In our frantic, frenetic society, where first-graders are in football leagues and children carry phones and planners to keep up with elementary-school extracurriculars, we need to "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8) more than ever. But do we? Most of us recognize those words from the Ten Commandments, but we don't know how, or even if, they apply to us today.
Karen-Marie Yust, a mother of three and author of Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children's Spiritual Lives (Jossey-Bass), says that in this overscheduled and overworked world, kids need to learn at an early age that they can take time to rest and focus on God.
"Our culture sends us the opposite message—if you're not frantically on top of everything, belonging to every imaginable club, and working all the time, you will be unhappy and unsuccessful," says Yust. There is real power, she adds, in taking a rest. Sabbath helps us learn that God is in charge, and Sabbath observance teaches us that taking a break is good. It's one way to say to your kids, "You will get into college even if you don't have that eighth extracurricular activity on your application."
A Family-Friendly Sabbath
Though Christian history is steeped with teachings about the Sabbath, we don't have too many contemporary models for Sabbath observance. Some of us might remember Sabbath-keeping from our childhood, when the stores closed on Sundays, and families spent leisurely afternoons lingering over lunch and napping.
But that model seems hard to square with today's world, where Sunday is often just another weekend day crammed with errands and chores.
Parents wishing to begin keeping Sabbath can start slowly (it's certainly not in the spirit of Sabbath rest to feel overwhelmed and stressed out about the Sabbath!). Dorothy Bass, author of Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (Jossey-Bass), reminds parents to focus on putting good Sabbath practices in place, rather than emphasizing what one can't or shouldn't do on Sunday.
Instead of making Sundays primarily a time when one can't work (or, as was the rule in my grandmother's house, can't go to the movies), make Sunday afternoon a family time for all those restful, enriching activities you never have time for during the week. In an age when many families don't eat breakfast or dinner together, make Sunday a time of a regular family meal, even if it's just a simple post-church BLT. At my church, several families and friends gather together for regular Saturday night meals: special, leisurely dinners that usher in the Sabbath.