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September 30, 2015
Tune My Heart
Sabbath Strength
by Marian Stoddard

We have had a pronounced emphasis in our ward over the past few months on the meaning of the Sabbath and the blessings of keeping the Sabbath day.

The first person asked to speak about this was our high priest group leader. He attended a leadership training meeting earlier this year, and concerns were raised about how to combat the influences of an increasingly evil world. The counsel for keeping our families safe was to deepen and recommit our observance of the Sabbath.

When he heard this, he confessed, his first reaction was, “Huh?” With all the attacks on our beliefs, our values, and the dangers to our kids, the best answer was Sabbath-keeping? But when he pondered that counsel more seriously he said he saw the wisdom.

When I grew up in suburban Maryland, there were no stores open on Sunday. Most people don’t know, today, how the 7-11 stores got the name: they were open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, at a time when grocers kept more limited hours and were always closed on Sunday.

This new venture of franchised “convenience” stores was open on Sunday; that has now become the norm. It offered an immediate temptation — “just one quick item I need for dinner,” or the like. Previously, you figured out how to make do because you had to, and everyone survived.

When Halloween came on a Sunday one year that I was old enough to notice, my mother wondered if the neighborhood kids would go out on Saturday instead, which was her inclination, or Sunday for the calendar date. She may have talked to a mom or two on the block, but I don’t know.

I do know that we decided that it was likely that most would expect the trick-or-treating to be moved back a night, and so we ventured out on Saturday evening and found that most of the homes were ready for us. Most of the children came around to us a day early, and not on the Sabbath, just by a common sensibility. It wasn’t just us. Can you imagine that happening today?

We didn’t go to birthday parties on Sunday, and we didn’t go shopping. We sometimes went the long way home from church to see the land where my father told us a temple would be built someday.

The only time I went to a birthday on a Sunday was for one of my close school friends, whose family were observant Jews. He couldn’t have a party on Saturday because that was his Sabbath, and my mother made a specific exception as a point of respect — a lesson I still think was valuable. (I think I may have left before the party was done, in order to get to church for sacrament meeting, but fourth grade was a long time ago.)

Back in the day, we went back and forth to church meetings all day on Sundays. Our fathers (and Aaronic priesthood youth) had priesthood meeting first. Then they had thirty minutes to go home and fetch their families to come to Sunday School, which was an hour and a half.

Then we all went home for a while and came back in the late afternoon or early evening for sacrament meeting. Primary and Relief Society were during the week.

On Fast Sunday, testimony meeting immediately followed Sunday School. Three hours, once a month, that gave rise to the child’s complaint, “Mom, why do they call it fast Sunday when it goes so long?” But it did give us that time for the afternoon.

At our house, we had a large Sunday dinner in the afternoon, and a light supper in the evening after church was all done. It was one of the things that set the day apart. I continued that with my family.

Then the consolidated meeting schedule was implemented in 1980. In many places of the world travel was a burden, and one trip to church for all the Sunday meetings at once simplified it. Children had to get used to a long stretch every week, and adults also.

The brethren advised that one of the purposes was to free up time for families and ministering to members. We were encouraged to put the time to worthy use.

Now we were all done with church at noon. We had been a little casual in using our between-meetings time. I saw that we were rushing to get home for the weekly sci-fi theater on one of the television stations, and I thought, what is wrong with this picture? Will our long Sunday afternoons become just television time?

We called a family council and talked about the purposes of this change in our requirements for attendance. We decided that Sunday would become a television-free day. The kids could watch a single church video, and that didn’t mean one apiece — they had to agree and watch together. If there was something on that would be uplifting, we would consider it together.

When one of the neighbors came to ask one of our kids to come out, we would explain with a smile that Sundays at our house were time for family and church, and they could play on another day. Once a child knocked on our door, and as soon as he saw me in my skirt, he said, “Oh, I forgot, it’s Sunday,” and turned and went back towards home. I didn’t have to say a word.

Our children spent time together, and got along better with each other. We checked with them on Saturday to see that their homework was done. We might go visit someone or invite someone for dinner, but our Sabbaths were quieter and our peace at home improved.

We had music instead of television, and we kept a semblance, at least, of our Sunday dress. That might mean changing into something washable and comfortable, but not play clothes. I still do keep dressed, though I change my dress flats for tennis shoes, because it helps me remember what day it is.

My husband and I taught temple preparation class for nine years, and one of the lessons is on worthiness. The lesson has sections on moral cleanliness, tithing, keeping the word of wisdom, and keeping the Sabbath day holy. The first three are directly addressed in the questions for a temple recommend, but the last is not. It may be explored by your priesthood leader in an interview, but it is not explicitly required. Why, then is it an explicit part of that lesson?

There is power in our covenants. We come on Sundays to worship and to renew our baptismal covenants by taking the sacrament. Our fellowship and service for and with our fellow Saints strengthens our own lives, and is definitely a part of our covenants.

In Exodus 31:16-17 the Lord said: “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

The Sabbath is a part of our covenants. In teaching the Old Testament, it struck me that as he Lord calls upon Israel, generation after generation, through prophet after prophet, to repent and return to him he declares two things: that they have gone after idols (which I would have readily identified) and that they have forsaken his Sabbaths.

The Sabbath set the people apart from all the nations or cultures around them, but the Sabbath is one of the laws written on the heart, not a checklist.

How is making the Sabbath day more holy a key principle of keeping ourselves and our families safe? While the world pushes on us, bombards us both with demands to give our work every drop of energy we have and with messages of discouragement, inadequacy, and failure, our Sabbath lets us set aside all our other worries. Work will wait, and the Spirit offers assurance, worth, and peace.

I need my Sabbath Sundays. I need to be replenished by blessing of the Holy Ghost. I need to connect with the love and testimony of my fellow servants. I need to serve somewhere and be glad. All of these things are therapy for my weary soul.

While the world hammers the messages that immorality is acceptable, that integrity is not worth hard times, and that nothing really lasts, setting aside the Sabbath can bring us peace and light, a respite from all that makes us stumble.

It will create a spiritual shield around us in which our safety increases and our vision sharpens. It opens us to a deeper measure of our Heavenly Father’s blessings, and a deeper sense of his presence in our lives. Remember that he is constant.

The contrast between the world’s wickedness and the Lord’s path to joy becomes more marked every day. The Sabbath will make such a difference in how much light we see. You don’t have to choose the same things we did, but choose to cherish it.

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