Lately, around the Bloggernacle I have noticed several individuals sharing the struggle they experience in observing the Sabbath with children. I have felt their pain. Deeply. When my husband was called to be the bishop, we had a four year old, a two year old and I was 3 months pregnant with our third boy. Before that he had been both a ward and a stake clerk, so he had never been home on Sunday mornings. By the time he was released, we had a ten year old, an eight year old, a five year old and a three year old. To say that he missed the hardest years of Sundays, is a major understatement and in retrospect I am not sure that I endured it all that well.
I think about this time period of our lives frequently, but more recently in relation to a story told by orthodox Jewish feminist, Blu Greenberg. In recalling the story of the inter-connectedness of her Judaism and feminism in Transforming the Faith of our Fathers: Women Who Changed American Religion she recalls:
"First and foremost, it was communicated to me as a very young child that being an Orthodox Jew was a great gift. It was not a burden as some would think, but rather a joy and a treasure. My earliest experiences were grounded in the rich culture of Sabbath and holiday observance, kashrut (dietary laws), the special value of Torah study, and my parents’ deep involvement in communal institutions — all of this in a time and place in which Jewish particularity was going upstream against the process of American homogenization.
One example to illustrate how privilege and joy were communicated: On Friday afternoons, an hour or two before the onset of Sabbath, my father would call out to his three young daughters, "Girls, who wants a mitzvah?" A mitvah is a good deed, the fulfillment of a commandment; in this case, the fifth one, "Honor thy father and mother." My two sisters and I knew this was a call for us to polish father’s shoes for the Sabbath, a chore reserved for children in those days. Of course, we immediately jumped to the task, for who would not want a mitzvah? His call was not simply a Tom Sawyer ploy of Orthodox Judaism; it was his way of transmitting to us the deep love he had for Torah and mitzvot. We absorbed this into our bones."
During those grinding years of early childhood when I faced Sundays alone, I came to loathe and dread the Sabbath. I am quite certain, while I never said this to my children directly, that on some level they must have absorbed these stressful, unhappy feelings. For the parents of younger children, it does get easier, but I still wonder about conveying the joy of the Sabbath to my kids.
I wonder if younger generations of LDS youth and children percieve their religion as a gift. Do we as adults? By running around to meetings and firesides, or emphasizing the "don’ts" of the Word of Wisdom in Primary, etc. do we present a "rich culture" to be celebrated?
Despite, the challenges I have faced, I do feel that being a Mormon is a gift. So, my question is: How do we communicate to our children or others around us that the demands of our religion are not a burden, but a joy and a treasure?