Sometimes when the topic “keeping the Sabbath day holy” comes up in church, I squirm in my chair a little. There has been a lot of emphasis placed on the Sabbath day lately, and I know it’s not meant to be guilt inducing, but sometimes I can’t help but think, Here we go. Another way I’m not measuring up to expectations. After all, I don’t always make it to church on time. I don’t always feel like my focus is in the right place ALL DAY LONG. I don’t always feel the Spirit super strongly at church. And I may or may not doze off for a few minutes in sacrament meeting about every other Sunday.
It can be easy to feel like we’re falling short on keeping the Sabbath day holy when not all of our Sundays look like the picture-perfect, peaceful, restful, Spirit-filled day we have in our heads as the standard. I know I can get it in my head sometimes that truly keeping the Sabbath day holy requires colossal effort—everything has to be clean, I always have to be well-rested, I need to have “holy thoughts” the full 24 hours, I should read my scriptures for at least an hour, I should find 100 names for the temple each week, and so on.
But I don’t have to do that. And neither do you.
Heaping high (and honestly, often arbitrary) expectations on ourselves for keeping the Sabbath day holy—or keeping any other commandment—beyond what God and our leaders have counseled us to do weighs us down and robs us of the joy of obedience. The Lord’s pattern does not center on massive efforts powered only by our own sheer grit and determination. Rather, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise” (Alma 37:6). Just like it does to keeping every commandment, this principle applies to keeping the Sabbath day holy as well.
Drops of Holiness
Instead of these huge efforts, I have found it helpful to think of my Sabbath day worship as filling a lamp—one that needs oil to burn, like in the parable of the ten virgins. Drops of holiness, if you will, that accumulate week after week and year after year. Thinking about what I’m grateful for in the shower while getting ready? Drop. Taking three minutes to read over the sacrament prayers before church? Drop. Saying a prayer of gratitude for the Savior as I take the sacrament? Drop. Drops of holiness are small, simple things that fuel the flame of my faith in Jesus Christ and my desire to turn my heart toward Him on the Sabbath day, and every effort counts.
On a recent Sunday, I walked into church after missing sacrament meeting the Sunday before. As I came through the doors, I felt a little rush of anticipation, and it hit me—I’ve missed this. I had missed the opportunity to add oil to my lamp, to fill up my spiritual tank. Looking back over the previous week, I could tell that my spiritual reserves had been low. I hadn’t handled stress as well and had been quicker to get frustrated and take offense. Coming back to church was like getting a drink and realizing how thirsty I had been, and I could feel the warm welcome of the Spirit envelop me.
As I reflected, feeling a little guilty for missing the previous week, I thought about how the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy gives God an opportunity to bless us. He doesn’t give us commandments to set us up for failure, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to punish us if we fall short of perfection. Instead, the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy gives us an opportunity every week—drop by drop—for our entire lives to practice turning toward Him and becoming like Him. Each effort, regardless of perceived past failures, is rejoiced in by a loving Heavenly Father. With that realization, taking the sacrament was especially sweet that week.
The Sabbath is a day to listen to God’s voice, not the voices in our heads that tell us we’re not good enough and we’re not measuring up. We offer up our little part, our small drops of oil, each week, knowing that God accepts even the smallest effort to turn toward Him. The sacrament cup is a beautiful reminder of that. Jesus drank the entire bitter cup, paying the price for our sins, pains, and sorrows so we can return to God’s presence. He didn’t do it to shame us into obedience (“Look how much I did for you! Quit whining and shape up!”). Instead, all He desires is for us to drink our little cup—to do our small, day-to-day and week-to-week efforts to keep the commandments and keep the Sabbath day holy—with gratitude, knowing that in the end, it is His efforts that make everything possible.