How to Sabbath With My Family


According to the Bible, taking a Sabbath is not a suggestion – it’s a commandment. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. It’s so important that God elaborates more on this command than any of the others. In case you’re a little rusty on Sabbath law, here it is again:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).”

What is Sabbath?

The word Sabbath means to stop, rest, or keep. Growing up, I thought Sabbath-keeping meant going to church on Sundays. That’s not the best definition. I like the way Eugene Peterson poetically explains it:

“Sabbath is the time set aside to do nothing so that we can receive everything, to set aside our anxious attempts to make ourselves useful, to set aside our tense restlessness, to set aside our media-satiated boredom.”

Sabbath puts our pursuit of “more” in check. It stops us from trying to do more, work more, earn more, or get more. It is a practice rooted in resistance and faith. When you practice Sabbath, you declare, “I trust that God can do more for me than I can do for myself.”

The Challenge of Sabbath

I’m not sure about you, but every time I read scriptures on Sabbath or hear someone teaching on it, I think the same thing: “That’s great, in theory. But how am I supposed to do that as a young family? Have you ever tried to rest or relax with a kid in the room? Good luck!”

On top of that is our constant battle with busyness. When was the last time you had a Saturday all to yourself? No basketball game, no dance rehearsal, no gymnastics, no birthday parties, no visitors dropping by, nothing? If you can’t remember, you’re in the same boat as every other family. A Saturday with nothing to do is a rare jewel.

How am I supposed to stop everything with all these kids and all these responsibilities?

For young families, Sabbath is a real challenge.

A New Perspective

Perhaps we need to rethink our Sabbath practices. What if we could view our children not as a hindrance to Sabbath but as an essential part of it? What if including our family in Sabbath-keeping is an opportunity to practice it in a manner more consistent with the Bible? Scripture teaches that children are a gift from God. One of the reasons they are a gift is that they still have an imagination. In “Habits of the Household,” author Justin Whitmel Earley writes about what happens to our faith as adults when we get on the floor and play with our children.

“Our faith asks us to believe that angels and demons exist, that a virgin gave birth, that a man named Jesus rose from the dead, and that a new kingdom is coming where we all get to celebrate and play, happily ever after. Our faith asks us to believe that things are not the way they seem, and that despite what we experience, suffering and evil will not have the final word. This is not easy. In Christianity, you won’t get very far without a healthy imagination.

“Children are the ones humble enough to believe that there is far more to reality than there seems…Play is thus a way to reenchant a disenchanted world.”

He advises saying yes more when our children want us to play with them. Read imaginative stories to them, accept their invitations to play, and send them out to play independently. Their capacity for imagination may expand your faith a little more, too.

Sabbath = Playing Together

And what if that’s the key to Sabbath as a family – playing and enjoying shared activity? What would our Sabbath look like if we viewed it as a communal practice rather than a mere individual one? After all, the Bible is written in a collectivist culture, not an individual one. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Start by identifying a shared activity. What’s something that you love to do as a family? Maybe it’s board games, movie night, going out to dinner, or going on a playdate with friends. Amy and I enjoy finding a restaurant with a playground nearby, and I have several suggestions if you are looking. We love getting out of the house as a family, eating good food, and watching our kids play together. Whatever your family enjoys doing together, do that on the Sabbath.

Another helpful tip is to be intentional. Sabbath-keeping will not just happen in your life. It takes preparation. In the Jewish tradition, the day before the Sabbath is often spent prepping for a day of rest. Put it on the calendar, knock out the laundry and the dishes the day before, and sit down as a family to discuss what you want to do on your Sabbath. Husbands, help your wife with the chores throughout the week so she’s not stressed come the weekend.

Put your phones and tablets away. Our children need us to be fully present when we play with them. They notice when we’re not paying attention to them. We don’t want them to grow up thinking that they are only a nuisance in our lives. We want them to grow up believing, “My mom and dad always made time for me.” I heard a pretty good sermon recently about the adverse effects of phone addiction.

Enjoy It

My final tip is a simple reminder. Enjoy your Sabbath. The Sabbath day should be completely guilt-free. This was Jesus’s number one rule about the Sabbath – it was made for you. You weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. It’s as tempting today as it was in Jesus’s time to turn the Sabbath into a legalistic, oppressive command. The Sabbath is a gift. As long as it’s not sinful, any activity that helps you rest and enjoy the life God has given you counts as Sabbath-keeping. So, take a nap. Watch the ball game. Go out for dinner. Build a fort in the living room and pop on a movie. Play video games.

The Sabbath was made for you. God created it so you may learn to enjoy this life and its people.


Ryan Chandler

Ryan Chandler

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