How can you teach your children to appreciate Sabbath?
Q: I've recently felt God leading me to practice Sabbath, but I want my family involved too. How do I teach my children to follow and appreciate Sabbath?
A: Sabbath is a day unhurried, a day to rest. If there's anything we and our busy children need, it's simply to take a day to slow down.
That doesn't mean everyone must sit on the couch and stare at the walls. Rather, it's a day to set aside work to focus on God and on family and friends. It's a day of get-tos instead of have-tos. You can do things together on Sabbath: a leisurely meal, a bike ride, a board game. Or just let your kids chill out—preferably without electronic entertainment.
For our family, Sabbath always involves going to church, but also plenty of "downtime." My children know it's a day when I'm "interruptible." Because I don't work, run errands, do housework, or turn on the computer on the Sabbath, I'm not too busy to talk, listen, or just hang out with them. That's more of a gift to them than you may realize.
To get started, it's as easy as simply setting some boundaries. For example, if you decide not to shop on Sabbath, warn your kids that you won't be running to the store on Sunday to pick up, say, last minute supplies for a school project that's due Monday.
Model unhurriedness. Don't be hectic or frantic on the Sabbath. Peace like this is contagious.
Depending on your children's ages, share some Bible verses about Sabbath (but keep this short—long tedious devotions won't be helpful). Take a look at what Jesus taught about the Sabbath. Let the kids offer suggestions on what the day should look like.
Practicing Sabbath means you must prepare for it. You can't simply collapse on that day. In ancient times, the day before Sabbath was known as Preparation Day. Prepare by cooking enough the day before that you can eat leftovers. Clean your house, so that the environment is somewhat peaceful, and you aren't tempted to do chores on your day of rest.
Involve your children by having them help you clean—with the payoff being that they'll have time with you the next day. Encourage older kids to get their homework done on Preparation Day so they have the freedom to relax on Sabbath (an excellent life lesson in so many ways). Teach them that in order to have family time together, you all need to prepare together.
The biblical "day" began not at midnight like our modern clocks dictate, nor at morning, but at sunset. So a Sunday Sabbath begins at sundown Saturday. This timeframe is especially helpful because it means that the Sabbath can begin with a meal, time with family, and a good night's sleep.
In the ancient Jewish tradition, Sabbath begins with an evening meal (prepared before sunset) that opens with the woman of the house lighting candles, and with the parents speaking a word of blessing over each of their children. A blessing can be simply an affirmation: "One of the things I like about you is …" It can also name what you hope for that child—that God would equip them for whatever situation they're facing. Blessing notices and names a person's strengths—actual and potential. It will take little convincing to get your kids on board.
Build your practice slowly. Each week, decide on one thing you want to refrain from, and one thing you'd like to engage in. Add one "refrain" and one "engage" to your practice each week. Have your children do the same.
Pray about what God, who has given you Sabbath as a gift, would have you refrain from—not to meet some legalistic requirement, but to create space and freedom. What would you like to be free from? Refrain from that thing.
Then engage in life-giving activities. Sabbath is a day to "loose what Satan has bound," as Jesus said (Luke 13:15-16). Make time for attending church, but also private worship. Have a face-to-face conversation with a real friend, or your children, instead of a virtual conversation with your Facebook friends. Go for a walk and notice the beauty of nature. Read, play, take a nap. Take time simply to be with your children.
I've never made it a day of "you can't do ___" or "you have to do ____" but rather a day when we had little on the schedule. Play and rest aren't mutually exclusive—so often our Sabbath is a day of playfulness.
You might choose to refrain from nagging or criticizing, and engage in affirming and encouraging words. Your kids, again, will certainly appreciate this, and you can invite them to do the same.
Above all, pray that God will guide you into freedom and away from legalism as you lead your children into engaging in this life-giving practice.
Written by Keri Wyatt Kent
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