Jeans, flip flops, sometimes even shorts and a T-shirt. That’s the kind of dress you occasionally see people wearing at church in my hometown of Orlando, Florida, the theme park capital of the world. They usually stay for an hour and sneak out before Sunday School, so you never hear where they’re from. But you always assumed by their dress that they were tourists, just visiting. Then there were those who stayed for Sunday School, introduced themselves in Relief Society (and they were usually in more traditional church attire), and you learned that they were visiting from everywhere—Europe, Utah, the Caribbean islands, all over the world. Regardless of their dress, how long they stayed, or where they were from, we welcomed them and appreciated their efforts to worship the Lord on His day.
During a recent Sunday School lesson on keeping the Sabbath day holy, I thought of these vacationers when we read these scripture verses:
The word that stood out to me while reading was sacrifice. I think most of us would agree that a sacrifice is something that’s hard, something that we give up that we don’t necessarily want to. But that’s not what the word has always meant to people. In ancient days, sacrifice meant “to make something or someone holy.”
That means the Sabbath is a day for refinement; it’s about making me holy. It’s about making you holy. It’s our opportunity each week to learn of and connect with God to become more like Him. That comes as we choose to sacrifice and make a personal offering to Him. The only thing we can truly give that isn’t already His is our will and our heart. But I don’t think our will becomes submissive to God’s with the wave of a magic wand or by simply sitting in a church pew. I think we give our will to Him one drop at a time with each faith-promoting act we take. And that happens over time. So our offerings on the Sabbath, especially when we’re on vacation, might look different depending on where we are in our journey to become more like God.
Sometimes we’ll pack our Sunday best, fully prepared to sacrifice three hours of vacation to spend it at church. Sometimes we won’t bring church clothes at all but on Sunday morning will feel prompted to go anyway, wearing what we have and offering what we feel we can. Sometimes we’ll miss Sunday services because we’re traveling. Sometimes we’ll say it’s a trip of a lifetime and missing one week of church isn’t a big deal, especially when we’re spending time with family. Maybe in the big scheme of things, and thanks to the gift of repentance, it’s not a big deal. But as taught by President Russell M. Nelson, Sabbath day observance, to him, all comes down to the question “What sign do I want to give to God?” I think another way of putting that is “What can I offer God now?” and “What am I willing to sacrifice on the Sabbath to become more?”
The most poignant lessons on those points came to my family a little over a year ago when our car broke down on a Saturday night while we were on vacation. Our plans to prepare for the Sabbath by stopping at a grocery store to get food for Sunday dinner went out the window when our car needed to be towed and we were left stranded at the hotel.
The next day, which happened to be Easter Sunday, we wanted to show our appreciation to Heavenly Father for helping us to get back to our hotel safely, so we chose to go to church. We didn’t have a car, so we looked up the nearest chapel and found it was close enough to walk. The kids weren’t happy. They complained at first. But after walking a few blocks and laughing at our situation, it was all good. At church we rejoiced in the miracle of Easter, made memories on the walk back to the hotel, and my kids learned by example that to Mom and Dad, going to church on Sunday was important, no matter where you are or what obstacles are in your way.
After church, everyone was hungry. We had some Easter candy, some cookies, and some drinks in the hotel room but no food of real sustenance. It would have been easy for us to walk to a nearby restaurant to eat out (which, let’s be honest, we have before). But that’s not the sign we wanted to give God on that particular Sunday. We spent the rest of that day in a hotel room playing games, laughing with one another, and having a good time (even though our stomachs were growling). Our sacrifice of a meal was small, but it left an impact on our children. They discovered that they can sacrifice on the Sabbath, give up something that they didn’t necessarily want to, and, in the end, find joy in it. That’s a lesson I’m continually learning myself. It’s not about whether we eat at a restaurant on Sunday or not, whether we have to work on the Sabbath or not, or whether we show up to Church in flip flops (because I’ve done all of those things). It’s about what we can and choose to offer to the Lord on His day.
That sacrifice on the Sabbath, from me, would have looked very different 15 years ago. I was at a different place on my faith journey, and my offerings on the Sabbath weren’t the same. They weren’t bad, they were just different—just like the offerings I had witnessed from tourists over the years in my ward in Orlando. But through small, simple, consistent, faith-promoting acts over the years and through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, my heart, my will, and my understanding of the power in keeping the Sabbath day holy has changed. For me, it has become a matter of sacrificing a little so that He can bless me with a lot. It’s that kind of mindset, a “Sabbath state of mind,” that can help us keep His day holy, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. As we “offer sacrifice unto the Lord,” He will make us “someone holy,” and that’s a work God thankfully never takes a vacation from.