Could a maligned ancient law actually be a key to better family life in the high-tension 21st century? Sabbath rest can be a blessing for children—and parents.
Many parents feel guilty about not teaching their kids more, about not having time to help them, encourage them and prepare them more for the challenges of modern life.
A parent’s life can seem nonstop, with all of one’s time and energy going into just keeping the household functioning. Time to instill the important things—the lasting memories and the enduring values and lifelong success factors—seems hard to come by.
Researchers have pointed to the benefits of families spending time together. For example, when families regularly eat meals together, “family bonds become stronger, children are better adjusted, family members eat more nutritional meals, they are less likely to be overweight, and they are less likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs” (Larry Forthun, associate professor, University of Florida).
For these and many more reasons, we encourage families to eat together often. But what if you had even more time to bond with your kids and to help shape their futures for the better?
What if God miraculously gave you a day—24 hours—to focus on the most important things? And what if He gave it to you every week?
He does! Many are surprised to learn that one of God’s 10 Commandments actually regulates time—for our benefit and for our children. It’s the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is refreshing!
From the beginning, God’s Sabbath has been about rest and refreshment. The all-powerful Creator God never gets tired, but He tells us He “rested and was refreshed” by the Sabbath day after a week of creative effort (Exodus 31:17). He enjoyed this so much, He wanted us to share in this joy, so “He blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:11).
Hallowed means to set apart; and we are to treat it “with special care as a possession of God” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “to sanctify”). God set the Sabbath apart—He owns it—but He wants to share this delightful day with us.
Couldn’t you use a refreshing experience like this? A time to unwind and refocus? A time to devote to the important things that so easily get neglected through the tyranny of the urgent?
God’s seventh-day Sabbath can be a refreshing blessing for families. But why haven’t you heard much about this, and why do so many people think of it as a burden instead?
The Sabbath was made for man—and families
Jesus answered some misconceptions the religious leaders of His day had about the Sabbath by saying: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
The Sabbath is not some arbitrary, meaningless ritual or restriction. God created it for our benefit! It is a gift and a blessing from our Creator!
But man has often misconstrued the Sabbath command. The Pharisees of Christ’s day got it backward. Over the centuries, attempts to protect the Sabbath turned into rigid rules that missed the heart of the matter. On the other hand, religious leaders of our day have accepted centuries of tradition that, in an attempt to avoid legalism, has rejected the seventh-day Sabbath rest altogether.
Neither extreme properly grasps God’s wonderful gift, and families have suffered for it.
The Sabbath blessing God intended gives families meaningful time together. It also brings with it vital lessons that can have eternal benefits for every member of the family.
Lessons the Sabbath teaches
Here are a few of the lessons the seventh-day Sabbath—the Fourth Commandment—can teach:
The Sabbath teaches the importance of rest after working hard. God makes it clear that this blessing is intended for all members of the family: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter” (Exodus 20:8-10).
The Sabbath command creates deadlines and a startling contrast. After we work hard for six days, we are blessed with time to rest and be rejuvenated physically, mentally and spiritually. Not only do modern parents need this time of refuge and refreshment, but stressed and nonstop students do as well.
The Sabbath teaches time management. Of course, you are probably wondering where in your packed schedule you would be able to fit in even an hour of this kind of time that you crave! But God is a miracle-working God, and many people who have discovered the Sabbath have found that the tough choices and the firm commitment they gave to the Sabbath paid off with a more productive week and some divinely provided relief.
The Sabbath deadline and the enforced break give a great backstop for developing an effective time-management plan. See our article “Christian Time Management.”
The Sabbath teaches right priorities. To successfully manage our time, we must properly weight our priorities. The Sabbath essentially demands 24 hours for the top priorities—our relationships with God and with others (especially our families and church family).
The Sabbath teaches appreciation:
- Of God’s creation. As the capstone of creation week, the Sabbath reminds us of the Creator and His amazing, intricately connected creation.
- Of freedom. When Moses repeated the 10 Commandments before Israel went into the Promised Land, the Sabbath commandment included: “Remember that you were a slave” (Deuteronomy 5:15). This makes the Sabbath a celebration of freedom—and a reminder to not oppress others. Along with this comes a reminder to care deeply for the oppressed.
- Of God and His Word and His way. The Sabbath is designed to help us learn to honor God and “delight in the LORD” (Isaiah 58:13-14). The Sabbath is a “holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3)—a commanded appointment to learn from God’s ministers and to fellowship with members of His Church. The Sabbath also gives families more time to talk about the things of God: how God thinks and how He wants us to act.
- Of the future. The book of Hebrews compares the Sabbath rest with the coming peaceful millennial rest (Hebrews 4:1-10; see also our Life, Hope & Truth article “God’s Plan”).
- Of family. God created marriage and family soon after creating the first man and woman (Genesis 2:24). And He follows the Sabbath command with the command to “honor your father and your mother … that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). Family is important to God, and we can use the Sabbath to show our appreciation to Him and to each other for our families
Ideas for Making the Sabbath Special
Karen Meeker shared these ideas from Sabbath-keepers she interviewed:
A mother from Ohio said, “When it is time to sit down for dinner, we put Sabbath music on and light candles on the table. Our daughter is not quite 3, and she already looks forward to this tradition. If we dare sit down to the table without the candles or music, she lets us know right away!”
Another member from Ohio said: “We typically have a family dinner with my parents, younger brother, younger sister and her husband, plus the four of us. We take turns going to each other’s houses. Now that there are four houses in the family, each one takes a Friday night a month, chooses the main course and asks the rest of the family to bring accompanying foods. If we don’t have our Sabbath dinner, it just makes the week extra long.”
A happy grandma, JoAnna, commented: “My son has little Michael call me right around 7:30 on Friday evening. When I answer the phone it’s always Mikey on the other end starting off with ‘Hiya, Nana!’ Then what follows is ‘Happy Shabbish, Nana!’ He tells me a little bit about his day, then he reminds me to bring the little treats to church that I always have for him and ends the conversation with, ‘I love you, Nana! See you at church, Nana!’”
Erin Tootle shared these service ideas:
- Pray for other people. Learn about the challenges others are facing and pray for them specifically. This not only helps the people we pray for, but it also helps us have a more active relationship with God.
- Write a card for someone who is sick or in need of encouragement.
- Seek out someone you don’t normally talk to at church and get to know him or her.
Family Discussion Starters
Many conversations will be spontaneous, but sometimes it helps to have a few ideas to get the communication flowing.
- Of all the animals God created, which is your favorite? Why?
- What bad things we saw this week could be prevented or fixed by principles from the Bible? How?
- What does the Bible say about a decision we face?
- How can we do good things for others on the Sabbath?
- How can we help lonely people feel part of a family?
- How can we be good friends to other people? How can we find more good friends?
- If everyone obeyed God’s Eighth Commandment and didn’t steal, how would the world be different? (You can ask the same question about other commandments as well.)
- What are you looking forward to most when Jesus Christ returns to set up the Kingdom of God?
Child-Friendly Sabbath Ideas
Young children often enjoy and look forward to special foods, activities and celebrations. Here are a few ideas for incorporating these into the Sabbath.
- Make a seven-link paper chain and cut off a link each day. Decorate the seventh one in a special way to highlight the importance of the Sabbath.
- Make a special bread or other treat to eat only on the Sabbath day.
- Choose favorite clothes that will only be worn on the Sabbath.
- Set aside special quiet toys and books to use only at Sabbath church services.
- Find or make up a special Sabbath song to sing each Sabbath.
- Set the table in a fancy and/or fun way for the Sabbath meal.
- Take a leisurely walk and admire God’s creation.
- Make use of the lessons and activities given in the Encourage, Equip & Inspire manual for parents.