Have you ever planned a celebration? Maybe your boss was retiring or your child was having a birthday or your parents were passing a milestone anniversary. The scenario probably went something like this: Days, weeks, or, hopefully, a month or so in advance, you began to plan the celebration to the last detail. You thought about the food you would serve, the decorations you would put up, the people you would invite, the kind of entertainment you would provide, and the socializing you would do.
Nothing was left to chance. Just before the celebration was scheduled to begin, you took a shower, put on your best clothes, and made every attempt to look as festive as you felt. Because of your meticulous planning, the celebration was a success.
My husband and I also like to plan our Sabbaths as celebrations. I’d like to share with you some things that have worked for us.
I’ve found it helpful to do certain things the same way each week as a signal that Sabbath is coming or has come. I call them “changeover signals.”
There are many simple things that can signal a changeover in the household. Of course, for them to have their full significance, they must be set aside for Sabbath use only. This doesn’t have to mean added expense, because many of the things that can signal the changeover are already in your house!
For example, you can put out clean towels, change bed sheets, put flowers on the table, or reserve a particular tablecloth for Sabbath use. At our house, on Friday afternoon I put Sabbath bedspreads on each of our beds.
Children can have special toys they play with only on Sabbath and special books that they read only on Sabbath. These simple things can be very effective tools to foster anticipation.
Appeal to the five senses
One key to making Sabbath inviting is to make it appeal to all our senses. Jo Ann Davidson—mother, author, and seminary professor—tells how she and her husband Dick do this with their children:
The sense of taste. When the kids were little, I made a real effort to have their favorite foods on Sabbath. All week long I taught the kids nutrition with their meals. But Sabbath I just cooked their favorites that made the house smell good too.
The sense of sight. For the sense of sight we had fresh flowers and candlelight.
The sense of touch. On Friday nights my husband and I would give the kids back rubs as we put them to bed. One Friday night when we were coming home rather late from some appointment, the children asked, “It isn’t too late for back rubs, is it?” It was, but back rubs were such a special part of Friday night that Dick and I gave the children their back rubs anyway—so Sabbaths would feel good.
The sense of hearing. Again, on Friday nights, Dick and I got into the habit of playing the piano and singing after we put the children to bed. Not that we sing that well, but that way the children go to sleep to the sound of Christian hymns. It’s been so rewarding to us, because through this they grew to love the grand old hymns.
The sense of smell. There are two ways to bring the sense of smell into the Sabbath, both of which I’ve mentioned in connection with the other four senses. The most obvious is with food, especially food that fills the kitchen with a delicious scent. Another way is to light a scented candle and place it as a centerpiece on the table.
Read the Bible
When reading the Bible, it’s a good idea to consider the ages and spiritual maturity of your family. There are many great Bible storybooks appropriate for children from toddlers to beginners to preschoolers and right on up. In a family mix with children and adults, you might consider a chapter from a contemporary version and one from a children’s Bible.
If all the members of your family are adults, you might love the old language and majesty of the King James Version or the New King James Version, but that isn’t very practical for children. Where there’s a mixture of adults and children, the little ones can be provided with crayons and Bible-story coloring books to keep them occupied during the adult reading. Or, if it’s too hard to concentrate and keep the children quiet, the adults can read Bible stories to the children, then study together after the children are in bed.
Singing can be as involved and exciting or as sedate as you want it to be. Whether you choose to sing hymns, spiritual “campfire songs,” or children’s favorites, everyone can participate in making music to the Lord. It doesn’t matter whether you have a piano to gather around or a guitar player in the family. What matters is that you have the heart to make music. Even if you are musically challenged, you can shake a tambourine or tap your feet.
A worthy investment, particularly if you have young children, is a collection of rhythm instruments. These don’t have to be elaborate either; you can make many of them: sandpaper blocks (wooden blocks with sandpaper glued or stapled on), drums (made from shortening cans or oatmeal containers), jingle bells (bells sewn onto bands of ribbon), shakers (made from anything that can hold dried beans). Children like kazoos made from the cardboard tube inside a toilet paper roll. Cut out a square of wax paper and fasten it over one end of the tube with a rubber band. Put your lips around the open end and hum.
In good weather, one of the most enjoyable Sabbath activities is getting out in nature. Parents can walk with their children in the fields and groves, and, amid the beautiful things of nature, explain to them how the Sabbath began at Creation.
There are lots of nature activities you can do with children. Have them see how many kinds of birds or flowers or trees they can identify. Make a list each Sabbath, and challenge them to spot a few more the following Sabbath. This will help them to learn the names of the birds, flowers, and trees.
Have your children sit quietly in one spot and see how many sounds of nature they can hear. Then try to find out what makes each one. In some cases, such as the wind in the trees, the answer will be quite obvious. Identifying the sounds made by squirrels, birds, and insects will be more challenging.
Journaling means keeping a written record, like a diary. The idea is to record your observations about the Sabbath, about God, or maybe about things God has shown you through the week. As a friend of mine says, you can write a lot of ways, but you can’t write wrong.
If journaling seems hard, begin with lists such as prayer requests, answers to prayer, and points of interest in your Bible study. Write a little about what God has shown you during the week or how you have gained the victory in areas of your life that you’ve been struggling with. It’s best to write about positive experiences rather than letting your journal become a list of grievances or a place to dwell on failure.
While journaling might seem difficult for children to do, it can be a fun activity for those rainy days and cold winter afternoons when it’s difficult for them to get outside. Schoolage children can make lists of all the things they can think of that God has done for them in the past week. Preschoolers can draw pictures of these things.
Make a Blessings Box
A Blessings Box can be made out of any kind of box, and children should be encouraged to help in whatever way they can. Use a box that has a lid. Cover the bottom and top separately with wrapping paper so you can take the top off the box without ruining the wrapping. Cut a hole in the top of the box so you can put in slips of paper. You might want to purchase a special small notepad and glue it onto the side of the box so paper will always be handy. Likewise, you can tie a pen to a string and then attach it to the box. That way no one has an excuse for not recording a blessing!
During the week, each family member who receives a blessing or an answer to prayer writes it down on a slip of paper and puts it into the Blessings Box. At the Friday evening meal, one person (family members can take turns either by the Sabbath or by the slip of paper) reads the slips of paper out loud. Allow time for discussion and praise for each blessing.
God created the Sabbath for our good (Mark 2:27). He meant it to be a blessing (Isaiah 58:13, 14). And it certainly is—if we take the time and make the effort to do a little planning and preparation.