Not long ago the Mormon Church highlighted an article on their site titled “How Would Your Family Describe the Sabbath?” In the article the author talks about noticing that her children don’t seem to enjoy Sundays. In it she shares the conversation she had with them, and the ideas they come up with to help them get more out of their Sabbath day observance.
As I read over the article I started thinking about how I tried to observe the Sabbath as a Mormon when my children were younger. I can remember how difficult it was to make sure they weren’t doing anything they weren’t supposed to, such as watching television, playing outside with friends, spending time on the computer, or playing video games.
I was difficult for me to find things for my boys and myself to do on Sundays that didn’t, in some way violate the Sabbath day rules, so to speak. For many years my husband’s job required him to work on Sundays. So it was very frustrating at times for me, as a young mother try to teach my boys about “keeping the Sabbath day holy” by myself.
The idea behind not doing certain things was to help us stay focused on what we had learned earlier that day in church. It was to encourage us to view the Sabbath as a special day, and to not be thinking about things, or doing that had would be distracting.
As you may know the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat (meaning to rest) begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. During this period of time Jews are commanded to avoid any act of work.
Exodus 20:8-11 tells the Jews to –
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
Like the Jews, Mormons consider Sabbath day observance a “law”, one they take very seriously and can be very strict when it comes to keeping it. In fact, there’s a great deal of things they’re not supposed to do on Sunday, and many things they’re supposed to do. Below is a list of do’s and don’ts from Ezra Taft Benson’s talk in the May 1971 issue of the Ensign.
Engage in activities that contribute to greater spirituality.
Attend essential Church meetings in the house of prayer.
Acquire spiritual knowledge by reading the scriptures, Church history and biographies, and the inspired words of our Church leaders.
Rest physically, get acquainted with your family, relate scriptural stories to your children, and bear your testimony to build family unity.
Visit the sick and aged shut-ins.
Sing the songs of Zion and listen to inspiring music.
Pay devotions to the Most High through prayer (personal and family), fasting, administration, and father’s blessings.
Prepare food with a singleness of heart: simple meals prepared largely on Saturday.
Remember that Sunday is the Lord’s day, a day to do his work.
Overworking and staying up late Saturday so that you are exhausted the next day.
Filling the Sabbath so full of extra meetings that there is no time for prayer, meditation, family fellowship, and counseling.
Doing gardening and odd jobs around the house.
Taking trips to canyons or resorts, visiting friends socially, joy riding, wasting time, and engaging in other amusements.
Playing vigorously and going to movies.
Engaging in sports and hunting ‘wild animals’which God made for the use of man only ‘in times of famine and excess of hunger.’ (D&C 89:15)
Reading material that does not contribute to your spiritual uplift.
Shopping or supporting with your patronage businesses that operate on Sunday, such as grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and service stations
As I look over these lists one of the things I had a hard time with was preparing meals “with a singleness of heart”. This meant, I wasn’t allowed to put a lot of work into preparing food for my family on Sunday. I think one of the reasons I had a hard time understanding it is because Sunday dinners were a big thing for me growing up. Many of my family members would gather together at my grandparents’ house on Sunday after church. We would enjoy a good meal together, and catch each other up on what was going on in our lives. The Mormon Church claims to be all about families, and you would think an activity like this would be encouraged, but sadly their church leaders think differently.
Former president and prophet of the Mormon Church, Spencer W. Kimball had this to say about what activities are acceptable on the Sabbath. He said:
“The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing not he Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. To fail to do these proper things is a transgression on the omission side.” — President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, January 1978, p. 4
Joseph Smith taught in D&C 59:9-10,
“That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High”
One of the reasons Mormons may tend to be very strict in their observance of the Sabbath is that they’ve been taught that it’s tied to how they view God.
Mark E. Peterson said –
“No law in all scripture has been more clearly defined than that of the Sabbath. From the time of Genesis to our own day, there has been no subject spoken of more directly or repeatedly than the Sabbath. It is one of the laws most dear to the heart of God. Yet it is noted far more in its desecration than in its acceptance and proper observance. . . . Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us.” (“The Sabbath Day,” Ensign, May 1975, pp. 47, 49)
The Sabbath isn’t about work, or refraining from it, it’s about worship. The Lord wanted the Israelites to take a day and remember all He had done for them. (Exodus 20:8-11) It was a sign of the covenant between God and the Israelites… Exodus 31:13 reads:
“Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.”
When Jesus came, and was crucified He fulfilled the requirements of the Law the Jews were bound to (Romans 4:10). He came to give us permanent rest from our labors so that we wouldn’t have to work toward our salvation, and completely find spiritual rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30)
Despite what the Mormons may think of work on the Sabbath day, when you think about it they are still working on Sunday. It may not be a physical type of work, but it’s a spiritual type of work. In that they can’t truly rest their hearts and minds because they have to be so cautious of what they’re doing each minute of the day.
The Lord tells us in Romans 14:5-6 that as Christians we have personal freedom regarding the observance of holy days. We have to listen to our conscience in regards to what is appropriate to do on Sundays and what isn’t.
I pray that one day Mormons can find the rest they seek. Their “law of the Sabbath” as they say, is just one of the things that’s holding them back from being at peace with the Lord.