Sundays have become the highlight of our week in the last couple months. Because of our new Sunday routine we start Monday morning feeling refreshed and ready to get to work. We feel bonded as a family and our kids start the week with full love tanks. So what’s changed?
We’re learning to practice the Sabbath.
We’re turning off the tv, leaving the phones inside and spending time together as a family and with God. We’re trying to use the Lord’s day as he intended — to give thanks to him, rest, to spend time in fellowship with family and friends, to reflect on God’s glory. And then there’s this precious book, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
How we got here
This change started when I felt a stirring in my heart. I felt as if the Lord was telling me that I was not honoring the Sabbath. “But what does that even look like, Lord?” I asked him. Then these things happened:
- Shortly after this conviction, I read about God telling Moses that the Israelites weren’t honoring the Sabbath in my weekly Bible study reading.
- That evening I went to the grocery store to buy milk and the verse of the day on the radio was this: “It [the Sabbath day] is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” Exodus 31:17
- The following Monday, Moody Radio was airing a Sabbath series by Alistair Begg that was on every time I left to pick up Adriano at preschool.
“I hear you, Lord!” I shouted with a smile in my car. But if we were to start honoring the Lord’s day, then a lot of things would probably have to change and where should we even start?
I listened to Alistair Begg’s Sabbath series that I had begun listening to in the car. In over three hours of listening to his research, he made me rethink everything. He tells us the the Sabbath is set apart from other days. “This is the framework the Lord gave from the beginning when he rested after creating the world in six days.” He adds that God could have made the world in an instant. And he didn’t need rest on the last day, God doesn’t tire. He did this to provide us with a model.
He got me when he asked why we only observe nine commandments instead of all ten! Honoring the the Sabbath is our fourth commandment, but it is often ignored today, even in churches.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:8-11
Alistair is quick to warn that this is not a punishment, it’s a privilege. This is a time away from work and rest in him. Instead of hoping that worship be over as soon as possible, we should be on our knees thanking God for the privilege of being in his presence, undisturbed by personal business or pleasure. Time in reflection and praise on this holy day can provide a glimpse into heaven. “But no participation, no worship, no glimpse.”
He preached that there should be no working on the Sabbath except for piety, necessity or mercy. You might remember the Pharisees criticizing Jesus for healing a man’s shriveled hand on the Sabbath, but this was an act of mercy. Pastors work on the Lord’s day, but it is in service to God.
Alistair gave some examples of men from the past who wouldn’t even speak of non-spiritual topics on Sunday. Stonewall Jackson wouldn’t let his letters even travel through the post office on Sunday.
What we changed
Alistair’s examples and deepening conviction in our hearts led Marcello and I to start at the very beginning. Still unsure of what Sundays should look like, we decided to eliminate everything and focus only on things that glorify God. I’m not sure what our Sundays will look like in the future, but right now we don’t get on social media, in fact we leave the computers off. We stay off our phones as much as possible and don’t keep them at our sides. For the most part there is no TV. If there is, it is honoring to God. We don’t do house or yard work.
We are also trying not to do anything that would cause someone else to work — errands, eating out, shopping, movies. This is a tough one, I know. And we have cheated on this one and gone to the store a couple times already. It requires forethought to have food and supplies at home in advance so we do our housework and shopping on Saturdays.
I’d like to be careful to point out here that this post is not to be taken in any legalistic form or meant to chastise. That would completely defeat the blessing that comes with this day. I only want to share with you this special gift that has been revealed to me and is bringing my family so much joy. We’re just figuring it out and so we are starting at square one.
So what does our day look like with technology, work and shopping weeded out? Quite lovely, actually! I’ve focused on what we don’t do, but now I’ll turn to, more importantly, what we are doing:
- We go to church.
- We have lunch at home at the dining room table or outside together.
- We have other families and friends over.
- We talk about the sermon at church or what we’re presently learning in our faith.
- We enjoy nature, God’s creations, at the beach or park.
- We do a craft with the kids.
- We play games.
- We read the Bible, the kids’ Bible or Christ-centered literature.
- We relax.
- Best of all, for the first time ever, we spend an entire day together without distraction.
- And this Sunday we are going to start doing activities from this sweet book I’ve been showing you pictures of!
A couple months after we started, I told my friend Dora about how honoring the Sabbath was leading to great changes in our family. The following day she found an old book “With the Children on Sundays” on her bookshelf when she was looking for another book. She was so surprised that she brought it to me the next day at our church’s Easter service. She told me she couldn’t believe that we were just talking about what to do with kids on Sundays and found this!
This book, “With the Children on Sundays,” that she has so generously lent me is over 100 years old! This is the fourth edition, published in 1911. I couldn’t even soak it up. God keeps giving and keeps confirming. And how sweet that he uses friends to do it and strengthen our bonds. (Thank you, Dora!)
And this book. Oh, it is a treasure and still very relevant a century later. “Sunday ought to be the most cheerful, sunniest, happiest and best day of the week in every home,” writes author Sylvanus Stall, D.D.
“In some households Sunday is looked forward to with anticipations of pleasure throughout the entire week. In these homes, the father does not come down stairs on Sunday morning and say: ‘Now, children, gather up those flowers, throw them out the window, pull down the blinds, get down the Bible and we have an awful solemn time here to-day.’
Above is the author with his daughter and granddaughters as they “drive” him to church. He gives parents some fun activities for the kids to do. These are some of my favorites:
“With the Children on Sundays” activities for kids:
- “Let one child represent an idol. He must stand motionless and give no sign of life. The others are to ask him questions and for favors. If the ‘idol’ laughs, moves or speaks, he loses and another takes his place. Idols are lifeless things that cannot move, see, hear or speak.”
- Charades with Bible stories.
- Think of a character, place or story from the Bible. Tell the group what letter it starts with. They may ask yes or no questions. The winner becomes the leader.
- Describe a scene of the Bible without names or places until someone guesses it. “I see some ladies walking beside the water. Suddenly they stop and listen. Then one of them wades into the water and finds something.” This is a description of the pharaoh’s daughter finding baby Moses.
- Learn Bible geography with sand in a shallow box. The sand can make mountains. Strips of white or blue paper can be water. Pebbles for roads. Blocks for houses. Leaves for trees. You can even label the cities.
Sylvanus suggests having a kids’ church service on Sunday afternoons. He encourages parents to take it seriously and treat with respect. The kids can pretend drive everyone, be an usher to collect tithes (to be given to the church the following Sunday), lead songs, pray, even give a sermon. It is to be run by the kids. Dolls, stuffies and any visitors may attend as well. We’re definitely going to give this a try next weekend. The boys liked the idea very much.
“Did it ever occur to you, as a parent that between the birth and the age of twenty-one years there are three solid years of Sundays — an amount of time almost equal to the number of years given to an entire course of college training?” he says. “The Creator has not laid upon parents the responsibilities of parenthood without giving them ample time and opportunity to discharge these obligations to Him, to themselves, and to their children.”
What we’ve learned
The first Sunday we didn’t know what to do or expect. With phones, computers and TV off we just sort of sat there. The kids played nicely together outside while we sat on the patio. Marcello and I enjoyed conversation we wouldn’t have otherwise. We even opened books! Clara took a three-hour nap. It was a gentle, slow day that we needed. I knew God’s hand was upon us, blessing us for listening, because this kind of day just doesn’t happen in our house. It doesn’t.
The next Sunday I wrote this in my journal: “Yesterday Marcello and I focused on family. No emails or calls or blogging. We went to the beach and left our phones in the car. We had my parents over for dinner. It was a really good day. God is always right. Everything we need to live better lives is all right there in the Bible. Most times I forget what a treasure owning God’s written word is.”
Not every Sunday has been this perfect. In fact last Sunday, Easter, did not go as planned. One child refused to wear a tie and shirt and complained all morning. There was arguing and red paint spilled on the rug when the child refused to hand it over. I lost my temper, but eventually was able to pull it back together.
I tell you this for two reasons. One, because honoring the Sabbath doesn’t equal a perfect Sunday, but it does make a better Sunday. If I hadn’t been in the word and going to church that day I know that it would’ve gotten out of control. Secondly, this experience made me see how much I need Jesus and how sinful I really am. You don’t realize how much you need Jesus to cover your sin until you see yourself for who you really are.
My kids don’t make me sin, they just expose weakness in my heart that is already there. Like marriage, kids sanctify you and show you what you’re really made of. How Christ-like are you really when you’re under fire and stressed?
Honoring the Sabbath brings to light my true idols.
So no work on Sunday. No housework sounded ok! But that also meant no blogging or jumping on the computer to update a graphic for someone. For Marcello it meant no more sending emails or returning phone calls. This has been been a serious change in mindset for us. It’s showing us what our idols are.
On Sundays I think about picking up my phone a lot. I am tempted to look at pretty pictures on Pinterest. The computer calls my name. There are many things I put before God during the week and Sunday gives me a chance to examine those. It puts a spotlight on them.
It takes preparation.
We were winging it at first, but now we’re starting to plan in advance. During the week we get groceries, run errands, we plan lunch, we ask friends to come over, we think of activities. And now, thanks to this book, we are going to try kids’ church at home and get our props of oysters ready for the first devotional!
The story talks about how the oyster cannot hear or see danger but it can rely on crabs, who can see and hear, to warn them if danger is coming. It only needs to pay attention to the crab and then they are both saved in the shell from the predator. The same is true for us if we listen to the conscience that God gave us. We’re already looking forward to it.
In pursuit of other present mainstream pastors’ opinions on the Sabbath, I could not find a consensus. In fact, when I was done reading articles and listening to sermons my head was spinning. It seems pastors of old tend to adhere to the fourth commandment and today there is discord.
When it all comes down to it, after the experience that my family has had, I would choose to honor this Jewish tradition of the Sabbath and reap it’s blessings whether I am commanded to or not. For I know that the Lord is with us on this precious day. And in the end, it’s probably more beautiful to do something honoring to God because you want to, not out of obligation.
What do you think? What do your Sundays look like? Are you a more experienced mama with older kids who can shed some light?
P.S. I updated my website randomly last Saturday! What do you think? I’m still working out some kinks, but let me know if there are any issues you notice. Thank you!
*UPDATE: Jennifer left a link to a version of “With the Children on Sundays” that can be found online! It looks you can download it at Many Books. Follow the directions in the red box under the image of the book cover. Thanks, Jennifer!