Like many of you I’ve been really impressed with the Church’s renewed emphasis during this last year on Sabbath observance. It feels sometimes like we go in cycles in this Church of being really focused on Sundays and then not really mentioning it at all. I bet someome smart (maybe Ziff) could do an analysis of Sabbath/Sunday emphasis in General Conference talks and Church News articles, to see whether these cycles are real or imagined. Maybe we find ourselves in the middle of such a cycle now, though I somehow doubt that the Brethren have ever really been the sort for Sunday Brunch. The Church’s current campaign uses a hashtag, #HisDay, and invites members to share their experiences and thoughts on the Sabbath from around the world. The site is very well-done and has some excellent ideas on how to keep Sundays special and holy. I’d like to share some ideas of my own.

The injunction to keep the Sabbath holy begins of course with the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:

8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

There are thousands of years of Talmudic study behind Sabbath observance, and I recommend a little light reading on the topic as it also provides background into how Jesus approached the Sabbath day, notably in two major anecdotes: first, the experience in Mark 2:23-28, which establishes Jesus Christ as Lord of the Sabbath and giving us the axiom, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”; and second, the healing by Christ of the man with the shriveled hand in Mark 3:1-6, which teaches us that it is lawful (or the fulfillment of the law) to heal on the Sabbath.

It is a hallowed day. Mind you, many of us actually work harder on Sundays than the rest of the week: some of us have difficult callings at Church, for example. Our leadership has long established that performing Church callings on Sunday is not meant to be violative of the Sabbath, but that callings may violate the Sabbath if we work too hard or perform work unnecessary to the calling. But Exodus 20:10 weighs on my mind in particular, because it implies that we fail to remember and observe the Sabbath if we impose burdens on others to work during that day. More than this: even strangers are to be relieved of their burdens during the Sabbath if they come within our gates. In some ways, it seems to me that it violates the Sabbath more to have someone work for you than to actually perform work yourself on Sundays. On a day hallowed towards the relief of burdens, it is particularly sinful to impose burdens on others.

Growing up, we would usually have a big Sunday dinner. Dad would watch golf on TV while Mom made roast beef with mashed potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. It was a special meal (and still one of my favorites), but only now does it seem to me that we were doing something wrong when my Mom would work so hard all day. She’d get us breakfast, iron clothes to get us ready for Church, wrestle us to meetings, work her own callings in Primary, then Young Womens, then Sunday School. She then would do her Visiting Teaching, then proceed to work for several hours to make a lavish dinner, largely unhelped by the rest of us.

We cannot faithfully remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy if we forget that Sabbath worship disproportionately burdens women.

We are to relieve our servants, even strangers of their burdens on the Sabbath; and yet women consistently have the most difficult Sunday callings and tasks. We sit back and do no work… and yet we are content if our wives, sisters and mothers work for us in the same uncounted manner in which they work for us all week long.

Some practical ideas:

  • Men should do Sunday meals and cleanup
  • Men should take on the bulk of responsibilities in Primary
  • Men can view the Sabbath as an opportunity to listen to women and give equal them voice and authority
  • Men, in their Sunday studies, can learn about the history of women in our Church

Sundays present us all with a chance to contemplate the week gone by and to think about the week that is to come. But not selfish introspection! Sundays are a time to reach out and help others as Christ healed on the Sabbath. Committing ourselves to lightening the burdens of our wives, sisters and mothers is not just in keeping with the spirit if the Sabbath; I believe it is an absolutely essential step.

What else can we do to keep #HisDay by also making it #HerDay?


  1. This is a timely message, as I have been in tears much of the day dreading church tomorrow. I have a son on the Autism spectrum, and I was just called to teach a Sunbeams class that includes another boy on the spectrum. I was also hoping for just one day off last week for mother’s day, but alas it was not to be. I shouldn’t complain, but Sunday is the hardest, worst day of the week.

  2. It’s crap like this, Lauren. Does your Bishop understand this?

  3. stressedsister says:

    I have been in primary for 6 years. I hate it. I gave birth 3 times during that period and had to bring a nursing baby with me. There is another woman in the ward who has been stuck in primary as long as I have. Meanwhile the bishop’s wife refuses to sub for primary including her own kids classes.

    I have seriously been contemplating some forth of self injury that will.get me released. I have tried to quit three times already. They let me go a few months but then the new bishop forced me back in.

  4. I appreciate these suggestions, Steve. I went to the temple tonight and did some initiatories for some women whose names I had researched. It was peaceful, tender, and profound spending an hour thinking about these women, while surrounded by women. As I drove home, thinking of the Sabbath tomorrow, I thought, how could I replicate the feelings I had in the temple tonight?
    It wouldn’t be easy. Much of the stress I feel on Sunday is related to callings and an inflated sense of what is attached to those callings. We all want to be “Mary” at church as opposed to “Martha”, but crap needs to get done, right? So we hold planning meetings during Sunday School, plan activities, girls camps and youth conferences, and make treats and handouts. But to simplify our callings, or ask that a calling be changed, takes courage.
    So, I would suggest that if women are to worship more meaningfully on the Sabbath, we must be willing to give some things up. It echoes what Givens’ said in The Crucible of Doubt: “Worship, then is about what we are prepared to relinquish—what we give up at personal cost.”

  5. Not a bad quote indeed.

  6. Yes, it’s an interesting analysis of the word “worship” in the Bible and its origins in sacrifice and offerings (Abraham: “I and the lad will go yonder to worship”, and the wise men who “worshipped” Christ with gifts and offerings).

  7. Exactly. Though I wonder exactly who’s supposed to be sacrificing here.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    I suppose I could put the toilet set down.

  9. Aussie Mormon says:

    SEAT. Put the toilet seat down. I honestly don’t have a set of toilets that I play with.

  10. Linda Gale says:

    Dear Stressed Sister,
    You are aware that you do not have to accept each call that comes to you, aren’t you? You also have to consider your health, physical and emotional. That is only rational. God didn’t intend for us to be unthinking robots. We were given agency for a purpose. You mustn’t feel guilty if primary has a gap, let others share the blessing which come from serving those precious little ones.
    I once refused a calling to teach in primary because as I was kneeling to pray over the call, the spirit strongly informed me that my calling was somewhere else. The bishop was a bit teed-off that I hadn’t accepted. The next month I was called to teach in RS, which felt so right from the moment I received it. I was goaded by the bishop for a few weeks, but he got over it. I knew I was in the right calling, and would have withered in the primary calling.
    I didn’t learn my lesson and accepted a calling many years later to be the YW president. I knew it felt wrong, but I wanted to be “respectful” to the bishop. The stress level affected my health majorly.
    Your spirit tells you if something is a good fit or not. Rely upon the Holy Ghost.

  11. I feel like this is part and parcel with the problem of emotional labor being almost exclusively a woman’s domain. (I learned about the concept of emotional labor via a link in The Intelligencer – thanks for helping me put a name to it.)

    It took me years to break my husband of the expectation that we’d sit down to Sunday dinner within 5 minutes of walking in the door after church. Because that’s what his mother always did, even if it meant getting up at 5 a.m. to start cooking.

    I actually don’t mind making an elaborate Sunday dinner (at a reasonable hour) – I like cooking and I’m good at it. But I reserve the right to be grumpy at the fact that my husband is *always* the last one out of bed on Sunday mornings – any guesses who’s first?

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    We have microwave popcorn for Sunday dinner. It was a tradition my wife grew up with, and we’ve made it our own. I confess that she actually does the microwaving, but I don’t feel too bad about that.

  13. Dear stressed sister, bishops can and do make mistakes in extending callings. I think a kind bishop would accept your extending back to him a stupor of thought.

  14. I have to admit that when I saw the hashtag title of this article, I expected something completely different related to Heavenly Mother. I was pleasantly surprised.

  15. Joe, sometimes I zag when you think I’m going to zig. Got to keep you guessing!

  16. anitawells says:

    (Joe, me too!) I appreciate your thoughts here. The idea of having others work for us is something I struggle with particularly if we happen to be traveling over a Sunday, necessitating airport employees and restaurant workers. I’m made a renewed effort to avoid Sunday travel with this emphasis, but it’s sometimes unavoidable. As a mom who often has to put on big Sunday dinners, I agree that the Jewish concept of Sabbath keeping without kindling fire (=cooking) is one we could certainly better emulate! In my study on the Sabbath, I’ve also been intrigued by how the Jews eschew creative effort on the Sabbath because God rested from creation on the 7th day. As Latter-day Saints, though, we’re encouraged to journal and so on in the creative realm.

  17. *wistful sigh* If only …

    So, yeah, what -was- Heavenly Mother doing on the 7th day, anyway?

  18. Jennifer says:

    I don’t understand why men should necessarily be in charge of your first two practical ideas. Seems like meals and primary callings aren’t gender specific. Not all women who serve in Primary have little children and need the break. Not all women prepare the meals and therefore need a break on Sunday. But I do agree that we would all be better served if the possibility of women needing a break on Sunday from those activities were considered by more people.

  19. Individual circumstances matter, and it might be better for each household to come up with its own ideas rather than to prescribe anything systemic. For example, I don’t have enough to do at Church — if I were relieved of my teaching calling in the guise of giving me the day off so that I could have a more relaxed Sabbath, I would be cheated of the opportunity to serve, and would be nothing more than the anonymous body in the pews that I often feel like anyway. I would welcome the opportunity to prepare and serve Sunday dinners regularly, if I only knew anyone local who would be a good fit for such a regular invitation. (And to be frank, roast beef, mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding — potatoes and pudding both?? — is about the least labor intensive Sunday dinner imaginable if you do a little Saturday prep; even the pudding is better if the batter is mixed hours ahead of time and allowed to rest.) And since I do Church-related study the other six days of the week, mandating Sunday as a day for more solitary study would hardly recharge my batteries.

    I can understand a tired mother looking at Primary as an unwanted extension of childcare, and there are probably a hundred other mismatches, too, that should be looked at. But individual circumstances vary, and what many might see as burdening the Sabbath for them might be exactly what somebody else desperately needs.

  20. Steve

    “I wonder exactly is supposed to be worshipping here” – Yep and maybe even more importantly based on your OP – “I wonder exactly WHO is being worshipped here”. I feel the same amount of guilt about my sundays growing up and all the work my Mom did. It often wasn’t a day of rest for her much of the time but she spent a lot of time sacrificing for the 4 boys….

  21. Ardis,

    Totally agree. Callings, Sunday or no, can be such powerful ways of integrating people into the body of Christ in a systematic way. Nothing is better than a great calling fit!

    I do think mothers of young children particularly get a raw deal on a regular basis though. It is hard for me to remember any ward I have been in where the primary wasn’t primarily run by the very people who spent a majority of their waking hours dealing with children. I have seen wards try and address this but often without regular success and often because ultimately it is the mothers of young children that we as a community know we can get to pick up the slack.

    I can count 5 primary presidents I know personally that had either nervous, spiritual or emotional breakdowns directly related to the calling – all mothers of multiple young children during the week. That is of about 20 I have probably had in wards when I had kids so I was paying some attention. And all these women were highly capable, educated, hard working and without previous mental or emotional problems.

  22. Ardis, apologies, you’re right of course. Individual circumstances vary widely.

  23. I grew up in a home where my parents traded cooking each Sunday. Neither of them
    Ever had time intensive callings. I never understood this phenomenon of Sunday’s being the most exhausting day of the week for women until a watched my sister struggle with three small kids, a 12 year long stint in primary, and a husband who worked so many hours that she was essentially raising the children by herself. When her husband is home on Sundays he expects a clean house, a big dinner, and peace and quiet so he can rest. It’s sad.
    I’ve always thought that it is extremely insensitive to staff the primary with SAHM’s with young children at home.
    To Ardis’ point, everyone is different and I wish more bishops would listen to the members and respect their needs. I’ve had two bishops who asked me when I first entered the ward what my favorite and least favorite calling would be. Both of those bishops then extended to me the exact call I said would be my least favorite. This can’t be a coincidence.

  24. Love this!

  25. Primary Pres says:

    It is impossible to staff a primary with non stay at home parents. After all the men get taken for priesthood callings, the only people left to teach our big primaries are the mothers that produce so many kids, and they are mostly SAHMs. There are simply not enough elderly people in a ward with sufficient stamina to keep 100 kids under control for 2 hours. Here’s to a 2 hour block. That would definitely decrease the stress on mothers for the day of rest.

  26. Our ward has plenty of older women. Enough that they could essentially run the primary themselves, if they were asked to. And yet they very rarely get called to the primary. In fact, the primary is staffed 90% by women with young children. The many, many women who no longer have young children are typically called to positions in the Relief Society, typically as a “visiting teaching coordinator” or one of the several boards that plans the RS activities.

  27. Chinita says:

    I’d settle for someone with “keys” unlocking the mothers room before the meeting started, and a changing table in the men’s room.

  28. I’m impressed that after a whole day of discussion and all these comments, nobody has pointed out, even facetiously, that the commandment as we read it now in Exodus 20 commands the Sabbath as a day of rest for thee and thy children and thy servants and thy animals and thy visitors, but says nothing at all about its being a day of rest for thy wife. It would be out of character to consider the language of Exodus as gender inclusive, and in fact the slightly later verse commanding thee not to covet thy neighbor’s wife, without saying anything about not coveting thy neighbor’s husband, would seem to be support for the expected reading that the Sabbath commandment is addressed to men only.

    What’s up with omitting “thy wife” from those who are to rest on the Sabbath?

  29. My aging mother received and did a good attempt at filling a primary calling. She had to ask to be released because she literally couldn’t keep up with the kids and would go home each Sunday so tired it would take her two days to recover.

    After reading this post and comments, I am very grateful for my husband who feels it is important to have Sunday breakfast together with the kids so he makes it himself.

  30. It disturbs me that stressedsister felt “forced” back into Primary. I hope she takes Linda Gale’s suggestion to rely on what the Spirit counsels her personally. I found it remarkably liberating to ask the Lord directly what He felt I should do about a calling, rather than relying on the Bishop to tell me what the Lord wanted me to do.

  31. Anon for this says:

    The trend in my stake is to call men in their mid-30s, who have demanding work/travel schedules and lots of young children, to serve as bishops or counselors. The additional burden this places on their wives makes me wonder how much the church really cares about maternal health and well-being.

  32. Ardis,
    That is utterly depressing, but I guess that means I’m off the hook for the other 8 commandments as well!

  33. Primary Pres,
    I know that it is impossible to not use SAHM to staff the primary. This is why our whole set up has issues. The whole structure of the church is based around the idea that men lead and women take care of children. I assume that works for a lot of people, but it can be utterly soul crushing if it doesn’t work for you. I count myself in the boat of women who dread Sunday more than any other day of the week. Although I saw marked improvement when I asked to be released from my primary calling after my son was born. The primary presidency seemed shocked that I didn’t want to bring my nursing baby to a primary class where I solo taught 12-13 4 year olds.

  34. Wonder Why says:

    Just thought I’d add my experience with a calling. The bishop and one of his counselors dropped by the house one Sunday evening and asked me to be primary president. I was kind of shell-shocked but said yes because that is what I thought was the appropriate and only answer. The next day I was in turmoil. I felt scared and uncertain. After praying and asking the Lord for guidance, I told him I needed to feel some peace. If the calling was inspired and right for me, could he at least give me enough comfort to realize that I was just scared by the responsibility associated with the calling, If however, the calling was not right for me at that time, then I begged for that understanding. No comfort came and the turmoil continued. After an agonizing day, I called the bishop and told him that I was willing to do whatever he asked, but he needed to know how I was feeling. He listened to my concerns with some compassion but not with complete understanding. He didn’t want to act too hastily so he suggested that we both continue to pray and ponder about it. The night passed and very early the next morning the phone rang and the bishop was on the line. His demeanor was completely different than the previous night. He said that he knew without a doubt that the calling of primary president was NOT right for me at that time and he was rescinding the call. As soon as he said those words a weight was lifted from my soul and I felt that peace that I had been seeking. The next few months of our lives included serious pregnancy complicationsand a 27-week preemie. It was obvious why serving as primary president wasn’t for me at that time. It is a sweet experience when leaders are willing to put their initial ideas on hold and listen to the thoughts and feelings of their flock and the seek additional inspiration from the Lord.

  35. Wow! Thanks for sharing your story.

  36. It is a sweet experience when leaders are willing to put their initial ideas on hold and listen to the thoughts and feelings of their flock and then seek additional inspiration from the Lord.

    A very valuable and true lesson. Thank you.

  37. Sister Chris says:

    I love the sentiments of this post, Steve. It is beautifully expressed. I love how these ideas connect to the Jewish tradition of considering the Sabbath a “She” and the position that women have in Judaism of offering the prayer that ushers in the holy day (one major takeaway from Jana Reiss’ “Flunking Sainthood” and the chapter on the Sabbath observance experiment). It really is #HerDay.

    Alas, reality.

    Like many others have expressed before me, I dread Sundays for too many reasons to enumerate. I get the Brethren’s focus on keeping the Sabbath holy, but honestly it feels like an exercise in futility. One more thing to feel guilty about. One more failure. I long to have a meaningful Sunday. These days, I feel trapped by them. I’m sure I can find a thousand reasons why it is my fault and my attitude–just give me a few minutes. Catholics have nothing on Mormons in the self-flagellation department ;)

    Having moved 4 times in 8 years, I have now served in the Primary since 2007, including a stint as Primary president, with only a 7 month break. At one point I had two callings: nursery on Sunday and seminary teacher M-F. That worked out fine because I love teaching seminary.

    In our current ward, couples are often called to serve in primary which includes more priesthood holders but usually means mandatory attendance by women to be in compliance with safety guidelines during class time. I don’t think there is a magic formula to make staffing work in a way that takes into account SAHMs, elderly, priesthood holders, single parents, people with health issues etc–at least in my ward. In some wards (as in my current ward) there isn’t enough stability to give free passes to many people. I am the full-time caregiver of a mostly housebound twentysomething child with neuro-immune disease. I rarely see other adults. I don’t get a pass. Most of those who serve in Primary with me have small children and two are middle-aged women, single parents both. Most of the people in that room deserve a break.

    Has it been discussed how having separate YSA wards impacts how “family” wards are staffed? There is a lot of talent in our stake’s YSA ward that doesn’t see the inside of a Primary room between the ages of 12 and 30.

    Would it be out of line to say, once again, that perhaps it is time to reconsider the necessity of the three hour block? Alternating weeks between Sharing/Singing Time and class time would drastically reduce the numbers of “staff” required to be in Primary. YM/YW/RS/Priesthood could alternate weeks with Sunday School. Adults would be able to circulate more freely. All teachers and all presidencies would have more time to prepare which would hopefully improve the quality of teaching overall. It would provide a potential solution to areas where new construction seems to be the only solution to space shortages. it would be one less hour leadership would have to attend meetings allowing for more family time and yes, more equitable divisions of Sunday labors within families.

    I know how the ideal “feels”–the balance between duty and worship, the commitment and focus of a family united to make the Sabbath work for all family members. I experienced it during some of my expat years. I long for those feelings to return. #ADayForAll

  38. your food allergy is fake says:

    “Would it be out of line to say, once again, that perhaps it is time to reconsider the necessity of the three hour block?”

    The time to reconsider the necessity of the 3-hour block was 2 minutes after it was instituted. Weekly ward council has also become a thing in our stake/area. We’re moving in the wrong direction.

  39. Michael says:

    The three-hour block was huge at the time it was announced. I think we tend to forget after-school Primary, going to Sunday School in the morning and coming back for Sacrament meeting in the evening, and Thursday evening Priesthood meeting. The block allowed more efficient use of building assets and reduced a lot of travel.

    We are definitely going in the wrong direction again. Tuesday night Mutual, Wednesday night Cub Scouts. Our stake has one Saturday a month designated as “Family Saturday”, and it’s the first thing to get scheduled over with moves and service projects. Add Scout bike rides, Girls Camp preparation meetings, and most of that day is now eaten up. Sunday is my most difficult day of the week by far – I use a pedometer at Church and during sprint-distance triathlons, and Church takes way more physical activity for me than a 5K run. Sunday is rarely less than eight hours at the Church. Add home teaching and there are days when I don’t see my child at all.

    We, as a church, seem to be deathly afraid that somebody, somewhere, has some spare time, and This Will Not Do.

  40. We, as a church, seem to be deathly afraid that somebody, somewhere, has some spare time, and This Will Not Do.

    Such a true statement — this really nails it.

  41. Mary AA says:

    I’m a mother of small children and I also work full time outside the home. I love my Primary calling. I rarely get to see little kids and Primary is such a fulfilling calling to me in my life right now. I try to often say in front of church leadership, the Primary presidency and Bishopric how grateful I am for the primary calling. I’m not sure if every working-outside-the-home-mom feels this way, but I get enough adult time during the week and am very happy to serve in Primary. Because I am not around kids as much as I’d like, I love to be with my children and the ward’s children on Sundays. It boosts my testimony to have to teach each Sunday and to think if I truly believe or at least support the themes of the lessons.

    For Sunday dinners — I’ll go all out if it is food I want to eat, again, I don’t have enough time in the week to prepare truly lovely meals, so Sunday is often my only chance. On the other days, pancakes or hot cocoa and toast.

    If you really want a deluxe Sunday, have an inactive spouse who feels slightly guilty for not going. He helps get the kids ready in the morning and there is always lunch on the table when I get home. My Sundays have never been better!!!

  42. pconnornc says:

    Hail, Hail for the Primary! Seriously, largest organization in almost all wards, 2 hours of time, multiple classes, activity days, cubs, etc – led by women, and they are amazing. It is easy to forget how much leadership and service the Primary leaders give. In our ward we have almost 50 adults (almost 20 are men).

  43. Here, here. I’ve always thought only a man would call Sunday “a day of rest.”

  44. Or hear, hear. :)

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