By Jodi Hiser
It had been a typical Sunday morning of frantically getting ready for church, arriving late to service, and wrangling our children during worship. Sunday, unlike any other day, had the uncanny ability to drain my energy to all-time lows. As the congregation stood that morning for the benediction, I sighed at the embarrassing purple stain on the side of my dress—thanks to a small collision with our toddler during communion. The baby was fussing in her carrier, having spit out her pacifier for the hundredth time. The floor was a mess of bulletin papers torn and strewn about, and our five-year-old was enthusiastically jumping on the pew cushion while we sang the closing hymn.
After the final “amen”, I was exhausted. I wanted to fall into bed and pull the covers over my eyes, avoiding my roles of wife and mom for the rest of the day.
Once the kids were strapped in the car and ready to go home, I plopped onto the passenger side and lamented to my husband. “Sundays are so much work,” I confessed. “I barely get to hear anything during the service. I think I’m more tired on Sundays than the grocery days when I take the kids to Walmart.”
My husband gazed at me with wide eyes. He knew that I had uttered an extremely serious statement.
We had committed ourselves to worshiping as a family; yet that commitment was wearing me out. The Sunday service often involved correcting our children’s frequent misbehaviors, consoling our infant, helping the toddler to the bathroom, and picking up toys that had mysteriously migrated several pews away.
And after church, our afternoons weren’t any better. Once we arrived home, life seemed just as hectic as every other day, except for some reason, I felt angrier.
My husband and I had been taught that the sabbath was given at creation by the mercy of God (Genesis 2:1-3). We also knew that a sabbath rest was important. But we weren’t experiencing anything like it. On a day that was supposed to be filled with reflective rest, I found that I was working harder with growing bitterness each week. And so, that’s when my husband and I decided that we needed a change.
First, we sought to learn about the principles of the sabbath (Ex. 20:8–11, Matt. 12:1–4, Mark 2:23–3:6, Luke 14:1–6, and Heb. 3:7–4:11). We discovered that practicing a sabbath is not about following a legalistic list of things to do or things to avoid. Rather, it’s about embracing the principle of cherishing this day, stepping away from our normal activities, and taking time to delight in the Lord. It should be a day of quietness in heart, joy of spirit, and mindful peace away from our weekly frenzied distractions.
Of course, young children don’t understand this. They don’t decide to be extra quiet, more calm, and less needy just because it’s the Lord’s day. So, how does a mama whose life is engulfed in the trenches of young motherhood cherish the sabbath day? Can a mother in the season with little ones even experience a single moment of quietness in heart or mindful peace?
My husband and I knew we needed a strategy to help us achieve our intention of rest. And the more we learned and discussed, the more we realized that we needed to purposefully work towards our sabbath day, so we could be filled with the rest and delight that God designed.
And so, we prayed. We committed our sabbath day to prayer. The Lord wants us to experience a sabbath rest, and therefore, we prayed with confidence that this prayer would be answered by him. We stepped out in trust, knowing God would be faithful to do this work in our family.
We prepared our children with new skills. Every Monday morning, we started our preparations for the upcoming sabbath day. After much discussion, we realized our children weren’t really misbehaving on Sundays; they simply hadn’t had enough practice in the pursuit of worship and attentiveness all throughout the week. The first skill we addressed was the habit of attention. Through breakfast story-times and read-alouds before bed, we taught our kids how to listen well, and have self-control over their wiggles. We introduced a new routine of daily family worship, where we practiced reverence and love for praising the Lord. Stillness, quietude, active listening, and worship participation became familiar skills upon which my kids were building mastery every day.
Looking ahead, we planned for the whole day. Because young children need constant amusement, we created a plan that included a special sabbath roadmap for the afternoon that would occur after the service at church. During the week, I made a list of activities that could be ready for Sunday afternoon. I considered the categories of art, food, games, music, fellowship, nature, books, and even sleep. Once I had the list, I gathered the necessary materials and stowed them away for easy access. The purpose of this plan was to bring life-giving joy to our sabbath afternoon, setting apart the day for our family. The plan also liberated me from a pent-up frustration that had festered from trying to invent entertainment on these days. A pre-planned day with pre-organized materials took out the guessing and last-minute frenzy.
On the night before service, we packed our church bags. These bags held activities that would keep our children busy while participating in the practice of corporate worship. We included simple occupations like easy handicrafts, papers and coloring utensils, picture books, kid Bibles, journals to write their own “notes”, sticker books, and snacks that weren’t too loud or messy. Next to our bags, we placed our church clothes, socks, hair-ribbons, and hair combs. We took the family on a shoe hunt, searching for and retrieving every shoe that we would need, placing them by the door. In this way, we had everything we needed to pile into our car at the time of departure.
Most importantly, we aspired to protect the day. My husband and I changed our social schedule so that our family could have an earlier bedtime on Saturday nights. On Sunday mornings, we set our alarms to wake up before the children. This gave us time to set our hearts for worship. We also chose an earlier time to awaken the kids so that our family could have the margin to read the Scripture for the upcoming service. This prepared the hearts of our children for what they were about to hear in congregational worship.
After our family began these habits, our sabbath didn’t magically become a sudden delight. It took time and diligence to pray, prepare, plan, pack for, and protect the day. But as these habits gradually became routine, our Lord’s day became a source of joy.
The spiritual outcomes that flowed from this adventure turned out to be more than my husband or I even expected. Our attitude of joy seeped into the hearts of our little ones. Taking delight in the sabbath became a family anchor to ready us for the busy week ahead. It became a hedge of protection that gave our hearts, minds, and bodies a place of peace. And now, our whole family understands that as we protect the sabbath day, the sabbath protects us, living up to the puritan’s claim as being “the market day of the soul”.