Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.
At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.
What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.
Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.
Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, conservative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.
Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”
We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.
Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.
We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.
At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made made.
Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”
We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people.)
For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m not burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.
If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.
My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!