Do you remember when President Uchtdorf told us about the bumper sticker he saw tacked onto the end of a car whose driver seemed to be a "little rough around the edges"?
The sticker read: “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” I love the sentiment behind that bumper sticker sermon.
Instead of assuming that, just because someone does things differently than you, one of you must be right and the other wrong, why not remember they are a different person who has different ideas, different needs, and different goals? Why not consider that you might both be right?
Here's a perfect case in point: "Don't judge me because I keep the Sabbath differently than you." Why do we keep it differently and is that ok?
Why should we be keeping the Sabbath in the first place?
Before we can understand why we all keep the Sabbath day in different ways, we have to backtrack and focus on why it is important to keep the Sabbath in the first place. The obvious, surface-level answer: because God said so. But let's look a little deeper.
God not only suggested that it might be a good idea if we keep the Sabbath holy, he commanded that we keep it holy. And this little commandment didn't appear on any old list of commandments and instructions, it made the list of The Ten Commandments--God's top instructions for living a happy, fulfilling, and righteous life. Not only that, it is also the only one of the Ten Commandments that gets four whole verses of explanation:
8. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20)
In other words, we keep the Sabbath holy not only because it's a top-level commandment, but because the entire world was designed and created in a way that points toward Sabbath day observance.
In the scriptures, we learn that the whole reason God created the Sabbath was the same reason He created the entire world, the same reason He sacrificed His only-begotten, pure Son—for us.
In fact, we are told that "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). God, in His infinite wisdom, understood that we would get lost. He knew we would get overwhelmed. He knew we would stumble and stray and get frustrated and lose loved ones. And so He created and set apart a hallowed day to help us realize the miracle of creation and the blessing it is to live and breathe right now in this stunning world.
He gave us one day to meditate on the grace that is found in the Atonement, to remember and focus fully on the hope and divine possibilities that come with this great gift. He gave us this one day to rest, to purify our hearts through the Atonement, to reset, and focus on improving.
The Sabbath, like all commandments, is not something meant to hold us down, but to build us up and remind us of the everlasting potential and divinity that lies ahead, made possible only through the sacrifice that lies behind.
But the Sabbath is much more than a reminder, because as President Nelson reminds us, it "was given as a perpetual covenant, a constant reminder . . . He has asked us to keep the Sabbath or to hallow the Sabbath day.We are under covenant to do so. . . . It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father."
Simply yet profoundly put, we keep the Sabbath day because we love God and because He loves us, and we need the binding covenants of that holy day to help us draw closer to Him.
Why are appropriate Sunday activities still confusing?
Now we understand the "why" behind this extremely important commandment. So why are appropriate Sunday activities still so confusing?
In my nearly quarter of a century of Sunday School lessons, I have heard quite a bit on the subject. Yet, in all of the talks and object lessons and discussions, not once have I reached an absolute definition of what it means to keep the Sabbath day.
Maybe you, like me, have received a helpful list from leaders of "appropriate Sabbath activities." Not only are a lot of these lists unmotivating—I mean, how many letters can you write to your grandparents in one month?—but many of them don't match up at all. Which one is right? What's the master list? How do I know?
It's time for a little reality check in all of this preoccupation and worry. Here's some good insight from President Nelson: "I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah, who called the Sabbath 'a delight.' Yet I wonder, is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me?"
In all of our list-making and worry, have we become too much like the Pharisees and Sadduceeswho used to count their steps on the Sabbath, not to make sure that they did good with every step, but simply to keep from doing wrong? Do we focus so much on not taking a step in the wrong direction that we forget to move forward at all? Do we focus so much on our apparent "worthiness" we forget the true purpose of the Sabbath--to reach out to others and enjoy the people and simple joys Heavenly Father has put into our lives?
In order to find that balance and focus, we need personal revelation, prayer, and direction from our Heavenly Father to come into play. Because, after all, the whole purpose of the Sabbath is for us to come closer to our Heavenly Father in personal, real ways.
Why it's okay for me to keep the Sabbath differently than you.
That personal relationship is the reason that I might receive revelation on what I should be doing with my Sabbath that is entirely different from you. If, as President Nelson says, the Sabbath is a "sign between me and my Heavenly Father," then my Sabbath day observance will reflect my personal relationship with Him, not anyone else's. That is the reason those lists of appropriate Sabbath activities so often fall short for us. They might be a good jumping-off point to learn the kind of activities that can bring the Spirit into your day, but they shouldn't be the goal. In the end, what we choose to do with our Sabbath should come from personal revelation, reflection, and decision.
For example, some might find spiritual renewal by escaping into the mountains to meditate on a long walk, while others find the sweat and dirt that accompanies such outings irritating and distracting. Some might enjoy reflecting on the week by writing in their journals, others might find peace of mind in providing for the needs of their family, and still others might find satisfaction in cultivating their talents or serving others.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this is not an excuse or a justification to do whatever we want with our Sunday. Instead, it is a higher charge, a higher law, just like the Savior gave to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were so fixated on the minuscule dos and don'ts they missed the fact the Savior of the World stood right before their eyes.
A good personal test for how you should spend your Sunday is not whether or not you should be doing a particular activity, but if that particular activity is helping you build your relationship with God. Everything we do on the Sabbath should be devoted to and reflect our relationship with our Heavenly Father. It's a day where we, like our Savior, submit our will to the Father's.
What about working on the Sabbath?
But what about working on the Sabbath? And what about when we need to attend endless Church meetings on Sundays? Do those really make it a day of rest?
Those are all good questions that I wish I had the answers to. But again, that's something for you and your Heavenly Father to work out. However, I have known a number of nurses, Church employees, doctors, single parents, and many others who have worked on Sundays. In fact, in one of our recent LDS Living polls with nearly 1,800 responses, only 13 percent of participants said they never had to work on a Sunday, while 32 percent said they work on Sunday all the time, 45 percent said they work Sundays occasionally, and 10 percent said they've worked on Sunday only once or twice. And though, again, keeping the Sabbath is not about numbers, these results do show that there are many circumstances that come up that could require a member to work on the Sabbath, and that is okay. That is their decision to make with their Heavenly Father.
It's also important to realize helping others, supporting your family, and providing service are all good things, and there are many ways you can keep the Lord's day a holy day, even while at work.
And, might I add, there are many ways to keep the Lord's day a holy day even while you are stuck in Church meetings. It's no secret that many Church leaders get very little rest on the Sabbath. And they can forget about a relaxing afternoon nap!
But Sundays are not only about physical rest and renewal; they are about a deeper spiritual rest and renewal, which can be found any time, anywhere.
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So remember, in keeping the Sabbath day holy, it's not so much where you are at or what you are doing that matters. What does matter is the relationship you are building with your Father in Heaven. There is a reason why I keep the Sabbath day differently than you. In a Church that crosses a whole wide world with members from very diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages, it's not only comforting but essential and completely wonderful that our Heavenly Father has designed a day where we can all grow closer to Him in our own personal way.