In the 39 years I have been a member of the Church, my understanding and practice of the Sabbath Day has evolved through years and years of children at home and now the relative calm of the empty nest.  

Let’s be honest, Sundays can be difficult days when you have little children and then surly teenagers, so I am hoping that the struggle and the attempts are what matter most during those times. I remember rolling my eyes many times when we would sing “Welcome, Welcome Sabbath Morning” and I looked down the pew at my unruly gang of seven. I also had a handicapped daughter, whose demands knew no days of the week.

I tried, though, and I’m hoping that’s what counts in the end. (And I’m sure I have a lot of other mothers with me in that camp!)

I remember later when it seemed everyone was in college, and my Sunday evenings were wonderfully special because that was the evening I could count on everyone calling me in between naps and ward prayer. I loved those times.

Now—four years into empty nesting— I can do whatever I want on Sundays, and that is both freeing and burdensome because suddenly I am responsible for keeping the Sabbath Day holy with no one to blame if I don’t.

The Sabbath Day as a cup

I have come recently to think of the Sabbath Day as a cup that can be emptied or filled however you want it to be.

It’s easier to empty it than to fill it when you have kids at home. You take away sports, eating out, shopping, TV, playing outdoors with the neighbor kids, movies and you have an Sunday empty of a normal week’s activities.

The challenge then becomes to fill the cup up with Sabbath Day activities since—this is important— the main aim of the Sabbath is not to rest and relax but to spiritually restore and reconnect with the Lord. So you can still not shop, not eat out, not play sports and at the end of the day not be any better spiritually for it. 

And what kind of things can you put into your cup? Here are some suggestions: studying scriptures, preparing lessons, reading ahead on your lessons, visiting and home teaching, doing something nice for a neighbor, listening to good music, writing in your journals, playing and connecting with your children.

Of course, all of these activities can be difficult when you have children who don’t quite share your vision of the perfect Sunday.

With practice, persistence, and patience, however, the Sabbath Day can become a precious time in your life. It’s a matter of doing the best you can and supporting each other as husband and wife in the challenge.

I knew couples in years past who took turns with the kids for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoons while the other one could study, write in their journals or take a short nap.. Making sure your spouse has a good Sabbath Day experience is one of the responsibilities of being in a celestial marriage, I believe.

(I know my daughter will sigh at that as her husband is a member of a bishopric, leaving her at home most Sundays alone with the children.)

Again, we take our own family situation and do the best we can. Although it might look to you like every other family has the ideal situation, that probably isn’t the case.

Try these ideas          

While you try to make your Sabbaths more holy, here are some more ideas for simple little ways to empty your cup of what you do during the week and fill it back up with more spiritual activities. Most can be done with or without perfectly behaved children, which don’t really exist anyway!

1. Listen to church music in the car and in the house instead of the usual weekday fare. Have reverent music on when the children are eating breakfast and getting ready for church.

2. Read a church book instead of the usual novel or magazines. Even if you don’t have much reading time, gradually make your through a doctrinal book, a biography of a General Authority, or a church history book, a few pages or a chapter every Sunday.

3. As much as you possibly can, don’t watch TV. If you must, try church videos or BYU TV.

4. Bake something special and enjoy eating it together. Plan ahead to make sure you have the ingredients you will need. Grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies were a Sunday night staple at our home.

5. Do crafts and family history projects together.

6. Call or Skype your parents and grandparents on Sunday evenings. (I had to sneak that one in!)

7. Go for a leisurely walk in the neighborhood. Make it about being with your family and not about raising your heart rate.

8. Even the youngest child loves to sit down with everyone else and write or draw in a journal. They are priceless when you go back years later and read the first practically undecipherable attempts.

If you try to keep the Sabbath Day holy, or even holier, you will be helped in your efforts by Him whose Sabbath it is. Just remember—it’s not enough to empty the cup; you must also fill it with activities that bring you closer to the Lord and your eternal family.