3 things Mormons should never do on the Sabbath

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rest Sabbath peaceLast fall when I was teaching Sharing Time in Primary, the conversation turned toward the Sabbath.

“So, it’s really important to keep the Sabbath Day holy,” I said. “What are some ways we can do that?”

Most of the answers were immediate and predictable (these kids know all the default church responses by heart):

“Go to church!”

“Read your scriptures!”

“Have family prayer!”

But then one girl said, “Don’t play video games!” She was quite adamant.

One of the boys was pretty incensed by this last part. “Wait a minute,” he countered. “We play video games on the Sabbath and I think that’s OK.”

There followed a lively discussion. Violent games where you had to shoot people would probably be a bad idea for Sundays, they decided, but there should be some wiggle room about video games in general.

And some games might be particularly awesome ways to keep the Sabbath Day holy – as one boy put it, “especially if you’re building a temple in Minecraft!”

I laughed at the time and wrote about it in my journal. But the more I have thought about it since then, the more I’ve realized that this wasn’t just one of those adorable conversations adults get to overhear sometimes in Primary. There was some all-important theology going down, theology that should be a model for us grownups as we consider what’s appropriate for the Sabbath and what’s not.

In the last year the LDS Church has been doing a full-court press on keeping the Sabbath. In general I’ve been delighted to see this, and particularly the emphasis on curtailing extra Sunday responsibilities beyond the three-hour block.

I’ve also been happy to see that so far, the Church has been very hands-off about telling people what to do or not to do on the Sabbath. For example, check out this great little Mormon Messages video called “The Sabbath Is a Delight,” emphasizing the rest and peace the Sabbath offers rather than a laundry list of things we should or shouldn’t do.

But I do still hear – All. The. Time. – ordinary Mormons talking about the Sabbath in ways that may be helpful for them personally but not for others. Often, what this speaker or that teacher says is absolutely forbidden on the Sabbath is something other people in the same room find pleasure in. And now feel secretly resentful or guilty for doing it on Sundays.

So I’ve compiled my own list of three things I’d like Mormons to stop doing on the Sabbath.

  1. Don’t judge your neighbor. One sister watches Downton Abbey every Sunday night as religiously as she goes to church; another won’t even turn on the TV from Saturday night until Monday morning. One brother plants seeds in a garden every fine Sunday afternoon, finding God’s peace whenever he putters outdoors; another wouldn’t think of removing his Sunday suit to put on gardening gear. All of these people may well be keeping the Sabbath Day holy . . . but you are not if you are expending your gift of Sabbath energy in judging them.
  2. Don’t imagine that what works for your family on the Sabbath is going to be exactly the same for everybody else. One of the best things about the Primary discussion was the sophisticated way the kids were thinking, understanding that what makes Sabbath time special for one person won’t necessarily be kosher for another. In my life, the basic guidelines have boiled down to two questions: Is it restful? Is it worshipful? When something meets both of those tests – or even one of them (hello, Sunday afternoon nap)! – it’s on my Sabbath short list. When something bombs both tests (I’m looking at you, email), I just don’t do it on Sunday. But if I were a different person – retired, maybe, or someone whose “day job” didn’t require sitting at a computer all the time – email would probably be fine.
  3. Don’t fill every last second by overworking yourself with good deeds. The Sabbath is a day of rest, not church work or home teaching or family history research or any of a thousand worthy things we could be doing. In Hebrew the word for Sabbath means simply to cease, full stop; it is a restraining order from God. It’s not a day to fill up with “church work.” It’s not a day for work of any kind at all. Most Mormons work too damn hard already.

There’s a lot to be said for Sabbath standstills, which make us more perceptive to the workings of the Spirit. What if we just stopped? In The Easy Burden of Pleasing God, Patty Kirk points out that in the familiar phrase “Be still, and know that I am God,” the word “still” is actually a bit of a mistranslation:

The psalmist’s word here, rapah, though a fairly common word in the Old Testament, is translated as “still” in most translations only in this one passage. Elsewhere it means to go limp or slack, to let go or withdraw or give up, to sink, to relax, to be lazy. Pharaoh uses rapah pejoratively—twice, to emphasize its negative value in his eyes . . . .

“Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy!” (Exodus 5:17), Pharaoh tells them and orders them back to work.

I read God’s instruction to “Be still”—Be lazy!—“and know that I am God” as a simple presentation of cause and effect: that is, if we would just quit trying to do our faith and instead relax and enjoy the life we’ve been given, then we would become more intensely aware of God. (88–89)

So let’s be lazy, and know that God is God.


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  • Well said, Jana!

    I like that in the recent discussion by general Church leadership on Sabbath Day observance, they said very much the same thing that, to wit, we shouldn’t make lists of do’s and don’ts and try to impose them on others. Each person’s (or family’s) list will likely be different than others’. https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/archive/general-conference-leadership-training/2015/10?lang=eng

  • Danny S

    I love my Sundays. It’s like a second Saturday. I golf, eat a leisurely breakfast, watch some sports or a movie, and go to a real temple called Barnes and Nobles and enjoy a fresh brew. And sometimes wonder at the LDS things I used to believe before the digital age. I no longer have do’s and don’ts.

    No more scurrying around dressing the kids, worrying about being on time, acting like I’m happy to be busy at church after 6 days slaving on the job and it feels anything BUT like a day of restful worship, and then listening to mind-numbing correlated lessons often filled with guilt-trips, and then oh yeah, somebody’s mad at me because my Relief Society President wife who drives 2 hours to get some ne’er-do-well’s groceries from the bishop’s storehouse made him actually drive 8 miles to the highway from their shack to transfer food. True story.

    Mac Davis sang about happiness from “Texas in your rear-view mirror.”Let’s just say I replace the word Texas with something else…

  • Catherine

    Elder Bednar came to our Stake about a year after he was called and spoke a little about keeping the sabbath holy. He said basically what you are saying–that it is up to the individual or family to decide how to keep the sabbath holy. He said that for his family they stay dressed in their church clothes, but they would wrestle in them on the sabbath. He said other families might change into casual clothes, but would never dream of wrestling on the sabbath. Both are okay because they work for that family.

  • Robert Snyder

    How about reconsidering whether the Sabbath Day should be “holy” In the OT God “rested” on the Sabbath and said that day should be holy. Why? Another old legend in the OT. God gets tired and needs to rest? Nonsense. God probably could not care less what we do on Sunday. So do whatever you want and stop telling other people what to do. People love to use religion to attack other people. The world would be much better if we got rid of ALL religion. Imagine how much less prejudice there would be. The LDS church would stop telling people to discriminate against blacks for 125 years and now against gays.

  • Robert Snyder

    Do you really think God cares whether you wrestle on the Sabbath or on any other day?

  • Kristine A

    Someone who bore their testimony on Sunday said they keep the Sabbath like a Pharisee, and I had to cough to cover up my laugh out loud when he said he’d decided not to list everything for us. I’m grateful that -mostly- this message seems to be trickling down.

  • Horas

    1. Isaiah 58:13-14 (KJV)
    If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
    Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
    Satan will be happy if we replace God’s thing with our thing, so to make it its all about me. That’s Satan’s goal. So, if there’s anyone start telling people do it with your own way, it’s not of God. Sabbath day is not our day, this Holy day belongs to God. You will never find it in the Bible it says our Holy day. But it says My Holy day. Then if it’s His, then obey what He have commanded us what to do.

  • Horas

    When He says rest on the 7th day, rest on the 7th day. Not on Sunday, Monday etc, but on the Seventh day, which is Sabbath day or Saturday. There is not even one verse in the Bible where God commanded us to rest on the first day or sunday. Man (Constantine the great) changed that day of rest or worship from Sabbath To Sunday. Matthew 15:9 (KJV) But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Jesus called it “IN VAIN” when we followed the commandments of men. It’s not of God.

  • Cinco Paul

    Great post, Jana. I think your first two rules could (and should) apply to every commandment. We have a tendency (as Mormons and as humans) to crave and cling to specificity in rules. We seize on anything that takes the hard work of living the gospel away (No double piercings! No R-rated movies! No bikinis!) and can make us feel superior to others who don’t live as righteously as we do. Because the simple truth is that every member of the church lives their own version of the gospel. We cling to the principles we agree with and explain away the ones we don’t. The danger is in thinking that any other person is failing because they’re not living our version. The gospel isn’t a magnifying glass to hold up to other people–it’s a mirror to hold up to ourselves. End of rant.

  • Danny S

    The passages you quote presumably as authoritative were not even written by Isaiah ben Amoz, the attributed author if the Book of Isaiah. Rather, chapters 55-66, known as Trito-Isaiah, are widely understood to be written by a number of different unknown authors in the years immediately after the return from exile in Babylon. Almost no biblical experts believe the book of Isaiah to be written by one person. You quote Satan. How do you know with such certainty such a being exists, let alone how he feels? How do you know what his goals are? Have you met and spoken to this individual? What I see is supposition boot-strapped onto more supposition until a rule emerges. I for one am uncomfortable binding myself with such gossamer threads. I have not observed the “sabbath” for some time. My business continues to thrive. My wife and I are more at peace than we ever were in the church. My children continue to do well. Is the mormon god just setting me up for a big fall?

  • Mike

    I like the third one. If members did more of that one, we would have a happier people who are less stressed about church responsibilities.

  • Sharee

    I really liked this post. Everyone has a different idea of how to keep the Sabbath. I like to go to dinner on Sundays. That’s relaxing to me, and I don’t have to cook. I heard a story once from a man who was, I think, a stake president at the time, and an apostle made a surprise visit on a Sunday. The man invited the general authority to come to his home for dinner, but he said he didn’t want to put the man’s wife to any extra trouble and suggested they go out to eat. If an apostle of the Lord does not think eating out on Sunday is wrong, that works for me.

  • Anon

    This is a bit off of the subject of the Sabbath, but I think if a husband invites someone to Sunday dinner, maybe he should be doing the cooking…

  • There was a BIG controversy in our town about whether to sign a petition on asking the local Walmart to close on Sunday. I understand the desire to be better at sabbath day worship but didn’t sign. My hubby works retail and has bent over backwards to not work on Sunday. On the few times he filled in for those having emergencies he was shocked at how many saints were there shopping and not for emergency items. My arguement is if you’re shopping you’re making others work. If no one would shop the store would be closed. I understand needing something in an emergency but Sunday has become one of the top three days of the week to shop….

  • KerBearRN

    I am a nurse, so of course I have always worked a lot of Sundays. Funny thing is, I have grown to LOVE my work Sundays, there is such a sense of peace to me then. I work NICU, with the premies, and Sundays in the NICU are just special, probably because the sense of ministering to my patients is so ever-present. I had a friend once who told me I shouldn’t be so lax about “keeping the sabbath holy”, and who chastised me for enjoying working more than being at church. All I could think was, “if she only knew”. But that is where personal choice becomes so important. I know that the Lord gives me a holy day (even if it’s crazy busy) amongst my babies. But others may not have the same experience (and maybe I wouldn’t feel the same about Sunday work if I had to work retail, for example.). I’m happy that there is more emphasis now on individual choice rather than do-and-don’t lists.

  • Greg Kenner

    Let’s just all remember, the lack of “do and don’t do” lists isn’t meant to mean that everything is fair game. If you ask yourself (and honestly answer), “What sign am I giving the Lord?”, then a list is not necessary because the Holy Ghost will direct you.

    I think the big push here is meant to get us to do a better job of keeping the Sabbath holy, not to tell us, “Dont worry, keep doing what you’ve been doing — there is no list after all.”. Instead, let’s make an honest accounting with the Lord and it will be clear to us how we can improve in this area.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Danny S,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. However, you would have shown greater transparency if you had began with your sentence: “I have not observed the ‘sabbath’ for some time.” Here are a few more questions and/or suggestions:
    1. Where did Horas quote Satan as you claimed?
    2. While some scholars claim multiple authors wrote Isaiah, another distinct possibility is that it a compilation of visions and writings over Isaiah’s lifetime, which should be a concept familiar to LDS readers. There is continuing scholarly discussion about who wrote Isaiah. For example see http://www.academia.edu/6049222/THE_AUTHORSHIP_OF_ISAIAH_A_SURVEY_OF_APPROACHES_AND_A_PROPOSAL_FOR_A_CONSISTENT_EVANGELICAL_APPROACH and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ABook_of_Isaiah .
    3. You seem to presume financial blessing or lack thereof, when they might be spiritual in nature.

    Thanks for reading my comments.

  • Derek Pratte

    OK, Danny S. We get it. You’re happy that you’ve left the church. Good for you. Let the members of the church (that you seem to enjoy harassing) continue to try to do the best they can. That’s all we’re doing. Quit badgering us for trying.

  • Elder Anderson

    “Let’s just all remember, the lack of “do and don’t….”

    Let’s just all remember to mind our own business, do whatever makes us and our loved ones happy on Sunday, and pay no attention to busybodies with way too much time on their hands.

  • Richard Monk

    Or in the words of Elder Oaks from October 1999 conference:

    “Teachers who are commanded to teach “the principles of [the] gospel” and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) should generally forgo teaching specific rules or applications. For example, they would not teach any rules for determining what is a full tithing, and they would not provide a list of dos and don’ts for keeping the Sabbath day holy. Once a teacher has taught the doctrine and the associated principles from the scriptures and the living prophets, such specific applications or rules are generally the responsibility of individuals and families.

    “Well-taught doctrines and principles have a more powerful influence on behavior than rules. When we teach gospel doctrine and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching, and we enlist the faith of our students in seeking the guidance of that same Spirit in applying those teachings in their personal lives.”

  • Danny S

    Derek, I understand your pique, and would have responded the same way years ago were another to comment as I did. And I have great compassion for your efforts at faithful membership. I was on the same treadmill for decades before I resigned. I don’t leave the church alone because I think it is harmful. Even now, the church promotes harmful teachings such as Holland’s wife preaching to pray the gay away. Just one of the latest examples of bad things said from the pulpit. Sure, I could lighten up and I will. I don’t respond to every one of Jana’s posts. Sometimes I just perceive what to me is a serenely blind certainty that begs a question or two. I don’t want other members to feel the betrayal I felt after realizing the best years of their lives passed as they wore themselves out in the service of bunk. I’m certain were we to sit down, we’d have a perfectly civil conversation. Cheers.

  • Maddy

    Lessons for the youth include specificty
    Here is part of a Primary lesson for 3-4 yr olds.:

    “Help the children understand that we should not spend money or shop on the Sabbath. We should not go to sporting or entertainment activities on the Sabbath. We should not work in our yards or gardens or go fishing or hunting on the Sabbath.

    Explain that there are many things to do at home to keep the Sabbath day holy. Show pictures from the “Preparation” section at appropriate times during this discussion. We can play quiet games with family members, have scripture stories read to us, make family albums, visit relatives or those who are sick, draw pictures of things for which we are thankful, go on a walk with a member of the family, pray, sing songs, and listen to good music.”

  • Elder Anderson

    Awwww. How quaint.

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    In sexual morality Mormons share one of the most important rules observed by us, Orthodox Jews, “Gentiles are for practice.”

    I don’t see why they/you shouldn’t learn from us on the more serious matter of Sabbath observance.

    -dlj.

  • Elder Anderson

    The only problem is that whole “going to church on Saturday” thing. That would mess up my schedule. 🙂

    Also, Mormons and Jews consider each other Gentiles. Make of that what you will. 🙂

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Elder,

    Well, yeah, modulo the Sabbath of your choice. I was rather chuffed when a recent Pope came out and said that Sunday was the first day of the week. He didn’t go the whole hog on saying that it was a sop to the Mithraic faith of the palace guards back around Constantine’s time, but he had it right.

    That Mormons use “Gentiles” was, of course, part of the joke. We, on the other hand, use a different word beginning with G to mean “people of the nations”

    🙂

    -dlj.

  • Annie Savidge

    Good article; thanks. We had this discussion in RS/Priesthood combined meeting last month. The bishop pointed out that Sabbath means “cease” (I don’t know where he found this, so I’m taking his word for it for now). He developed this by suggesting that on Sunday we should cease from the things we normally do during the week. I’ve been pondering this and think that it could be a good guideline. For instance, I love to read. So instead of reading whatever I was working on Saturday, I read a church-related book. Still get to read, but it is a rest from the normal, work-a-day, “mundane” reading I normally do. We change the music from our worldly, common listening, to uplifting classical or spiritual music. I think there are a lot of things that we can change just a little to make them sabbath-worthy, even video games and movies. When my daughter was young we used to keep a Sunday box of the movies, games, books, coloring books, etc., that were just for Sundays.

  • Like your post.

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Vicky,

    I have the relevant passage right here. It runs 762 pages, two volumes, of Talmud Bavli, depending on this and that, like Roman or Hebrew numbers, etc. Et cetera. Shabbat Aleph and — wait for it now — Shabbat Beit.

    But it’s perfectly clear.

    Oops. It’s not perfectly clear. The rabbis are working on the question.

    -dlj.

  • Elder Anderson

    As in “find a nice goyl and settle down!” 🙂

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    ‘E’s got it. I think ‘e’s got it.

    But I think Maddy, above, is rather more than quaint. They’re on the right track, IMHO.

    Norman Mailer had a similar idea when he ran for Mayor. In his case he supposed a Quiet Sunday, in which all machines would be switched off. Volunteers would have to be found to pump the iron lungs, and so on and so forth…

    It seems to me both a worthwhile thought experiment and an ideal to be worked toward, if not entirely to.

    -dlj.

  • Japhet

    I disagree on no. 3 of course if we can do some work/serve other people why not. This is just another decisive plan of e opposition to tell us go get lazy. No, we don’t have that doctrine. If you want a the most precious gift work hard with it. (Just my opinion)