Sunset draws closer, signaling the end of another day. Eucalyptus and wild olive trees cast long shadows over the golden savannah. The familiar song of a diederik cuckoo rings through the air as it basks its feathers in the late afternoon sun. Eland, zebra and giraffe tread over the slopes of a well-known trail. Their day will end by quenching their thirst at a drinking hole a few yards away.
The picturesque view described above could be seen from our favorite spot on a rocky edge of a koppie or small hill in South Africa where we used to live. We often reserved this setting to conclude a special Sabbath day. From there, the vista seemed endless.
In this relaxed atmosphere, nestled in nature, my young children would often ask questions. One I remember well was, “Daddy, how is it possible that God has no beginning or end?”
In any other setting, such a question may not have been posed. But surrounded by nature, it seemed the perfect opportunity for such a question to be sparked in a child’s mind.
Today, my family and I live in a large North American city and seeking a serene spot close to home in an urban area can be challenging.
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Evening Stroll: Giraffes and zebras roam through the savannah in South Africa, as viewed from a koppie, a small hill, near the former home of the Viljoens.
Photo: F. Jaco Viljoen
Yet we learned that you do not have to live in a picturesque environment to make the Sabbath memorable for your children. As a sign on a billboard inviting people to a tourist destination reads, “Memories happen without warning.” Whether you live in a bustling metropolis or in the country, with creativity and effort, you can make the Sabbath special for your children.
For adults, the seventh day is a welcome refuge each week. Whether you have just started keeping it or have been in God’s Church for years, the Sabbath is a day we look forward to with great anticipation. It often provides the opportunity to spend extra time studying or praying, or catching up on world events.
Just as you value this time, teach your children to appreciate it by instilling in them the value of hard work throughout the rest of the week.
Effective overall preparation for the Sabbath will ensure that everything is ready and done “decently and in order” (I Cor. 14:40).
Children flourish when there is a balanced amount of stability in their lives—they crave routines! Having a plan when it comes to preparing for the Sabbath is extremely valuable.
The days leading up to the sixth day—the preparation day—are filled with appointments and to-do lists. There is laundry to wash, bills to pay, food to buy, and floors to clean. Many maintain full- or part-time jobs, which can make the week feel even more hectic.
Working during this time is part of God’s Sabbath command, as explained in Exodus 35:2: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord …”
The many physical and spiritual ingredients necessary to have an unforgettable Sabbath, such as food preparation, dress, Bible study, prayer, fellowship, rest, time in nature, services, etc., can feel overwhelming, but the key is to find what works best for your family.
Come up with your own ways to ready yourself for the Sabbath, even prior to the preparation day, based on the schedule and needs of your family. You may want to start at the beginning of the week and plan ahead by establishing a routine preparation checklist. This will not only ensure that everything gets done, but also help you become more efficient over time. Then when unexpected situations arise, you will be better able to handle them. Such a routine also assists children with knowing what to expect.
For example, you could set out a specific cleaning schedule to ensure that by Friday afternoon, your home is clean and free of clutter.
For little ones, this could mean practicing services “quiet time” at home while a parent listens to a sermon or watches a broadcast at a certain time each day. A good way to get children used to remaining silent is to designate a blanket that is only used for services. When they see the blanket, they will automatically know they should put their heads down and be quiet. Success in this area at home will boost your confidence during services.
Another way to make the Sabbath a unique time is to create a recipe book just for that day. Use this to decide what dishes you plan to prepare for the day of rest and ask for your children’s input. Then create a shopping list and take children with you to the grocery store. Depending on their age, you may even want to prepare a separate grocery list for them that they will be able to use to shop for special items. You can let them push their own cart and load it with items on their list. Before you know it, they will begin to look forward to this weekly trip with mother!
Another idea is to purchase ingredients that can be used to make a unique dish or a special kind of appetizer or dessert for your family to try.
The true preparation day, however, should be the sixth day—Friday.
The physical nation of Israel had to learn this lesson. Shortly after their release from bondage in Egypt, God introduced the Sabbath to Israel. He gave instructions about it to Moses, who then instructed the people: “It shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily” (Ex. 16:5).
The whole nation had to begin to actively practice the weekly routine of preparing for the Sabbath by doubling the amount of manna they collected on the sixth day. Had Israel taken a passive approach, they would have gone hungry on the seventh day.
Similarly, in the modern age, much needs to be done in and around the house prior to sunset. Perhaps the carpets need to be vacuumed or clothes finished being washed and pressed. Involve your children in household chores, such as assigning your son to vacuum or your daughter to fold the laundry.
With food preparation and clean-up occurring in the kitchen, there is always room for little hands to participate. You could let your daughter assist with preparing food or setting the table.
In addition, remind children to prepare for Sabbath services. Boys can help shine their father’s and their own shoes or lay out their Sabbath attire.
Teach children to pack their own bags with necessary items they will need the next day during services. Based on their age, this might range from a favorite blanket or even a couple of quiet toys they exclusively play with during services. A drinking cup and a snack for very young children is fine as long as it is not distracting to others. When children are old enough to understand, they can take their Bibles and Bible Lessons or a coloring book as well.
Additionally, just before sunset, you may want to take a quick stroll around the yard to see if any bicycles or other toys are lying out or instruct your children to do so. Remind them that the Sabbath is a special time and you all should ensure that your home is kept neat and tidy during this time.
Doing such chores will help prepare your children to keep the Sabbath and serve as a type of instruction for them to understand that this time is set aside and hallowed by God.
Children’s perspectives and outlooks are different from those of adults. They are fascinated by the small things and all the little details surrounding them.
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Peaceful Scene: The still waters of a pond reflect the majestic trees and tall grasses thriving around it in South Africa.
Photo: F. Jaco Viljoen
This world can be found right in your own backyard! Can you remember as a young child going down on your knees with a magnifying glass and scrutinizing the intricate parts of a bug or lying on your back spotting cloud figures in the sky? Or perhaps you watched ants carrying provisions single file from your porch to their colony in the corner of your yard.
Parents who understand God’s truth have the unique opportunity to satisfy their youngsters’ natural curiosity by focusing their attention on Creation—and using it to teach them about God.
It is a symphony of diversity—a complete palette of vibrant, bursting colors; the harmonious sounds of insects, birds, rustling leaves, and tumbling streams, each playing its part in an orchestra—that stimulates children to ask questions.
Once, when still a toddler, one of our children asked “Can we see God?”
The question allowed for a special moment and the response: “No, we cannot see Him, but we can see His handiwork.”
This principle is illustrated in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (vs. 1).
Spend time in Creation teaching your children to appreciate it. Lie down stretched out on your back on the ground, with your arms around them, gazing at the starry night sky! The pleasure, calm and sense of comfort nature provides adds to a special Sabbath evening.
Outdoor activities are the easiest way to teach your children about Creation. This should not include a rigorous hike, but could rather be a leisurely stroll through a public park or stretch of nearby woods.
If you are not in an area where this is possible, it is fine to occasionally watch a documentary about nature or the known universe. Teach your children that the Sabbath was the day that God rested from all the work that He had done.
Doing so will still spark many questions from your children and help them to understand God’s genius. With the availability of technology today, we can give our children detailed answers to their questions about the physical world.
Yet with the vast amount of spiritual knowledge we have been given, we can take it one step further and teach them about the wonderful purpose of God’s Creation. Use Church literature such as Does God Exist? or The Awesome Potential of Man to help them understand parts of God’s Plan. Depending on their age, they may be able to process more of it than you think!
What you teach your children when examining nature also helps them to see proofs that God does exist. Remember that it states in Deuteronomy that you must teach God’s Word “diligently unto your children,” and do so “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (6:7).
Make It Special
The seventh day is a day for parents and children to grow closer to one another and reflect on God’s amazing Plan for them.
To make the day memorable, you may wish to start the Sabbath with a candle-lit dinner and beautiful instrumental background music. This period ought to be uniquely different from any during the rest of the week. Since the seventh day is a rehearsal of the Millennium—a period of true abundance—we should strive to use the best we have.
This can also be an opportunity to invite others for a meal or to fellowship. If other members live nearby, you may want to have them over for a delicious dinner or elegant appetizer evening.
Another way to create closeness and comfort among your family is to cuddle with your children. Allow them to sit close to you, even resting their heads on your chest while you read together from the Bible. Recall that the disciple John did the same because he was close to Christ. Notice: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).
A Saturday morning could even include gathering everyone to snuggle on a bed to talk about the importance of the special time of rest.
Happiness and joy are also vital to ensure a memorable day! This is directly linked with obedience, as it states in Proverbs, “He that keeps the law, happy is he” (29:18).
As children learn to obey parents within a set of established parameters, they start down a path of happiness and prosperity. Adequate instructions to children on the Sabbath will increase their cheerfulness.
In this respect, everyone’s involvement at various points throughout the day is crucial. Ecclesiastes 4:12 reminds us that “a threefold cord [a couple with at least one child] is not quickly broken.”
Practically apply this principle by showing your children how to pray and study by doing it with them. Or have a family Bible study at the fireplace while sharing dessert after dinner.
Alternatively, you could choose a Bible topic or figure, study together, and at the end have a quiz. Use the tools at your disposal such as the Children’s Bible Lessons and The Story of the Bible series, or watch The World to Come™ broadcasts together.
Make diligently teaching children about the Bible a routine, but also keep it fun! Do not just pray in front of them at the dinner table. Regularly, at the start and end of the day, be sure to go down on your knees together and teach them how to pray. Make it a priority!
Sabbath services compose perhaps the biggest part of the day. When preparing to attend, make it interesting! Remember, it is the little things that count.
For example, while getting dressed for services, tell your children that you are to put on the best you have. To make it more exciting, you may want to challenge your son or daughter to see who can get dressed first. In the case of your son, he may have an advantage over you as, depending on his age, he may wear a “clip-on” tie!
During services, it is not only adults who receive instruction, but our children are taught God’s Way in a public setting. This can often be a challenge for parents attending God’s Church for the first time. Many ask: “What should our children do during services?”
It can be difficult to know exactly what to expect from a toddler in an unfamiliar environment such as Sabbath services. Naturally, the thought might be, “Will my child be able to sit through the entire service?”
This is often a source of anxiety for parents. The good news is that children are very adaptable. With enough training each week, they will quickly become better at sitting through them.
Again, your home presents the perfect teaching environment. By successfully implementing the principles mentioned in this article, and from other Church-provided material, you can expect to see encouraging results early on.
At services, children’s friendships are strengthened and relationships built with adults and the elderly. Throughout the day, children should learn to serve others. They can help carry small items or help with cleanup during Church potlucks.
In addition, children in God’s Church can build strong bonds with adults. Teach your children to treasure fellowship time after services and to talk to adults, especially the elderly. This will ensure that the Sabbath stands out as a time in their minds in which lasting bonds were created!
Those who do not have children also have a responsibility in this regard. Take time to engage children in your congregation. Ask them about their week, what they learned, questions about Bible story figures, and their perceptions of the world around them. It is always a delight to hear little minds explain larger concepts such as what they picture the Millennium will be like.
Wherever possible, parents may also wish to visit other brethren, which could include a visit to someone who is unable to make it to Sabbath services. This is a way for your children to learn to care for and serve others beyond your core family.
Applying these principles will not only assist in creating anticipation and enthusiasm for the Sabbath, but it will also prepare children to keep it when they are on their own.
God’s instruction to parents is simple: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Our children are a gift from God. We have been given a certain number of years to prepare and make them ready to be responsible adults.
Talk to other parents about how they make the Sabbath special for their children. Get excited about the part you play in helping them to continue keeping it later. Regularly reviewing the Church’s literature on childrearing and more specifically the book Train Your Children God’s Way will assist with this task.
Your children can learn now how to properly keep the Sabbath. Working with them will enable God to work with them as they grow older.
Cherish this time and strive to always make the Sabbath memorable for your children!