“WHY DID YOU SLEEP IN SO LONG?” My angry words flooded the car as we drove to church. “You know I need extra help with the boys on Sabbath mornings!”
Our 3-year-old’s eyes grew big as he listened to my tirade.
“I’m sorry, honey,” my husband sighed. “I’ll try to be up earlier next week and help you more.” He had a right to be tired, and I knew it. He was working almost full-time and going to graduate school at night.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, finally letting myself relax.
Why are Sabbath mornings so hard? I wondered. I want this to be the best day of the week for our family, and I always get stressed and ruin it for everyone. God, please show me how to make Sabbath a good day for our family!
God led me to pray about our Sabbaths over the coming months. As I prayed, He gently changed my heart and showed me ways to make Sabbaths a blessing for our family. We’re still far from God’s ideal for Sabbath, but now the Sabbath is our children’s favorite day of the week.
Here are some principles I’ve learned and ideas for applying them:
1. GAIN A NEW PERSPECTIVE.
One of the first things God showed me is that the Sabbath is not a day for performance but for peace in Him. I wanted to keep the Sabbath correctly—be to church on time, see my kids dressed nicely, have the house perfectly clean.
God invited me to rest in His love on the Sabbath. Instead of resenting the time it took to nurse our baby before church, I began to see that as time for me to pray and meditate on His Word. He led me to Ezekiel 20:12: “I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.”
He also reminded me of a verse I’d memorized as a child: “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13, 14).
I realized the Sabbath is a day to celebrate what He is doing in our lives, not a day for me to work harder to please Him. It’s about resting in Him, not earning His love. This realization slowly changed my perspective (legalism dies hard!) and gave me permission to enjoy the Sabbath. When I started enjoying the day, the rest of my family did too.
Ellen White wrote: “To all who receive the Sabbath as a sign of Christ’s creative and redeeming power, it will be a delight. Seeing Christ in it, they delight themselves in Him.”1
Apply it: Meditate on Isaiah 58:13, 14; Ezekiel 20:12; and other verses about the Sabbath. Ask God to change your perspective on the Sabbath. Make sure your soul is getting fed on the Sabbath. I have found that getting up early for devotions and a sunrise walk starts my Sabbaths out right.
2. TREASURE THE GIFT OF TIME.
The benefits of spending time with family include improved mental and physical health, lowered stress, and better self-confidence. Children’s academic performance improves while their risk of behavioral problems decreases. They learn interpersonal, conflict management, and life skills. During family time we have invaluable opportunities to disciple our children in the journey of faith.
Yet family time often gets sidelined when days are full and to-do lists long. The Sabbath is God’s antidote for our busy lives. “God’s love has set a limit to the demands of toil. Over the Sabbath He places His merciful hand. In His own day He preserves for the family opportunity for communion with Him, with nature, and with one another.”2
We have found that the Sabbath provides us with opportunities to connect with our children on a deeper level than is often possible during the week. On Sabbath, we can relax, listen to their hearts, and truly be family.
The Sabbath is also a perfect time to invest in our children’s spiritual growth. Attending church together as a family is our first priority. We belong to a small church, so helping it become a place our children enjoy has been important to us. This has meant leading out with children’s Sabbath Schools and activities. Our commitments help our children see the value of worshipping God on the Sabbath.
In the afternoons, we sometimes read mission stories, act out Bible charades, or play Bible board games. Our daughter loves to tell Bible stories with felts. Sometimes we paint or color together while watching a sermon or listening to a faith-building audio story.3 We often talk about the sermon on our way home from church to make sure our children understand it. Working on Bible memorization is also a blessing.
About once a month we spend a Sabbath bringing joy to others. Sometimes we invite someone to our home for lunch. Other times we serve our church family or someone in the community. At times serving our church family means sacrificing something the kids would rather do. We believe that’s OK as long as we have other Sabbaths when we can focus fully on our children’s needs.
Apply it: Prioritize worshipping God together as a family. Don’t resent the Sabbath with your kids or sneak away for a nap (unless you absolutely need it). This is invaluable time with your children. Cherish them on the Sabbath. It is God’s gift of time for you and your children.
3. GET OUTSIDE.
Sabbath afternoons outdoors provide so many opportunities to learn about God in His second book. This is our favorite way to spend Sabbath afternoon! Our family enjoys Sabbath walks, canoeing, biking, and nature observation. Over the years, our rambunctious little ones have grown in their ability to slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Ellen White suggested: “We can walk out with [our children] in the open air; we can sit with them in the groves and in the bright sunshine, and give their restless minds something to feed upon by conversing with them upon the works of God, and can inspire them with love and reverence by calling their attention to the beautiful objects in nature.”4
Apply it: No matter how your family chooses to get outside, remember that these are times to seek God together, not compete or conquer. Ask God to guide your adventures with your children in nature. There are rich blessings here!
4. PLAN AHEAD.
In Bible times, Friday was called the “preparation day” (Mark 15:42). It was the day to prepare for the Sabbath rest. When I was growing up, we did all our house cleaning and Sabbath preparation on Friday. This often meant a stressful scramble to finish last-minute chores.
God helped me see that I needed to begin planning for the Sabbath early in the week. This was especially important when our children were small and teaching them to “help” took far more time than doing tasks myself. I learned to spread out my household duties over several days so I didn’t have to rush on Friday afternoon. When possible, I make food ahead of time. We don’t always succeed, but we work at it. And when we don’t succeed, God has taught me that it’s OK to rest on the Sabbath. It’s far more important that my heart is in tune with my Father than that my floors are spotless.
We have also learned the importance of planning ahead for God-honoring, kid-friendly Sabbath activities. These kinds of activities don’t happen by accident. We try to take time during the week to talk about what we’d like to do on the Sabbath and prepare for it. This way when Sabbath comes we aren’t sucked into activities we know are not the best simply because we aren’t ready for something better.
Apply it: Plan out a weekly housework schedule (for example, laundry on Sunday, bathrooms on Wednesday, etc.) and aim to follow it. Involve your children in helping you clean and prepare for the Sabbath. Early in the week choose at least one God-honoring activity you can do together as a family on Sabbath and then prepare for it.
5. PRAY AHEAD!
Recently, God has been reminding me of the need to specifically pray for our Sabbaths. I found this made such a difference when our children were little. Sabbaths were so much happier when they’d been covered in prayer.
Somewhere along the way, though, I forgot to pray much about our Sabbaths. I realize now that while we have made Sabbaths enjoyable for our children, we have often failed to help them truly delight in the God of the Sabbath. This breaks my heart, because I know that God has so much more for us on the Sabbath!
God showed me this so clearly last Christmas. Differences of opinion on how to keep the Sabbath have sometimes caused serious tension when our extended family has gotten together. So last Christmas I rose early on Sabbath morning and spent extra time seeking God’s blessing on our day with family. I prayed that everyone would get along, that the children would enjoy the activities my aunt had planned, and that we could truly worship together.
God did bless! It was one of the best Sabbaths I can remember having with our extended family. We enjoyed a multigenerational church service complete with a kid-friendly Bible study, fun conversation around mealtimes, and walks in the countryside around my grandmother’s home. Not once was there a conflict. God truly answered prayer!
Our God is a gentleman. He will not force His way into our time and hearts. But if we truly desire His presence on the Sabbath, nothing can keep Him away.
Apply it: Take time throughout the week to pray about the coming Sabbath. Ask God to show you how to make it the best day of the week for your family. Even more important, ask God to be the central attraction of your Sabbath.
6. CHOOSE THE BEST AND SAY NO TO THE REST.
Sometimes we have to stop our children from doing certain things on the Sabbath. We’ve found that explaining the “why” helps a lot. When our children see that the Sabbath is a gift from God because He loves us, they are much more willing to keep it sacred. Rather than telling our kids “no” on the Sabbath, we aim to fill it with activities that honor God and allow us to be together as a family. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
The difference between what is good and what is best is often found in a step of faith.5 It takes faith to see the eternal, to really know God and follow Him. The same is true for our Sabbaths. The difference between an enjoyable Sabbath and a delightful Sabbath with Jesus is found in the faith to reach out and invite our Savior in.
Jesus is inviting us to choose the best for our families on Sabbath. We begin that journey by praying about Sabbath. God may be calling you to prioritize outreach more often on Sabbaths. Or invest time in studying the Scriptures as a family. Or God may simply be asking your family to change your focus in the good activities you are already engaging in.
Romans 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” That stretches me and motivates me to seek God more on the Sabbath. We can be doing all the right things on Sabbath and still be doing them without faith—without Jesus! Let’s not let another Sabbath pass without Jesus as the honored guest in our home.
Won’t you pray with me?
Lord Jesus, I want to connect with You on the Sabbath, to truly delight in Your presence. I want to teach my children how to delight in You too. Forgive me for not delighting in You on the Sabbath. I choose to pray ahead and plan ahead for the Sabbath from now on. Please guide me. Guide our family. Teach us how to truly worship You on the Sabbath together! Thank You! In Jesus’ name, amen.
1 Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 289.
2 Ellen White, Child Guidance, p. 536.
3 Your Story Hour, Bible in Living Sound, and Discovery Mountain are great options for audio stories.
4 Ellen White, Child Guidance, p. 536.
5 Sermon by Pastor Marc Woodson on May 29, 2021, at the Lincoln Amazing Grace Seventh-day Adventist Church in California.