There is a large spectrum when it comes to Christians’ convictions and interpretations regarding the Fourth Commandment (“remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”) and how it may or may not relate to how we spend Sundays. While I am convinced from Scripture that Sunday is a day of rest and worship which is regulated by the Fourth Commandment, that discussion is for another day. Regardless, many Christians see the need for a regular day of rest and want Sunday to fill their tank rather than drain them. So today I just want to answer a very practical question I’ve been asked a number of times: “how do I actually make Sundays more restful?”
A good starting point is to ask yourself:
How can this day be uncluttered by unnecessary tasks so it can be freed up for rest and worship?
Our family has come up with a few general guidelines that we’ve found helpful. These are not necessarily all from explicit convictions, but they have all been practically helpful and some may be useful to modify for your own family situation. We try to keep our Sundays as restful and worshipful as possible, even with three young children at home, so it can be a day we look forward to and delight in each week.
- Wrap up loose ends: Don’t leave a heap of random acts of drudgery for yourself on Saturday night. For example, we try to take the trash out Saturday so that we don’t have to deal with it on Sunday. Does this mean I judge people who take out their trash on Sundays or that I have never taken out the trash on Sunday myself? No. Sometimes it is necessary, but planning ahead this way means we have less humdrum tasks nagging us or eating up time. And frankly, I love having one day a week where I almost never have to take out the trash– it’s really a special treat for me! We also make sure we have enough groceries for the weekend and that our car’s gas tank is full (although these things are also so we don’t contribute to others working on our behalf on Sunday). We also make sure there aren’t any huge messes in the house such as piles of toys that would bother us all day Sunday. A Sunday schedule uncluttered with household tasks lends itself to more fruitful meditation and refreshment.
- Eat simply: For the most part we have low-maintenance Sunday menus. As a kid I loved the big Sunday dinners my grandmother made for our family every week but, whew, she must have been exhausted every Sunday afternoon! Often we try to eat something on Saturday, whether it be take-out or home-cooked, that will have enough leftovers to cover at least one meal on Sunday so we don’t even have to think about it. Sunday morning we may have cereal or overnight/slow cooker oatmeal. A slow cooker lunch or simple sandwiches also remove a lot of the work of cooking. Again, this is not just trying to be nit picky — “I must figure out how to do as little work as possible today!!” This is actually all with the intent of giving ourselves a break on this day and I can honestly say this is something we truly enjoy and look forward to.
Obviously having food to eat is a necessity so I think what is helpful here varies significantly from family to family. We have just found for ourselves that most of the time we would prefer a very simple meal with less day-of preparation rather than something fancy or labor intensive which we could have another day.
- Reduce the need to clean up: We usually use disposable plates and cutlery so that we don’t have to bother with washing dishes on Sunday. We know some large families that work together to clean up very efficiently after Sunday dinner and for them it would probably not be very cost effective to use disposable table settings. For us, however, we used to have a lot of work such as dishwashing pile up for Mondays which made Sundays less enjoyable as we thought about all the “catch up” we’d have to do the next day. Throwing our plates away effectively got rid of that problem! Now we also live in a country where dirty dishes left out overnight would most definitely attract a lot of bugs so we are glad we already have an easy way to leave the sink empty on Sundays. As the father of young children, I’d also rather have sandwiches than rice or beans when it comes to the potential mess that could be made on the floor!
- Use Saturday well: “On six days shall you labor” means God’s people were only officially “allotted” one rest day per week and, amazingly, many of us actually have two days off from our day job every week— what a blessing! Although it goes against the grain of leisurely American weekends, it is good to wrap up homework or work projects as best you can on Saturday so you don’t feel like resting on Sunday is putting you behind for Monday.
- Consider employment options thoughtfully: We often cannot fulfill our perfect wishlist of “wants” when job-hunting, but we can still prioritize what we value most. As a doctor, it has sometimes been legitimately necessary for me to see patients in the hospital on Sundays. However, I appreciate having Sundays protected from work whenever possible and try to do this whenever I can. When I had to work weekend shifts in residency, I would volunteer for the 24-hour Saturday shift rather than the Sunday shift half the length and none of my colleagues ever complained! More recently, I’ve had the option to actually select jobs which do not require weekend hours. Although there are a few jobs which truly require necessary work on Sundays like ambulance drivers and firefighters, most of us are not in occupations which, for example, are needed at all times to preserve life. In my case, I’m in one of those professions but can generally still avoid Sunday being just another workday by coordinating with others who have no preference for working on Sunday vs. Saturday. Having Sunday off is a gift for me. It is also important to tell a potential employer up front if you “generally do not work on Sundays for religious reasons” since many places would be willing to accommodate this in accordance with anti-discrimination laws, especially if it is not just a preference but a conviction from Scripture.
- Anticipatory sleep: It is important to get enough sleep Saturday night so that we can participate in and enjoy gathered worship; otherwise, we are hurried and grouchy on the way to church, dozing off during the sermon, and exhausted for the rest of the day. It can take some adjustment of your overall weekend schedule to make Sunday restful, but we have always found find it worthwhile to not stay up too late on Saturdays. It can also be nice to nap during the day some Sundays, but ideally this is in order to be physically and mentally refreshed for the latter part of the day, not just an opportunity to sleep the day away.
- Hit “Mute” on to-do’s: Tomorrow has enough busywork of its own. I put mail or whatever else I need to respond to out of sight since there is no need for those things to encroach on the peace of Sundays. Throughout the week, I regularly check business matters, news, and pictures on my phone. However, I’ve decided not to open my banking app, for example, on Sundays since it is not saving me anything to check it that one day out of seven, but paying my credit card bill would just be another humdrum activity unnecessarily detracting from the day. It may also be helpful to put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” so you don’t get a “ping” for every new email or take a weekly social media sabbath so you are not getting sidetracked with Instagram or Twitter which I’ve learned can easily suck up hours if I am not carefully watching the time. Those venues do not help me achieve my end goal of making the day restful and worshipful so I just cut them out. I have never regretted a Sunday I didn’t spend more than a short time on my phone.
- Read: There is always more I’d like to read than I actually have time to do. Sunday afternoon (especially on the rare occasion all three kids are napping) is an enjoyable time for me to sit down sometimes and just read a book on a biblical topic. Reading a book is is secondary to actual Scripture reading so Bible reading should be prioritized first, but what a joy to just have time to sit and read truth. (Of course I am speaking in a more general “normal life” sense; I am writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic when some people reading much more than they normally would be able to.)
- Listen: Sundays are a nice time to listen to a “bonus” sermon or Bible lesson; perhaps there is a Bible teacher you respect or you moved away and miss your old church. What better day for an extra infusion of biblical truth right into your heart and mind by a minister of the Gospel?
- Worship: This may seem rather obvious, but if you are actively engaged in worship activities (morning and evening church services, family worship, Scripture reading, etc.), you aren’t doing other things. I am much more refreshed by a day of worship, even after a busy week, than a day of working on my to-do list. And if worship activities are prioritized on the Lord’s Day, you will realize how unnecessary other things are on that day.
There are also many ways to make the day more worshipful. You might want to discuss the morning sermon with your children, take a walk outside and enjoy creation together, or set aside extra time for singing together as a family. These are all wonderful ways to glorify God throughout the day, but today we have just focused on making the day more restful, a pressing priority for so many people in our high-speed, burn-out culture.
Sunday is a gift to us which refreshes our bodies and aligns our hearts and minds to delight in our Savior. It is a special opportunity to worship God with focused thoughts and actions which we are not always able to do throughout the week. Instead of stressing about roof repairs and yard work, we can rest from our labors, trusting that God will give us the time and energy and resources to do what we need during the other six days of the week, just as the Israelites trusted God to provide for them even if they didn’t gather manna on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:22-30). It is also a time to acknowledge our own human frailty— we need this weekly oasis to survive!
Most importantly, we remember that He who is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8) is also the true “Sabbath Rest” to which all of our earthly sabbaths point (Heb 4:1-10). Without Christ, there is no eternal rest, but by Him and through Him we can have peace with God, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).
Soli deo gloria!