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That we have been asked in Priesthood and Relief Society to study the Sabbath on the fourth Sunday for several months raises intriguing questions. In many ways these are toxic, troubled times, and, so it’s worth wondering of all the gospel topics we could dig deeply into why would the Sabbath be a key to strengthening us right now?
Many may think that considering the Sabbath one month would be enough. Don’t we get it? Isn’t it pretty straight forward? Apparently not, and since it’s not, we have to ask what new layers of understanding about the Sabbath the Lord is asking us ponder. What is there to see? Is there something more we’ve been missing? Is this an invitation to some personal revelation—to come out of the shallows in our Sabbath understanding and go further? Could this be a key to fortifying us in a difficult world?
Truman Madsen once explored[i] the Jewish understanding of the Sabbath to better see our own. He noted that the Jews believe that all the Creation wasn’t finished in six days. “God himself did some creating even on the seventh day. Namely, He created Menohah, which is approximately ‘tranquility.’ Then, say they, so must we.
“The Jewish conclusion follows from this sort of reasoning. It is that, far from the Sabbath being a day of strict injunctions, which are joyless duties imposed on duties of the prior day; the Sabbath is the reward for, the outcome of, indeed the climax of all other preparatory creations. It is not an imposed stoppage. It is what all the preparation was designed for, and therefore it has great value. It was, indeed, made for man.”
Truman says the Sabbath laws all point to exhilaration, being still and “knowing that I am God.” Other days we are distracted, wearied to death, caught in the thick of thin things, slung about by trivialities, but the Sabbath was meant to delight us and turn us again to the ground of our being in the Lord. It is not as H.L. Mencken describes Puritanical, living in fear that somewhere, sometime somebody is enjoying himself.
Yes, there are requirements, “but all that discipline—all that ‘thou shalt not’—is seen as an instrument to joy. A disciplined joy, indeed, but nevertheless, joy and celebration. Mind, says one of the great rabbis, is established by joy; by melancholy it is driven into exile. It is a sin, according to Judaism, to be sad on the Sabbath. It that’s startling language, I’ll start you further,” says Truman. We are commanded to have joy. To miss the joy is to miss it all.”
He points out that in the Church we have a hymn titled “Come Away to the Sunday School” with a line that says, “Nature breathes her sweetest fragrance on the holy Sabbath day.”
The Jews, he notes, have experienced so many losses over the centuries that could have completely dissipated and dissolved them as a people. They believe their last prophet was Moses, and all those since him were a lesser prophets. They have seen their temple destroyed in Jerusalem. They were driven from their homeland and existed in scattered places across the world. What kept them together? How have they hung on as a people with any sort of identity?
Truman said, “One could argue that the things that might well have destroyed the Jews failed to do so because, if for no other reason, they kept the Sabbath. One could argue that the things the might well have destroyed the Jews failed to do so because if for no other reason, they kept the Sabbath—even to a small degree.
“They themselves say it isn’t the case that the Jews have kept the Sabbath; rather, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”
What a statement. What if the same is true for Latter-day Saints? What if keeping the Sabbath is what keeps us? What if it keeps us from being spiritually shallow because we take to heart the sacrament prayer “to always remember Him”? What if this is the day we turn from the secular pushes and assaults upon our consciousness and dig deep into His word?
What if keeping the Sabbath is building a foundation of light into us while the world darkens? What if this is the day I am free from burdens so I can breathe again? What if the Sabbath allows me to bond with my family and teach them how to read the scriptures? What if it is a gift to safeguard them and gird them with armor in a threatening time? What if we leave the charted territory of the world and fly into the uncharted expanse of heaven on this day? What if it gives us the strength to be defined for ourselves as a devoted disciple of Christ?
What if on all the other days of the week I forget who I am? The Sabbath is there to remind us all the we are sons and daughters of the most high, not grasshoppers that leap from one task to the next with no vision.
The Pressure of Children’s Activities
When my husband, Scot, and I moved to Virginia, we loved our new home and life, but were perplexed by something. People paid little regard to the Sabbath in scheduling activities for the youth and children. Youth sports teams played on Sunday. The school play included a Sunday performance.
We explained to our children why the Sabbath mattered so much to us and that we wouldn’t be participating in those Sunday activities. They agreed with us, but it wasn’t without a price. We found a soccer team that didn’t play or practice on Sunday for our daughter Michaela, but, unfortunately, the All-Star games at the end of every season were on a weekend and included a Sabbath. No matter how well she played, how much she hustled, she couldn’t be an All-Star.
What we didn’t know was that with every missed All-Star game, something good was happening inside her. She began to define herself as a devoted disciple of Christ. Even if others could play, even if she were obviously different than her other friends whom she loved and respected, she learned to be completely comfortable with standing alone to stand by her beliefs. What she had in using her Sabbath time to come closer to the Lord meant so much more to her than a soccer game.
Our daughter Mariah loved drama and as the school announced that the musical would be “Beauty and the Beast”, she hoped for a part. The school asked that before someone audition they fill out a contract that spelled out any time limitations or restrictions that might stand in their way of performance. She wrote on her contract that she couldn’t perform on Sunday—and, of course, one of the days the play was going to be performed was Sunday.
She auditioned and got the exciting part of the wardrobe, complete with solos and lines. She was ecstatic and danced around the house singing joyfully. Unfortunately, the director had not read her contract carefully enough. He hadn’t seen that she couldn’t perform on Sunday. Rather than finding an understudy who could take that day, he called to take away her part.
She was demoted instead to being a dancing napkin. Since the napkin’s costumes were tube tops, she sewed in some sleeves—so we told her she had the part of a Mormon napkin in the show. She laughed—a wistful laugh, indeed. She had very little stage time.
It happened that the exact time of the Sunday matinee play performance perfectly coincided with our fast and testimony meeting that day. Since the school was not far from our church, I could almost hear the strains of “Be My Guest” playing across the neighborhood. I leaned over to Scot and said, “I wonder how Mariah is feeling just now with all her friends performing in the musical, while she is sitting her in church? I wonder if she is sad?”
I didn’t have to wonder long, because when the testimonies began, Mariah went right up to the stand. She said, “Right now, my friends are all lining up to perform in the school musical, “Beauty and the Beast” and I am so happy to be here instead. Choosing not to perform on Sunday has been so important to me and given me amazing opportunities. My friends have all asked why I would be willing to miss a performance, and it has given me the chance to tell them about the gospel and why it means so much to me. It’s been the best missionary opportunity I’ve ever had.”
As a mother I could have wept. Actually, I probably did. I saw again in that moment how in their young world where it was difficult, choosing to keep the Sabbath had truly kept them. Though they went to school with practically no one else who was a Latter-day Saint, there was something inside of both of them that was grounded and strong, faithful and true. If we had chosen to forget the Sabbath, we would have missed this grand opportunity. Rather than depriving them of activities that were important to them, in honoring the Sabbath they had defined themselves as one of the Lord’s own.
Jenny Oaks Baker
Famed Grammy-nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker has her own story of Sabbath keeping. She said, “While obtaining my bachelor’s degree at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, I learned a very valuable lesson about the blessings that come when we try and keep the commandments.
“Growing up, I had always tried not to practice on Sundays, but when I got to Curtis, which is considered to be one of the best music schools in the world, I could see that everyone else would spend all day Sunday practicing—probably doing about 10 hours that day—and I was worried that I would not be able to compete with my colleagues if I missed out on this huge day of practicing.”
As the daughter of President Dallin H. Oaks, she went to a good source for counsel. “I spoke to my father about it, and he told me that if I practiced six days a week 100%, it would equal more than seven days of 75% practicing.
“I followed his counsel. Monday through Saturday, I worked my tail off. I was one of the first ones in the practice rooms at the school and I was the last one to leave. The security guard came through the building at 11:00 overnight and kicked me out…but on Sundays, I didn’t pick up my violin.
“Monday morning I was raring to go again, but I could see my peers, who had spent all of Sunday practicing were dragging. Through my years at Curtis, I saw how I was blessed to be able to practice harder and more hours in six days than my peers did in seven days because I did have that day of rest.
“I know I was richly blessed musically, physically, emotionally and spiritually because I strived to live this commandment. Now that Matt and I have four musical children who practice hours each day, we all are so grateful when Sunday dawn and there is no practicing to be done for the entire day.
Jenny jokes, “In the future, if you want to have your children love the Sabbath, make the other days truly miserable.”
She said, “Keeping the Sabbath Day holy and being able to rest from our labors is truly one of the greatest gifts that our Heavenly Father has given us.
Jenny kept the Sabbath, but she would be the first to acknowledge, that it was the Sabbath that kept her.
Walt Macey and his partner had three grocery stores together in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake. One day, while Walt was standing behind the meat counter, Joseph Fielding Smith, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who was a frequent customer at the store, came up to him and announced that he would no longer be shopping there. He had just learned that the store was open on Sunday.
Walt hadn’t been comfortable with having the store open on Sundays for a long time, but these words from President Smith confirmed his feelings. When he brought it up, his partner said that there was really no profitable way that a grocery store could be closed on Sundays and so the two of them decided to split. Walt took one store and his partner took the other two and within six months those two had gone out of business.
Walt continued with his store closing on Sundays and grew it to a 10-store chain before he died. In an interview I did with him years ago I asked him if he found he could make just as much money in six days as he did in seven. I expected he would say yes, but he didn’t. He answered instead, “How much money is enough?” Some things such as keeping the Sabbath were more important to him than money.
Over the years, Walt Macey kept the Sabbath and the Sabbath kept him.
There is something here—more than we think about keeping the Sabbath. The prophets and apostles couldn’t be more clear with us about how important it is that we celebrate the Sabbath, memorialize the Sabbath, remember the Sabbath and reap its blessings. If someone who didn’t know asked what has a living prophet revealed recently, it would surely be that must recommit to our Sabbath practices.
It may have seemed that I just told stories of people who gave up something for the Sabbath—children’s activities or violin practicing or more economic gain in business. These are actually stories of great blessings—and every person in these stories acknowledge and rejoice in that. They are not meant to make anyone feel guilty about their Sabbath choices—which each of us must work out carefully with the Lord.
They are to point out, however, that we define ourselves in many ways by the choices we make on the Sabbath. We say for ourselves, “This is who I am. I am choosing to be a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not have to look like the world. I do not want to look like the world.”
There is a “rest of the story” on some of the stories I have shared. After a few seasons, the soccer coach relented and let Michaela play on the All-Stars, finding a substitute for her on Sundays. The next time they did a play at Mariah’s high school they didn’t do a Sunday performance and she got a leading role. After Walt Macey’s death in 2009, Macey’s continued to be closed on Sunday until 2017. The company announced that with their 11-store chain, five of them would begin to open on Sundays because of “customer preference.” That was in Utah.
You can’t say things will work out in the world, if you make certain Sabbath choices, but you can say how they will work out in your soul.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “As you about your Sabbath day today—and every Sunday—remember that it is a day of do’s, not a day of don’ts. This is a view of the Sabbath we have to grow into. Restricting ourselves in some ways on Sundays brings freedom expansiveness, and understanding we would not have had if we treated Sundays like every other day.”
If you read D&C 59, you get a sense of the overarching power that will flow into the lives of those who keep the Sabbath and the Lord’s other commandments. They include a promise that “the fullness of the earth is yours” and “revelations in their time.”
If we keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath will keep us. It seems to be the antidote for much of what ails us in our day. What God created on the seventh day, he is still in the process of creating. He is creating us.
[i] Madsen, Truman G. “The Gospel and the Sabbath,” Radiant Life, (Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah).