"Look both ways before crossing the street." "Eat your carrots." "Did you say thank you?" I've said these words more than I care to admit. I try to be faithful in teaching my kids the importance of safety, good health and proper manners. And of God's blueprint for their lives. Selflessness, obedience, defense of the weak — over the years, we've had plenty of opportunities to coach our kids toward a better understanding of how God desires us to live.
Over time, I noticed that some of God's plan didn't seem that important to our family, particularly that whole concept of Sabbath rest. Indeed, I've realized that my husband, Paul, and I have been modeling God's design on something of a sliding scale. Integrity, honesty, respecting authority — sure, that's all important stuff. But Sabbath rest? Isn't that a bit old-fashioned? An hour or two in church should be sufficient, right? And then we can get on with the business of the day, which in some ways doesn't look much different from any other day.
But God didn't make Sabbath a gentle suggestion. Even He rested after a week of stitching together the universe. And if you flip to Exodus, He made Sabbath a commandment for His chosen people. Once, when I asked a Sunday school class what a commandment was, a little boy responded with, "A commandment is something a king says." A great answer, I thought.
Our King has designed Sabbath as a time for rest and worship. And what's more, God has designed us to need this rest. I tell my kids that we've been made with a "Sabbath DNA." God has wired the need to rest into every part of our miraculous bodies. We cannot keep busy for days and weeks at a time, because rest — daily and weekly —is part of our bodies' routine maintenance.
A countercultural modeling
When I was a child, lots of stores and restaurants were closed on Sundays. It was almost as if our culture (or at least my hometown) encouraged us to be home to rest with our families. I see this less often these days. While driving to church one morning, my family took note of all the activity, of business booming and big sporting events at the park. I tell my kids that it is indeed difficult to honor God's plan for our lives when the world generally avoids it, but that we do it out of love for our Lord and a belief that His way really is best.
Jesus says in John 14:15, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." So it was out of love, not obligation, that Paul and I began to change our family's Sabbath practice. Now, after nearly 19 years of parenting, I'm still learning that the best way to lead my kids along the narrow path is by example.
Pursuing Sabbath rest
The traditions of Sabbath rest run deep in the Jewish community. Families light candles, break bread and sing songs together each week. It's an intimate, relaxing time for those who sit around their kitchen table. And for me, it's a great reminder that my children are never too young to play a part in our family's Sabbath time. Consider the following ideas for creating a meaningful and restful Sabbath for your entire family:
• Bookend the day with a focus on Jesus. Use a special praise song to wake your young children in the morning and to put them to bed that night. One of the most precious family videos we have is of our daughter Grace singing a song we taught her about the love of Jesus.
• Find new ways and new places to rest, laugh and eat together. Grab pillows and blankets and make a comfy nest in the living room. Make stress-free, mess-free meals of finger foods. Cuddle with your little ones and read stories, sing songs and laugh together.
• Get some fresh air. Year round, the outdoors is a quiet adventure waiting to happen. Share God's fascinating creation with your kids while hunting for bugs and flower buds, frost patterns and unblemished snowdrifts. Keep it simple. Watch clouds roll by, or count the stars at night. Pack lunch for a relaxing drive and impromptu picnic. Keep your fishing poles in the back of the car — just in case.
• Get creative. For school-age kids, family Sabbath time can include small projects that balance a service objective with simple, quiet moments together. Keep things easy and stress-free — decorating boxes for church missions projects or putting together care packages for families in need. The key is the relaxing time spent clipping, pasting and enjoying each other's company.
• Power down. As our children got older, I wrestled with how we were going to continue honoring our Sabbath time together. Media often distracted us from focusing on God and one another, so we aimed to minimize its use on our Lord's Day. Television and computers were turned off; portable screens were tucked in a drawer. We couldn't rid ourselves of everything, of course. It seemed our teens had a hardwired need for music, so we set apart the day by playing only worship music that we could all enjoy together.
I realize now that the concept of Sabbath rest is as relevant to our lives as God's other instructions — and we are blessed that God's instructions come with benefits. Indeed, Jesus tells us plainly that Sabbath was created for us (Mark 2:27-28). We actually need the things that we are asked to do! What better way to honor our God and King than by teaching this heavenly, necessary lifestyle to our children.
Joanne Kraft is the author of Just Too Busy: Taking your family on a radical sabbatical.