Little Ones on the Sabbath

Did you ever read the Little House on the Prairie books when you were growing up? I loved those stories as a little girl! Anyways, I remember reading the chapter about Laura getting in trouble because she was naughty on the Sabbath. That was one time when I was glad that I didn't grow up in her house or in her era! The Sabbath sounded like sheer torture, didn't it? Unfortunately, how many of us take that same attitude into the Sabbath now. There seems to be so much more fun after church is over! But I am beginning to learn that far from being a legalistic exercise, God meant the Sabbath to be so much more.

So, how do we help our kids enjoy the Sabbath and develop a heart of worship? Like I mentioned in the first post, we need to start with ourselves. We can also make the day a special one. What else?

Start Young

One thing is for certain, a taste for the Sabbath begins with training, both for ourselves and for our children. H. Clay Trumbull's Hints on Child Training says this:

"A common cause of trouble in this matter is, that the training does not begin early enough. A child is permitted to go on for months, if not years, without any direct suggestion of a difference between the Lord's day and other days of the week; and when the first attempt is made to show him that such a difference ought to be recognized, he is already fixed in habits which stand in the way of his recognition, so that the new call on him breaks in unpleasantly upon his course of favorite infantile action. Yet it ought to be so that a child's earliest consciousness of life is linked with the evidences of the greater light and joy and peace of the day that is above the other days of the week, in his nursery experiences, and that his earliest habits are in the line of such a distinction as this. And this it can be."

Basically, what he seems to be saying is that one thing we can do, even when our children are very young---even infants!---is to start training them to see the Sabbath as different. Often times, I think, "What can a baby learn? They don't understand a word!" But maybe it's not so much what they learn, but the laying of a positive foundation in their lives for future learning about God.

Living Out Priorities

One thing we can do is to prepare them to eventually be participants in the worship service. Even when our children are little, we can begin the training process by making the Sabbath a priority. Most of us already probably do this. In our family, unless there is something dire, we go to church. If we don't, we either look for another church to attend or take some time as a family to read Scripture, sing and pray together.

One of the sweetest Sunday moments I have enjoyed was when my babies were very little. I would hold them and do that swaying motion that moms often do and sing. Even while they were snoozing away, I hoped that they would start hearing songs of worship.

When they got a little older, they were a little more active, but that didn't stop us from going to church. One or the other of us often got stuck in the cry room, but we kept going anyways. Our goal was to only use it if absolutely necessary, like when they would let out that high pitched scream that everyone can hear! But if at all possible, we tried to help them to stay with us through the service.

For my boys, this required a bag of tricks. Sometimes they would have a little snack (quiet ones, not crunchy, noisy ones!). Sometimes I would hold them in my lap and quietly flip pages of a book while keeping one ear open to the message. This was just as much a discipline for me as it was for them.

Now that Jonathan is three, I try to have him participate in everything in the service except the sermon. When the pastor prays, I have him pray. When it's time to sing, I give him a choice: he can either stand up next to me and hold my hand, or I can hold him while I sing. Before each song, I like to tell him what we're singing about, even if it's a summary of the song. Our church also sings the Doxology, so I have him join in with that too.

Begin at Home

If this sounds like too much to expect a little one, it probably is---if you only do this on Sundays. During the week at home, I have given my children times in their day to play quietly so they learn how to be content on their own. I play worship music at home and sing along so they are used to it. Even doing this while you're cooking dinner after work can be a way for you to unwind as well as help yourself and your little ones.

I have found that when my kids were little, Sundays were restful days. It was only when they started getting older that Sundays got to be really busy with activities. If your children are young, I encourage you to take advantage of this time when your kids are young to make the day a special one, including preparing them to enjoy being in God's house. It takes some work, but it goes a long way towards helping our kids enjoy the Sabbath.