Make holy the family day

My husband and I decided that our family was having trouble keeping the third commandment: Keep holy the Sabbath day. Aside from Mass, we acknowledged that our Sundays didn’t really look that different from any other day of the week. Chores, running kids to activities, last-minute projects from work, errands.

It’s not that what we were doing was so bad; it just wasn’t especially holy. We live in a neighborhood with many Orthodox Jewish families, and Bill and I noted that even as we struggled to give our Sabbath any time at all, they were managing to set aside sundown Friday through sundown Saturday for their Sabbath each week.

In his book Sabbath (Thomas Nelson) Dan Allender makes a case for Christians to keep the Sabbath holy. He defines “holy” as “set aside” and writes, “Sabbath is the day we practice for eternity. It requires that we receive, intend, and protect the day. The bind is that if we let the day happen spontaneously, it will usually dissolve into the route of least resistance.”

As Bill and I planned what we wanted our Sabbaths to be, we held onto to Allender’s assertion of Sabbath: “Sabbath is about relationship, nature, and beauty.”

Allender aims high with his Sabbath plans: “The Sabbath calls us to receive and to create with God the delight he gives and invites us to orchestrate for his glory. It requires surrender and imagination.”

For us, the surrender involves letting go of the thousand things we “should” be doing in order to join in the delight that God offers. The imagination comes in finding simple, mostly outdoor activities with elements that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

We’ve been keeping our Sabbaths for more than a year now, and it’s been one of our best family decisions. We’ve seen miles of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail and have visited every state park within an hour of our house. Much of our Sabbath involves hiking. Often two members of the family pair up for a discussion on the path—conversations that likely would not have happened otherwise. Arguing among kids is kept to a minimum because everyone is moving, and everyone has plenty of space. We have found that Allender is correct in how nature and beauty connect us to God.

Like all spiritual practices, our family’s keeping of the Sabbath has ebbed and flowed. We were terrible about keeping it last spring, but we seem to do especially well during autumn and winter. Liam’s favorite Sabbath was a horse-drawn sleigh ride last January. This past autumn Jacob and our foster daughter T appreciated any Sabbath outing that included a sand volleyball court. Seven-year-old Jamie soaks up the attention she gets from her older brothers when they are pulled from their iPods and computers. And Bill and I find it refreshing and renewing to be away from the house.

Sundays in Advent provide a great jumping-off point for families seeking to develop meaningful Sabbaths. Some ideas:

First Sunday of Advent: Choose a state park or another beautiful spot within 45 minutes of your home and go on a winter hike. Bundle up and bring some hot cocoa; you’ll likely have the park almost to yourself. Spend time talking about what some of your family’s favorite Advent or Christmas traditions are, or what you’d like to do. (Last year on our family hike, we learned Liam’s goal was to actually roast chestnuts on an open fire before Christmas.)

Second Sunday of Advent: After dinner, grab your flashlights and go for a family walk in your neighborhood. Admire the lights and decorations and talk about how your neighbors are gifts to you. Come back for a family game night together or time to relax around the fire.

Third Sunday of Advent: Set aside a full afternoon or evening to decorate the tree. Set the mood with flickering candles and religious Christmas music (play Pandora.com if you don’t have much non-secular music). Reminisce about how you acquired different ornaments. When a child finds an ornament they made in an earlier grade, encourage him or her to share a memory of that grade.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Find a Christmas-themed play, movie, or musical event in your community and go as a family. Follow it with dinner together and the lighting of the final Advent candle.

I still marvel at our Jewish neighbors and their 24-hour commitment to the Sabbath. Our family Sabbaths are not even full days yet—they are more like Sabbath afternoons. But Sabbath for us has grown to mean so much more than a morning at church. We protect the day as much as we are able, and try not to beat ourselves up when we fall short. Through our Sabbaths, we have found Allender’s words to be true: “Delight doesn’t require a journey thousands of miles away, but it does require a separation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God.”

—by Annemarie Scobey  from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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