I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

How can we determine the appropriateness of Sabbath activities?

Dean M. Hansen, gospel doctrine teacher in the Alta Heights Ward, Sandy Utah Canyon View Stake.

As a boy growing up in Tetonia, Idaho, I remember hearing Bishop Richard A. Egbert remind us that, barring an emergency, we should not sow or harvest our crops on the Lord’s day. The bishop, himself a farmer and sheep rancher, promised us that God would bless us if we would exercise faith during our short mountain-valley growing and reaping seasons.

I remember weather-hardened farmers and their wives standing during fast and testimony meeting and tearfully thanking their Heavenly Father for personal or familial blessings—a life spared, a child healed, a marriage renewed, a crop harvested. In many cases, these families attributed their blessings directly to their efforts to observe the Sabbath.

As I wondered at the faithful spirit of the people I knew and loved as a youth, I began to understand the logic of Sabbath observance. If I really wanted to enjoy life’s greatest blessings and God’s spirit and care, I realized I must keep his day.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered important guidance regarding appropriate Sabbath activities:

“People frequently wonder where to draw the line: what is worthy and what is unworthy to do upon the Sabbath. But if one loves the Lord with all his heart, might, mind, and strength; if one can put away selfishness and curb desire; if one can measure each Sabbath activity by the yardstick of worshipfulness; if one is honest with his Lord and with himself; if one offers a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ it is quite unlikely that there will be Sabbath breaking in that person’s life” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 219).

Another key to determine the appropriateness of Sabbath activities is to examine their impact upon our spirituality. President Ezra Taft Benson said that Latter-day Saints should be engaged in Sabbath activities that contribute to greater spirituality:

“The purpose of the Sabbath is for spiritual uplift, for a renewal of our covenants, for worship, for rest, for prayer. It is for the purpose of feeding the spirit, that we may keep ourselves unspotted from the world by obeying God’s command” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 438).

When King Benjamin taught his people the words of a heavenly messenger, he gave advice that is useful in determining suitable Sabbath activity.

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he [1] yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [2] putteth off the natural man and [3] becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [4] becometh as a child” (Mosiah 3:19; numerals added).

Keeping a true and good Sabbath requires that we seek the Holy Spirit in all we do and say, that we put off those things pleasing to the natural man. We are promised, “If thou … call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and … honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isa. 58:13–14).

When we strive to become as a child, “spiritually begotten” of Christ and reborn into the ways of a covenant Saint (Mosiah 5:7), we will feel inclined to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath spirit is the spirit of helping, loving, lifting, and teaching family, friends, and neighbors. It is a day of opportunities to lose ourselves in the service of others. It is a day for repenting, for giving up such things as evil speaking, hard feelings, sinful habits, unkindness, pettiness, meanness, uncharitable attitudes and actions, pride, and irreverence.

An overarching standard by which to judge Sabbath behavior is to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask ourselves: “What would the Savior do?” If the Savior were with us on any given Sunday, would we feel all right about inviting him to participate with us in a particular Sunday activity?

Another yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of Sabbath activities is found in Doctrine and Covenants section 59. The Lord offers guidelines so that we might “more fully keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9) and from the worldly recreation, entertainment, and amusements that threaten proper Sabbath observance.

The Lord says we are to “pay [our] devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:10). We do this as we rest from our labors, attend church, and “offer up [our] sacraments” (D&C 59:9), which means we participate in activities “whereby we affirm our allegiance to our divine Lord” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 221). We have been taught of some activities appropriate to the Sabbath: repenting, renewing our covenants, fasting, praying, and studying the scriptures, among other things. Activities that deter us from these duties may be inappropriate.

What we do on the Sabbath is a measure of the depth of our conversion to the gospel, of our love for our Heavenly Father, and of our attitude toward the Savior Jesus Christ and his atonement and resurrection (see Ensign, May 1975, p. 49).

Most questions on Sabbath observance can be answered by reading what the Lord has revealed in the scriptures and through his modern prophets.

If still in doubt, we need to seek and follow the Spirit in discerning appropriate Sabbath activities.

By drawing closer to our Heavenly Father through Sabbath observance, we strengthen our testimonies, expand our gospel knowledge, increase our spirituality, reinforce our determination, better control our appetites and desires, and find joy in duty.

Inasmuch as we “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8), the Lord has promised that “the fulness of the earth is [ours] … and the good things which come of the earth” (D&C 59:16–17).

As well-meaning parents, we sometimes have difficulty distinguished between our children’s needs and wants. Where do we draw the line between responsible parenthood and overindulgence or neglect of our children?

Answered by Alvin H. Price, professor of family science, Brigham Young University, and bishop of the BYU 146th Ward, BYU Seventeenth Stake.

How much should parents do for their children? How can parents tell if they are neglecting or spoiling their children?

Let’s begin with a minimal list of moral obligations that parents have toward their children: (1) create a home atmosphere of love and support; (2) be actively engaged in teaching and guiding them; (3) provide for their basic physical needs; and (4) help them mature socially, emotionally, intellectually, vocationally, and spiritually, so they can live productive, happy lives (see Isa. 54:13; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4; Mosiah 4:14; D&C 68:25–28; D&C 83:4; D&C 93:40).

Responsible parents meet these obligations by using their resources of money, time, knowledge, talents, and love. As long as parents use these resources wisely to meet the obligations mentioned above, they need not be concerned about spoiling their children or denying them what is rightfully theirs.

When a necessary resource becomes scarce, a child is sometimes neglected. A parent’s willful, selfish neglect of his or her child is a sin. Children represent the future, and parents should do all they can to help them prepare for it. Wise parents gladly make appropriate sacrifices to give their children the opportunities and resources they need and have a right to expect for their personal growth and welfare. As long as parents are willing, they can correct any mismanagement of resources. They can eliminate unnecessary activities from their lives in order to spend more time with their children. With careful planning, they can make their money go further.

Children, however, may sometimes expect too much of their parents, suggesting that “everybody else” lets their children go to certain movies, date before the age of sixteen, drive a car to high school, etc. Parents have the responsibility to make wise decisions in matters such as these, weighing children’s true needs and saying no to unreasonable requests. Parents’ commitment to gospel principles will help increase their patience and their ability to love and to separate their children’s appropriate needs and wants from desires based more on peer pressure, fashion, or selfishness than on true need.

Although it is possible for parents to give their children too many things, they do not necessarily overindulge their children if they use resources beyond the minimum amount required to foster a child’s growth and development. Resources expended on some nonessentials often are beneficial to children—improving their self-worth and sense of family belonging and gratitude, helping them develop talents, enabling them to focus attention on other needs, goals, interests, and so on.

So what is overindulgence? Its clues can be found in the motivations parents have for giving. Parents are likely to overindulge a child when one or more of the following reasons underlies their behavior.

  • First, they are insecure as parents. One parental duty is to set limits. When a child complains about a limit, the insecure parent becomes anxious and then gives in to the child. Indeed, some parents are so hesitant to set guidelines and limits that they leave the disciplining of their children to teachers, school authorities, and officers of the law. Such overindulgence is obviously out of harmony with the Lord’s plan (see Prov. 22:6).

  • Second, feeling guilty about not giving their children enough time and love, some parents try to make up for lost opportunities by buying things for their children. (Notice the fancy gift shops in every airport.)

  • Third, some parents overcompensate for their own childhood neglect. Because they don’t want their children to struggle, they overindulge them, sometimes unwittingly.

  • Fourth, parents sometimes try to provide social acceptance for their children by giving them more things than their peers have.

A colleague of mine gave me some good advice. Her strategy was to give her children things less grand than what the neighbors’ children had. She wanted her children to learn that they were valuable not for what they have but for who they are. Her plan worked. Instead of having the best, her children are the best. It makes good sense for parents to consider their motivation before giving extra resources to their children.

Some of the clues of the overindulgence phenomenon come from the child. Is the child never satisfied, even though given much? Some children are adept at manipulating their parents. They know how to get what they want by making one or both parents feel guilty. Is the child ungrateful and selfish? Is the child habitually irresponsible toward the resources he or she has received (not taking care of toys and clothes, for example)? Does the child make fun of other people’s things for being less expensive, less fashionable, or of inferior quality?

Responsible parenthood is not a fine line that parents walk between neglect and indulgence, both of which are extremes that are usually easily detectable and correctable. Nor is it measured by the amount of resources parents use on behalf of their children but rather by their prudent distribution of those resources. Parents who live within their means and carefully consider their motivations and their children’s welfare as they allocate resources are unlikely to either neglect or overindulge their children.

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen