I had to laugh yesterday after reading Robert Kirby’s weekly satirical (and sometimes downright cranky) column in the Salt Lake Tribune titled, “Judgement Day shouldn’t Come Every Sunday,” where he lamented the recent crackdown on electronic device usage during church services. The reason I found it amusing was because my own ward’s service was also dedicated to the topic of increasing our reverence during the sacrament meeting, and the talks given were a near-verbatim retelling of Kirby’s experience in his ward. White shirts and ties were admonished for men and electronic devices were discouraged for all (even restless children). In other words, his article hit close to home. While I enjoy the time-honored tradition of satire and its ability to remind us to stop taking ourselves so seriously, there is usually a serious concern that underlies satire’s whimsical griping.
As a faith community, Mormons have increasingly come to view the Sabbath as a bunch of stuff they shouldn’t do, both inside and outside of church—and most of it boils down to avoiding any self-indulgent fun. Spending the day in quiet solitude, prayerful reflection, and napping certainly has its merits. Likewise, spending time in the service of others is admirable, though it typically amounts to little more than attending additional meetings for our callings. Home and visiting teaching are respectful Sabbath day activities, as well as keeping television watching and video game playing to a minimum (no easy task for my kids). Shopping is clearly not the best way to spend the day, nor is scrolling through Facebook news feeds for hours on end (guilty as charged).
How do we spend our Sabbath days as Latter-day Saints? For many of us, it’s by attending the 3-hour church block and then spending the rest of our day hiding from the world so that our Mormon neighbors don’t think we are lackadaisical in our commitment to keeping the Sabbath holy. We try to convince our bored kids that listening to General Conference talks and writing in their journals is fun. We rent movies from Redbox and use self-service gas pumps because there are no employees involved with monetary exchange; and we pretend that watching football games or Disney movies all day aren’t bending the rules so long as we keep our church clothes on.
Are we getting increasingly caught up in a series of Sabbath day regulations (like the Pharisees of old) rather than remembering the true purpose of the Sabbath: to renew ourselves by renewing our commitment to Christ as a community, and to, for one day each week, attempt to re-create Eden, or imagine the future Kingdom, with our friends and family surrounding us? Church attendance is an important part of the Sabbath, but it does not fulfill the Sabbath. Our rules designed to keep the Sabbath day holy, well-intentioned as they may be, may actually be distracting us from its true purpose. You see, the Sabbath is more than a day of rest, it is a day where we practice Eternity. It should be day of playfulness, laughter, and celebration – of barbecues with friends, having family over for dinner, and gathering as neighbors for a luau or clambake (yes, food is always at the center of my ideal Sabbath). So, go on a hike, or go on a picnic, or (the horror!) go for a family swim, or follow Wilford Woodruff’s example and go fishing. Stop “don’t-ing” and make the Sabbath a day of joy, remembering that the Creator of the Sabbath took the day off to delight in His creation and told us to do the same.
On the Sabbath, we should renew our covenants and renew our outlook on the gift of life. It should be a day we cannot wait for rather than a day we dread. Although I am conscientious about being on my smart phone during church, and although I do follow the social custom of wearing a white shirt and tie, I laugh because these things are not what defines the Sabbath. Gathering together as a ward community in prayer, singing hymns, and passing the sacrament trays to one another is essential; instruction by speakers and teachers helps sustain our faith; and the men’s and women’s meetings provide organized means whereby acts of service are made available. However, for me, the Sabbath does not end with church. In fact, it may not really begin until after church has ended, when I’ve removed my shirt and tie and hear the laughter of my children as they play board games while I’m heating the grill in anticipation of good food with family and friends. That is how I imagine heaven: filled with music, laughter, friendships, and the smell of barbecue (hopefully the eternal barbecue won’t be my own hide). One filled with jump ropes, trampolines, and water balloon fights. The heaven (and Sabbath day imitation of it) that I envision is endless summer in shorts and t-shirts rather than endless meetings in suits and ties.