The commandment given to Moses in Exodus 20:8 to keep the Sabbath day holy was reiterated in the latter days when the Lord told Joseph Smith in 1831: “And the inhabitants of Zion shall also observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (D&C 68:29). In April 2015 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson said: “The question for each of us is: because of what I have heard and felt during this conference, how will I change? Whatever your answer might be, may I invite you also to examine your feelings about, and your behavior on, the Sabbath day.”
Most recently, our leaders in the Africa Southeast Area have encouraged us to “Improve Sabbath Day observance in the home and at church” as part of the Area Plan.
So, what constitutes a ‘perfect Sabbath day’ and how can we achieve it?
A perfect Sabbath day means different things to different people…
The mother of small children may dream of peace and quiet—of naptime, for herself and the children.
A lonely single member may hope for the opportunity to have a little company—someone to talk to, perhaps even a lunch invitation.
A single mom working long hours may eagerly anticipate the time to spend with her children—a break from the everyday rush to survive!
A part member family may wrestle with keeping everyone happy while living the gospel and teaching children correct principles…
Whatever our circumstances, the Sabbath day conjures up feelings of peace, spiritual growth, calm, love, rest, learning, service, helping and reaching out to others.
In chatting to a few members, all told me that the secret to a meaningful Sabbath was planning, preparation, persistence, and prayer. Primary children know this already:
Saturday is a special day.
It’s the day we get ready for Sunday:
We clean the house, and we shop at the store,
So we don’t have to work until Monday.
We brush our clothes, and we shine our shoes,
And we call it our get-the-work-done day.
We trim our nails, and we shampoo our hair,
So we can be ready for Sunday.
(“Saturday”, Children’s Songbook #196.)
Here are three stories from some of those with whom I chatted; three ways that the Sabbath day became more meaningful; three families where testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were deepened.
“Moving from a lazy day starting with brunch and a trip to the shops, lounging around reading the newspapers, watching TV or lying around the pool in summer… to spending three hours at church on a Sunday and trying to keep the Sabbath day holy was a big change for me. Cutting out shopping was easy—and actually saved me money—because I was so scared of running out of groceries, that I started making lists and planning meals instead of aimlessly filling a shopping trolley.
“The mindless TV watching and pool time were more difficult! The first Sunday we got home from church and thought, “well now what do we do?” The day dragged on and by the time everyone went to bed, most dissatisfied after a long boring day, I knew I had to make a plan fast! We borrowed Church videos from members and this was a starting point that led to gospel discussions. Today the Church website has enough content to fill a lifetime of Sundays!
“Watching church videos still was not a long-term solution, so we had a home evening on ‘Sabbath day observance’ and asked our children what they would like to see us do. Each suggestion was measured against the sabbath standard and the children’s attitude changed from ‘all the things we can’t do anymore’ to the long list of ‘things we can do’.
“Simplifying our meals started a wonderful family tradition of having a healthy meal waiting for us when we got home from church, and then in the early evening we all made dessert together for our supper. All the children, boys and girls, learnt to cook and bake this way! (Waffles and pancakes became our regular favourites!)
“Looking back… most of our happy family memories come from the wonderful Sundays we spent together—playing board games, building our relationships, eating scrumptious favourites and learning and growing in the gospel. Occasionally we would choose a family to invite over for lunch the next week. But through our planning we chose things suitable at their various ages—and we taught the children to care, plan and show consideration.”
“Growing up in the Church, I thought wonderful, fulfilling Sabbaths just happened. Now I realise how my parents worked at it! As a young couple, it was also easy—but when we had children it all fell apart. We were always late for church. Afternoons were lost and evenings were filled with relief that the day was almost over and we could go to bed! What happened to the wonderful uplifting Sundays?
“Well, I learnt to plan—and along the way I determined to…
“Check with the children each Sunday on the way home from church to see who has an assignment in Primary for the next week? Make a note and prepare that day.
“Find everyone’s shoes on a Saturday night; sort out what clothes each one wants to wear and have them ready.
“Go over the talk/scripture assignment for Primary on Saturday, put a spare copy in my bag, and plan to be there in Primary with them.
“Plan and prepare lunch for Sunday—on Saturday—so that we come home after Church and have it ready. Starving, screaming children (and husbands!) can ruin a lovely day!
“On Saturday night and Sunday morning, I prayed specifically that my family would learn about and grow closer to the Saviour, that we could enjoy the Sabbath as a day set aside from the world, and focus on our divine heritage.”
“With my son and his wife working, I need to make time to spend with the family on Saturdays and also prepare for the Sabbath—so I have to plan. I try to attend the earliest temple session on a Saturday morning. This gives me a good start and I then spend the rest of Saturday with the family.
“On a fast Sunday, I detach from the family activities on the Saturday afternoon and spend time in my room listening to Church music, preparing for the next day’s lessons, reading scriptures, and writing in my journal. I don’t have to prepare a meal for Sunday, but I always choose the clothes I will wear the next day and make sure they are ironed and ready.
“It is really important for me to set a good example for my family and show them the joy I find in keeping the Sabbath day holy so that they will come to Church with me one day.”
The expression, ‘Prior planning prevents poor performance’, is particularly pertinent to our Sabbath day observance. A conscious effort to make the day important in our week requires preparation and thought. It requires more than simply waking up to a new day, glancing at the calendar, and realizing that it is Sunday.
And, even when things may not work out as planned, we will still be better prepared to handle those challenges, and benefit from the amazing lessons that result as the Spirit blesses us for our efforts.