as a group; Sunday can be a time for visiting privately with each other in a special way.

What better time is there for genealogical correspondence, the sifting and recording of research results, and the preparation of information for submission to the temples? If all Latter-day Saints devoted part of each Sunday to such activity, the volume of our genealogical work would increase dramatically—as would our spirituality, as individuals and as a people.

President David O. McKay taught the value of quiet meditation, of pondering beautiful and spiritual things, of taking time to understand and evaluate one’s life. Sunday is an ideal opportunity for an hour of peaceful, private, and prayerful meditation.

Next to Church attendance and personal prayers, we have found that scripture reading and study is Sunday’s most important activity. Of course, we want to study the scriptures every day, but Sundays seem to be especially suited for an extra portion of that blessing. Time that may previously have been devoted to television, socializing, and games on Sunday could well be used to read and study instead.

And then there is the wonderful world of carefully selected “best books.” (D&C 88:118.) In this age of television so many of us have lost, or have never had, a regular reading habit. This is a rich opportunity missed, and our family is working at becoming regular readers—and succeeding. Sunday can be a time of individual reading, as well as a time for parents and older children to read to the youngsters. Of course, always first on our reading list are the scriptures and other Church literature.

To have adequate and careful preparation of Church lessons and assignments, we have often found it best to begin the previous Sunday evening. Too often if we do not, such preparations end up being only cursorily or half-prepared during the rush of the week.

The Sabbath to us is also an appropriate opportunity to visit nearby relatives or friends, provided the conduct of such visits is in keeping with the spirit of the day. If we emphasize such visiting the other six days of the week, we can guard against our Sundays being regularly absorbed by that activity.

We have found that the Sabbath is also an opportunity to visit and comfort those in need. Though most kinds of physical assistance must be deferred to other days of the week, the need could be discovered and its satisfaction planned on a Sunday visit.

The Lord has always encouraged worship through music, and so we feel that the Sabbath is an ideal opportunity for making and listening to appropriate music. But if our children were old enough to take regular music lessons, we would encourage them to practice their lessons the other six days of the week and reserve Sunday for family enjoyment of the music they have already learned.

In our home, we have tried to make some allowances for youngsters with limited understandings and attention spans. Well-selected creative activities and parlor activities that do not detract from the restful and worshipful Sabbath spirit are one thing we try, but we are conscious not to let them crowd out the more essential and spiritual activities of the day. We also try to keep our Sundays family days, not days to be spent playing with friends.

With Sabbath opportunities such as these, no member of the family has yet complained that “Sunday is so boring!” or “I don’t have anything to do!” Our seven children are still young, and undoubtedly new challenges will arise as they grow older. But we believe that teenagers who have been blessed since childhood with a solid background of regular family home evenings and spiritual Sabbath observances will generally of themselves remain committed to keeping their Sabbath days holy. But preteen school-age children may become bored, disillusioned, and complaining unless other members of the family regularly assist them with their Sabbath activities. To structure their Sabbaths successfully requires a strong example and real effort on the part of concerned parents.

It is important to the spirit of the Sabbath that attention be focused on the positive opportunities and not on “restricted” activities. Nevertheless, our list included some activities we avoid because we feel they would detract from our Sabbath observances. We have found it better not to watch TV on Sunday, except for rare happenings which the family in council together has decided should be seen. We feel the Sabbath is not the day to pay the bills, prepare tax returns, or review a presentation to be given at Monday’s business committee meeting. Our sons do not play ball or ride their bicycles outside on Sunday afternoons with their friends. We try not to have Sunday dinners that end up being the biggest and most-worked-on meals of the week, requiring rushed preparations by Sandy all morning before Sunday School and then most of the afternoon to eat and clean up. We do not feel it is appropriate to vacuum or dust the house on Sunday morning so it will be ready for the Sunday dinner guests. We have decided that school studies should have no place on Sundays, and we feel we have been blessed for it. We have determined not to pick up something from the store on the way home from Sunday School. Unless traveling and there is no reasonable alternative, we do not go out to dinner on Sundays, nor do we buy the children ice cream cones or other treats.

Again, on Sundays we try to “do none other thing” than what will serve to create a truly worshipful and spiritual Sabbath experience. We try to have as our guides: Does it serve to strengthen us spiritually? Does it please the Lord? Would the Lord have so used his time? Does it serve to sanctify his holy day?

Of course, there will be exceptions from time to time, and the Lord Jesus himself would have been the first to “pull the ox from the mire.” (See Luke 14:5.) But we must take care that the ox does not become anything we carelessly choose it to be and the mire become virtually unending. For this to be, our Sabbath activities must be consciously planned and diligently defended. It requires purposeful budgeting of time and activities the other six days of the week, and it requires making most of the Sabbath’s physical preparation—such as the readying of clothing, food, and home—in advance. The chances will then be minimal that inappropriate activities will force themselves on us on Sundays.

The Sabbath to us is a special day of opportunity and blessing. Its spirit is not one of limitation and containment. Its purpose is not to teach and enforce various nos. It is a day of spiritual freedom and joy for the Saints. It is the Lord’s day, given to man for his spiritual development and joy and for his physical rest and peace. We feel that the Lord has not given it to social, political, economic, educational, or recreational organizations for their use.

We believe the Lord has reserved his Sabbath day for the Church, for the individual, and for the family. Though His day, He has given each of us stewardship over it and the great blessings and opportunities that it holds. May we understand, seek out, and utilize the Sabbath’s true opportunities, that our “joy may” indeed “be full.” (D&C 59:13.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ann Gallacher

Marvin R. VanDam, Church budget officer and Church director of accounting, serves in the Holladay Twentieth Ward bishopric, Salt Lake Olympus Stake.