Monday, February 07, 2011

Making the Sabbath a Delight

A few weeks ago I participated in a lesson about the Sabbath day. The instructor said right off the bat that he didn't want to get into a big list of Sabbath dos and don'ts. After all, during his earthly ministry the Savior seemed to have great contempt for that kind of approach to the fourth commandment. The instructor wanted us to focus on the essence of Sabbath observance.

Keeping the Sabbath holy is of little concern to many people nowadays, so it requires a conscious effort to do so. But why should we bother? Why can't Sunday be just another weekend day to spend as we wish?

The instructor helped us understand that the Sabbath is a symbol of our covenant relationship with God. How we act on the Sabbath can reveal much about how we truly feel in our hearts toward God. Is God important enough to us that we will spend one day out of the week focused on his concerns rather than centering on our own concerns?

While the Sabbath is a day to rest from our labors, it is not a day to rest from God's labors. The manual from which we were studying reads:
"The purpose of the Sabbath is to give us a certain day of the week on which to direct our thoughts and actions toward God. It is not a day merely to rest from work. It is a sacred day to be spent in worship and reverence. As we rest from our usual daily activities, our minds are freed to ponder spiritual matters. On this day we should renew our covenants with the Lord and feed our souls on the things of the Spirit."
The lesson manual provided a number of thoughtful suggestions about how one might go about sanctifying the Sabbath.
"We should consider righteous things we can do on the Sabbath. For example, we can keep the Sabbath day holy by attending Church meetings; reading the scriptures and the words of our Church leaders; visiting the sick, the aged, and our loved ones; listening to uplifting music and singing hymns; praying to our Heavenly Father with praise and thanksgiving; performing Church service; preparing family history records and personal histories; telling faith-promoting stories and bearing our testimony to family members and sharing spiritual experiences with them; writing letters to missionaries and loved ones; fasting with a purpose; and sharing time with children and others in the home."
A few things to be avoid are also mentioned. But perhaps the best guide for what is appropriate on the Sabbath can come from questions like these from the manual:
  • Will it uplift and inspire me?
  • Does it show respect for the Lord?
  • Does it direct my thoughts to Him?
For my own purpose, I think I could add a few questions, such as:
  • Could I look my Savior in the eyes and honestly tell him that my thoughts and activities are worshipful?
  • Is what I am doing unselfish or am I being self centered?
  • Am I really worshipping God or am I worshipping at the altar of the carnal man?
I believe that each needs to earnestly answer questions of this nature for himself. I mention earnestness here because it is easy to delve into all kinds of silly justifications for selfish behavior. One can judge one's own behavior. But unless we have a calling to do so, we should refrain from judging how others answer these questions.

Our family long ago came up with a few traditions that we hope will foster proper Sabbath worship. Outside of church meetings, we keep Sundays for family. In a tradition carried over from my wife's upbringing, our family members don't hang out with friends on the Sabbath. One Sunday, one of my children disapprovingly noted that the neighbors had friends over. I had to correct him and explain that our family policy applies only to our family and that it is the neighbors' responsibility to determine how best to keep the Sabbath.

On the other hand, we long ago decided that being sedentary did not necessarily equate with being worhipful. Trying to keep a houseful of young kids still on Sunday didn't work out very well for us. So it is not uncommon to see our kids jumping on our trampoline, swinging on our swing set, and riding their bicycles on Sunday afternoons. We don't play sports on the Sabbath, but I'm not going to judge the family that is shooting hoops in their driveway on Sunday.

Although I came from a rather devout family, we had quite a different approach to the Sabbath when I was a kid. While my parents rested after the day's church meetings, we kids would hang out with our neighborhood friends. We would play football and basketball. We would go hiking, ride our bikes, and would generally goof off. When we got a bit older, we would ride our motorcycles in the foothills north of our subdivision.

I became an avid skateboarder during my teen years. I was pretty good at it too. (I can barely stand on a skateboard nowadays without losing my balance. BTW, back then skateboarding was an activity rather than a way of life.) Some Sunday afternoons found me and my friends riding down a nearby mountain pass on long boards, running challenging slalom courses in the high school parking lot, cruising neighborhood roads, or ripping around a nearby concrete reservoir when it was empty (which required trespassing).

I've heard all of the arguments about how the kinds of activities I have just mentioned can be worshipful experiences. But let's be honest. I know how I feel when I am truly in a spirit of reverence and worship. I never felt that way while engaging in those activities. Although I personally feel that it's OK to engage in some physical activity on the Sabbath, I also think that it has to be kept in proper perspective.

We long ago came up with a family media policy for the Sabbath. We don't use media devices unless the purpose is to have a worshipful experience. We don't watch entertainment features or sports (even on Super Bowl Sunday). We are circumspect about the music we listen to. We avoid shopping online.

Despite our (what some have told me are ultra strict) family Sabbath rules, I am the first to admit that we are far from perfect in our Sabbath observance. More precisely, I am far from perfect in keeping this commandment. Our family structures help, but I also find myself still thinking selfish thoughts and doing selfish things. Sometimes I am lazy and a little rebellious. Although I fall far short, I really try (most of the time) to make the Sabbath a worshipful experience.

Sometimes I do the right thing outwardly while inwardly grudging it. I'm still working on making proper Sabbath observance a delight (see Isaiah 58:13). But I have also received great spiritual and familial rewards from my efforts. When I do the Sabbath right I get a level of peace of mind and spiritual energy that I don't achieve when I'm shoddy in my Sabbath observance.

There are times when I love doing the right thing. I hope to grow more in that direction as the years pass.

1 comment:

Travis said...

We too keep a "strict" observance of the Sabbath. Pretty easy in a family that doesn't enjoy sports.

While, our focus isn't as much on the dos and don'ts, it is one that tries to keep our focus on the Savior, our family, and serving others.

Because we have limited media on Sundays, I feel that one of the benefits it has brought our children is a closer relationships with each other. They learn to play with each other. To find a game that everyone likes and play it, rather than just pleasing themselves on the Internet or game console. It is a blessing that I hope brings love and happiness for each other in years to come.