Have you murdered anyone lately? No, me neither. Any bank raids? Didn’t think so. Bowed down to any graven images? Not likely!
So how are we doing on keeping Sundays special? If, like me, you’re the parent of small children, you may already be laughing. No work? A day off a week? I should be so lucky!
And yet keeping the Sabbath for rest and making it holy is the fourth commandment, above even murder, stealing and coveting thy neighbour’s swanky new kitchen (I paraphrase). You can check this in Exodus 20; v.9. Do we just ignore it these days because it seems too hard to keep? Surely we can credit the Almighty with having His reasons when he instructed us to rest once a week!
In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is meant to be a foretaste of heaven and traditional homes take it very seriously, bringing as much beauty, cleanliness and delicious food as can be mustered to even the poorest homes, scrubbing, cooking and cleaning up until sunset on Friday in order to be ready on time. Compared to this, a Sunday afternoon spent at Tesco or catching up with the ironing feels more like a foretaste of hell.
Less appealing was the’ grim, joyless interpretation of the Sabbath still common in my grandparents’ day. My grandmother once told me how she had had a porcelain doll which she could only get out on Sundays but which could only be admired and never played with. Surely a God of joy wouldn’t wish such torture on us or our children?
And yet, I do honestly think it is realistic, desirable and God-honouring to make Sundays different. We’ve done it in our family and I would love to share with you how I became a Sabbath addict. I’ve also got some very practical ideas ahead on how you too can take a weekly break and gain a foretaste of heaven.
I was first challenged to keep Sundays special in my final year at University. I was living with three voluntary Christian workers who all took keeping the Sabbath holy very seriously. I didn’t think it was realistic, given I was coming up to finals but I respected these girls and decided to give it a try.
My new Sabbath habit often meant staying up late on a Saturday night to work or delaying going out to a party until 10 pm or afterwards. It was initially strange going back to my desk after dinner and hearing the sounds of merriment from the street while I caught up.
Despite this, I was quickly a Sabbath addict, an addiction which I have never recovered from. The delight of waking up on a Sunday to a day unpolluted with essays, academic reading or revision was exquisite. I could use the day to meet with friends, head up Arthur’s Seat for a fix of fresh air and a revel in the glory of creation or try out new recipes from my then tiny collection of cookbooks. Somehow, the work all got done in the week and I returned to it refreshed on Mondays. I graduated with a respectable 2:1 and a student habit which lasted farlonger than the penchant for Russian coffee and doughnuts at 3 am on a Saturday morning or the dodgy hair dye jobs.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and I have two children under four. How on earth is Sabbath rest still possible?
Firstly, my husband and I decided on our definition of work. Obviously our children still need feeding and nappies need changing. But work e-mails are ignored (our modern communication-saturated world needs Sundays more than ever!) and there is no house cleaning or laundry. Yes, you read right – NO LAUNDRY!!! Given that laundry is my domestic nemesis, I wake up on Sundays with a spring in my step.
We take out the bins but only because they are collected on Monday mornings and we may bake or cook because I generally find these fun rather than onerous. We don’t shop, make meal plans, do the accounts or anything else that feels like work or causes others to work. We’re not legalistic about it (we may buy food or petrol in a service station if we’re travelling to relatives for instance) but our day off is a huge luxury for weary, over-stretched parents.One advantage I have found is that the internal noise and chatter recedes a lot. We cultivate this purposefully. On the odd occasion we drive to church, we don’t switch on the radio and we try to walk a route to church which avoids the shops as it switches on my Mummy-brain too much (“Hmmm, we’ll be out of milk tomorrow and I think we need Calpol. Oooh, Weetabix are on special offer…!”). This makes worship a bit easier even if our minds still wonder somewhat.
Sundays are about celebration as well as rest so we try and get out into nature or meet with friends and enjoy time as a family. We have the luxury of concentrating on our children with fewer interruptions and the constant need to say “Just a minute. Mummy just needs to do X first”. We try and enjoy simple but fun meals; this week we had choc-chip pancakes for breakfast!
I had never intended to be a revolutionary but our Sunday habits did cause a stir when I talked about them. A Mummy friend who tried for the first time to change Sundays in her home told me it had never occurred to her that she could get everything done during the week but that her new Sabbath habit was restoring her sanity and revolutionising her family life.
My husband who is free-lance sees different advantages. For him, it is a line drawn in the sand; a recognition that however hard he works, our provision is ultimately down to God and it stops his sometimes over-zealous work ethic from totally taking over.
So how could you turn Sunday into a celebration, a day set apart? Every family is different and reorganising Sundays may take some time and careful thought. How about these ideas?
- Decide what feels like work to you. If you hate cooking, why not indulge in frozen pizza or another easy treat once a week? If your family love the roast, maybe shift it to Saturday night or maybe your husband would actually enjoy cooking it.
- Create an easy celebratory breakfast tradition. Croissants? Or waffles? Maybe hot chocolate for the kids?
- Explain to the kids why homework is going to be done on Saturdays now – they may take take some persuading but the quality is likely to be better if it’s not a rush job on a Sunday night. Could Sunday evening turn into family movie night? Or games night? You might all start the week more relaxed.
- If your kids are old enough, try instituting a Saturday morning half hour help out where everyone helps clean, tidy and getting the house ready for a relaxing Sunday together.
- Be disciplined about ignoring work e-mails. Even if it is expected in your workplace, people will cope.
- If you work on Sundays, designate another 24 hours where you are work-free, ideally one when your family can join in. I sometimes take 24 hours from Saturday at 6 pm until Sunday at 6pm if the work is simply unavoidable.
- Show yourself grace. It may take a few weeks before you get into this new routine. I still sometimes find myself hanging laundry on the line at 10 pm on Saturday night because I forgot it was there. Honestly though, it’s worth it!
So, does your family treat Sundays any differently?
If so, how has it helped you? If not, does the idea of a more relaxed day “set apart” appeal to you? I’d love to know in the comments!