You’ve attended church as a family and come home feeling spiritually invigorated. Everyone has had something to eat, and now you’re looking forward to spending quality time together. But the phone rings. It’s for one of your children. A minute later, your oldest says, “Tracy wants me to go to the mall. Can I go—if I promise not to buy anything?”
How do we, as parents, answer that question and its endless variations? How do we teach our children correct principles about appropriate Sunday behavior?
First of all, why does the Lord want us to keep the Sabbath day holy? He gives an explanation in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“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; …
“And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance—
“Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, …
“And the good things which come of the earth.” (D&C 59:9–10, 15–17.)
These passages teach that the Lord has commanded us to keep the Sabbath day holy because he wants us to pay our devotions to him on this day. In return he will grant his many gifts to their fullest, in the way he meant for us to use them. Not only will we gain in spiritual strength—keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world” as he promised—but we will also appreciate the world around us more fully.
Without a Sabbath, we could become so immersed in the world and its momentary concerns that we would fail to see the eternal nature of life’s blessings all around us.
What we teach about the Sabbath day from the scriptures can be supplemented with words given to us recently in the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth. In their copies of the pamphlet, young people can read: “The Lord has given the Sabbath day for your benefit and has commanded you to keep it holy. On this sacred, holy day, worship the Lord, strengthen family relationships, help others, and draw close to the Lord. …
“Many activities are appropriate for the Sabbath; however, it is not a holiday. You should avoid seeking entertainment or spending money on this day.
“When seeking a job, you may wish to share with your potential employer your desire to attend your Sunday meetings and keep the Sabbath holy. Many employers value employees with these personal convictions. Try to choose a job that doesn’t require you to work on Sunday.” (For the Strength of Youth, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1990, pp. 16–17.)
As parents, we could discuss with our families each topic raised in this section of the pamphlet. For example, we might pose the question: “Suppose you go on a weekday to buy a season ticket for your favorite professional football team’s home games, which are played on Sundays. Is it okay to go to the games? Strictly speaking, you’re not spending money on a Sunday.”
The answer, as found in For the Strength of Youth, is that we “should avoid seeking entertainment … on this day.”
We know, then, that Heavenly Father wants us to appreciate all of the gifts he has given us; but obedience is the key. And some gifts are available only when we keep the Sabbath day holy.
To a fourteen-year-old invited by friends to go to the mall on Sunday afternoons, this concept may be difficult to understand. The principle will eventually become easier for young people to grasp as they continue to live the gospel and feel its effects in their lives. In the meantime, though, here are a few suggested approaches that parents might use to help young people of different ages learn why the Sabbath should be reserved as a special day.
Give them too much of a good thing. From a list of your children’s favorite foods, pick one that is not too expensive and serve it every supper for one week with absolutely no variation. (Or if that’s not practical, serve the same dessert every day for a week.)
After three or four days of the same meal, someone in your family will probably begin to complain. With any luck, something like the following discussion will take place:
“How come we’re having pizza every night?”
“Because I know it’s one of your favorite foods.”
“It is, but I’m really getting tired of it night after night. Can’t we have something else for a change?”
“Yes, of course. Actually, I did this because sometimes it’s hard for me to know how to teach things to you, but I wanted to talk about why we do different things on the Sabbath than we do every other day of the week. Heavenly Father wants us to make that day holy so we can come closer to Him and appreciate everything He has given us. He told us in the fifty-ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants that all the blessings of the earth could be ours if we do what he asks.”
To carry this farther, you might follow up the next day with a meal the young person likes even more than pizza (if there is such a thing) to show how wonderful Sunday can be by contrast.
Introduce them to the delightful kiwi. If your children are unfamiliar with kiwi fruit, you might use a kiwi to help point out the blessings Heavenly Father wants to give us each and every Sunday.
“I bought this at the store today. It looks a little bit like a potato, but feel it on the outside.”
“It feels like it has whiskers.”
“That’s right. It looks like a potato with whiskers. Not only that, but it’s eaten when it’s mushy. How would you like to eat a soft, mushy, hairy potato?”
“No! Get it away from me.”
“What do you suppose it’s like on the inside?”
As you cut the kiwi in half, your children may be amazed at the beautiful green color. Let them taste the fruit.
“This fruit is like some of the Lord’s commandments,” you might say. “A commandment may look uninviting on the outside, before you try to live it, but on the inside it’s sweet to the taste, and we can get a lot of good from it. To me, the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy is like this. What do people outside the Church say to us when they want us to go somewhere with them on a Sunday?”
“They ask, ‘Why can’t you do that?’”
“Do you think our beliefs look very inviting to them?”
“No. All they can see is that we can’t do the things they like to do on Sundays.”
“So to them what we believe is like the outside of a kiwi—not very inviting. But are there any good things about keeping the Sabbath day the way the Lord has asked us to do?”
“We get closer to Heavenly Father.”
“That’s right. And it also makes us appreciate everything around us more completely. Let’s read what the Lord said about keeping the Sabbath day holy, in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants.”
Ask them to listen for a still, small voice. If you have a portable tape recorder, put a general conference tape in it, start it playing softly, and then hide it somewhere in your house. Turn on the radio and TV and any other noisy appliances. Then tell your family that somewhere in the house you’ve hidden the tape recorder that is playing something important. Ask them to find the tape recorder as fast as they can.
The first thing they will do is to turn off all the competing noises in order to hear the tape. You can tell them, once they have located the recorder by the sound coming from it, that this is why Heavenly Father has given us the Sabbath day—so we can turn off competing influences and listen to the Spirit. Then you can discuss section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Some of us might see the ideal Sunday afternoon this way: Our children are in their rooms quietly reading the scriptures, speaking pleasantly and softly to each other, while we take a very long nap. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t happen that way.
Parents cannot be passive about teaching children to keep the Sabbath. If we wish our children to enjoy their Sundays while they are abiding by the standards in For the Strength of Youth, we will have to be actively involved. Even members of bishoprics, high councils, and stake presidencies are asked by Church leaders to arrange their meetings so they can spend more time at home with their families on Sunday.
One of the worthwhile Sabbath activities suggested in For the Strength of Youth is strengthening family ties. Activities that build self-esteem and allow family members to say how much they love each other are certainly appropriate. Following are a few suggestions, but you should be able to develop many other ideas on your own. You can be sure that if you are seeking to strengthen the children Heavenly Father has sent you, he will tell you through his Spirit how to do it.
Play “Spin the Family Bottle.” This requires a large, empty soda pop bottle. The family sits in a circle. Someone spins the bottle on the floor, then tells what he or she likes about the person to whom it points. Next, that person spins the bottle and the process is repeated.
Take a walk with one of your children. This is a walk with a purpose—to build self-esteem and share your testimony. Let your son or daughter know what you most appreciate about him or her. Remember, it is a compliment to ask a young person’s opinion about things. Along the way, you may wish to stop and visit with a neighbor who’s been sick or who could use a visit.
Tackle a “real-world” problem. One of the challenges youth face when looking for work is the fear that they won’t be able to get a job if they request Sundays off. As a family, practice role-playing, with you taking the part of the employer and your son or daughter applying for a job, then maybe reversing the roles. This can also help prepare younger children who watch the role-playing exercise.
Teach about the Savior’s love. Relate from memory the events recorded in 3 Nephi, chapter 17 [3 Ne. 17], in which the resurrected Savior blesses the children. Ask your children to close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to have a private visit with the Savior. Ask them to try to imagine what they would feel in his presence. Later, discuss privately with each child what they imagined they would feel. Share your testimony of the Savior’s awareness of and love for that child.
No good or well-meaning effort to make Sunday different—staying out of the mall, avoiding detracting television shows, staying in church clothes—will, by itself, give us the kind of Sabbath the Lord wants us to have.
He wants the day to be sacred for our families—that means to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost.
It means we will gain a deeper appreciation for the Savior, and we will feel his love. We will do the things that show our love for him. Our homes will become a haven, particularly on this day, from the evils of the world. We will give our children a small taste of the peace and serenity we hope to experience someday in the presence of our Heavenly Father and the Savior.
If we truly want our Sundays to be sacred, we must focus our attention on Jesus Christ.
Moroni said it best: “And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.” (Ether 12:41.)
That, then, is our goal for ourselves and our families.