t was yet another rainy Sabbath afternoon and our three children were restless. “Let’s go for a picnic!” I suggested.
“In the rain?” my husband questioned.
“Why not? We could take a tarp and tie it over the picnic table, then build a small fire on the edge and roast Big Franks and marshmallows.”
Our children weren’t too sure of their mom’s crazy idea, but they helped me get together the food while Dad found the blue tarp and put some wood in the car trunk. Grabbing jackets and umbrellas, we ran through the light rain to our car and drove a few miles to a park by the Tennessee River.
In my mind, I can still picture myself holding an umbrella over my husband’s head while he secured string from the tarp to several trees, covering the picnic table. Gathered under our blue roof we watched him skillfully build a small fire, even though it was drizzling. Then, while laughing and talking, we took turns reaching out with sticks to roast our sandwich veggie meat. About sundown the rain stopped, so we walked to a nearby cave and watched dozens of bats fly out and swoop around, catching insects to eat. We not only had a delightful Sabbath outing, but made a memory.
Spending Sabbath in Nature
Our Creator, who made the Sabbath and blessed it, set the seventh day aside as a holy, happy day. Jesus wants us to find delight in His day, and to make Sabbath the best day of the week for our children. The easiest way to do this is to spend time out in nature, God’s first book.
When our children were little, we had a membership at a nature center with hiking trails and roadways. At the pond there, we’d pause and let the kids feed shelled, dry corn to the geese. Farther down the road was a large bamboo thicket they could play in.
Sometimes we walked along the creek; other Sabbaths we climbed a trail up the side of Lookout Mountain. Of course, we visited the animals and birds at the center that were in various stages of rehabilitation. In the spring, many wildflowers bloomed; in the fall, we enjoyed the red and yellow leaves. Turtles sunning themselves on logs, a duck family, rabbits and squirrels—all made our Sabbath walk more interesting.
Another one of our favorite Sabbath retreats was a grove of pine trees on the shores of the Tennessee River. The children would run around among the trees and build “houses” with the long pine needles. On our walk we’d find blackberries to eat, stones to throw into the river, and ducks to watch.
Some Sabbath afternoons we took our canoe to a nearby creek and paddled around. Muskrats, kingfishers, ducks, and blue herons entertained us. One late afternoon some beavers were swimming nearby. We even glimpsed one beaver up on the bank eating grass!
One Friday evening we took our canoe to a small lake and ate supper while rocking on its water. As the sun set and we welcomed the Sabbath, a beaver swam over to investigate us. It then followed us, surfacing beside our canoe. We began playing a game of “tag and splash” with each other. I splashed at the beaver with my paddle, and it would slap its tail next to where I was sitting in the bow. Another Sabbath memory made.
Because the Sabbath begins when the sun sets on Friday, I wanted to make the first hours special to our children. I always baked something they especially liked for supper, placing lighted candles on the table in the winter. After supper we spent family time singing around the piano, reading interesting stories, and simply talking and sharing with one another. My girls enjoyed coloring and drawing while I read aloud. When it was bedtime, we’d tuck the kids in with backrubs.
I believe that a parent being present and available to children is the most important ingredient for a happy Sabbath. If we are so tired on Sabbath that we seek nothing more than a nap, leaving the kids to their own devices, we’ve failed. I agree with Donna Habenicht, author of How to Help Your Child Really Love Jesus, when she writes: “Our children will treasure those childhood Sabbaths largely because of our presence as we create for them a storehouse of happy Sabbath memories that will continually draw them back to the Sabbath and its Creator.”
A Day of Relationships and Opportunities
The Sabbath day is a time for relationships with God, Jesus, and our families. Whether sitting in front of the fire reading an interesting mission story, doing a craft project, going for a bicycle ride, or wading up a creek, we endeavored to make Sabbath a special day with our kids—a day to know God better.
The Sabbath is also a day of opportunity to cheer someone. Some Sabbath afternoons, several church families would get together and visit the elderly and others unable to attend church services. We’d sing favorite songs and talk with them. The Sabbath before Christmas we would sometimes go caroling with a group of friends, giving a fruit basket or loaf of bread to neighbors.
One Sabbath afternoon we made leaf pictures with friends who had joined us for lunch. The girls gathered leaves and ferns, which they laid on colored sheets of construction paper. Then the fathers sprayed black paint overtop of the foliage, which created leaf shapes. We mothers helped the girls print Scripture messages within the prints.
Rather than stashing our creations away on a shelf, as we’d done previously, I suggested giving them away in the neighborhood. We don’t know what effect our visits had on the lives of the people we gave “leaf scriptures” to that day, but I know our girls had a fun Sabbath.
Bad Weather Days
What does a parent do when the weather isn’t fit to be outside? We raised our children without a TV—not even a VCR—so videos weren’t included in our stash of possibilities. So I would get out our yellow bucket full of modeling clay, and we’d sit around the table creating and guessing what the others made. Sometimes we played a Bible game.
Another favorite activity was hiding little red plastic monkeys around the house and seeing who could find the most. Their looped arms, made for hooking together, were dandy for hanging from the ceiling fan, door frame, or drawer handles. We often playacted Bible stories, dividing into two teams and taking turns figuring out what story was being dramatized.
Wishing to teach our children that the Sabbath is a day set apart from the rest of the week, a day when we don’t play with our everyday toys, I created a special Sabbath box. It contained felts, puzzles, coloring books, cars, animals, and blocks—toys that particularly held their interest.
As Children Grow
As our children got older, especially during their teen years, being with friends had more appeal than family activities. They had outgrown the Sabbath box, one child didn’t like going on hikes, and finding something everyone wanted to do seemed impossible. But still we strove to make happy memories for our children. Today we sit back and watch them make memories with their own families, doing many of the same activities we did together when they were young.
Friday evening still has the family night feel. It’s the time when I miss my kids the most. I have asked our adult children, “What favorite Sabbath memory do you have from your childhood?” Their responses include wading up a creek and falling in, going on hikes and bike rides, and weekend camping trips to the Smoky Mountains. All of them are good memories.
“If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage, if you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God’s holy day as a celebration, if you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’ making money, running here and there—then you’ll be free to enjoy God!” (Isa. 58:13, 14, Message).
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*Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright ” 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Barbara Ann Kay is a homemaker and runs her own greenhouse business. She and her husband, Irdene, live in Bryant, Alabama. The couple has four grown children and three grandchildren.