How the Practice of Gratitude Transformed my Family’s Weekly Sabbath

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A little over a month ago, I realized that I was not feeling refreshed or experiencing rest during my weekly sabbaths. I discovered this while taking stock of my sabbath time through the helpful questions found in Creating a Life-Giving Personal Sabbath Practice, a resource included in the Faith Practices Project from Faith Formation Ministries.

As I read things like, “How are my mind, body, and spirit feeling these days?” and “On most days, where am I on a scale of 1 (totally burned out) to 10 (at peace)?” I realized that I was feeling completely burned out and not getting the rest I need, particularly on my sabbath days. 

So I did what I usually do when I realize something needs to change in my life: I checked in with my family. As we ate dinner that night, I asked my husband and our children, ages 4 and 6, whether Sundays felt restful for them. As we talked, my husband and I realized that our kids didn’t always recognize when we were observing our weekly sabbaths and none of us were really experiencing rest on those days.

Over the next few weeks we began to evaluate and work through what changes we needed to make to improve our sabbath time. We came to realize that we needed “sign posts” to remind us to receive God’s gift of rest and renewal. This is how the practice of gratitude completely transformed our week.

After reading Karen DeBoer’s post How to Help Families Grow in Gratitude at Thanksgiving (and Beyond!), we decided to start keeping a thankful jar with our kids and to weave this practice into our weekly sabbath time. We started writing down what we were thankful for each evening as a part of our kids’ bedtime routine. Then we incorporated those thankful slips into our sabbath, beginning it each week with a big meal and the practice of gratitude. 

Every Saturday evening we light a candle, thank God for the coming day of rest, and share a celebratory meal. After dinner, we get our thankful jar and Everyday Family Faith, since the Saturday activities in that resource focus on gratitude. We read the Saturday Prayer from Everyday Family Faith aloud and, when prompted to name the high points of our past week, we read aloud each thankful slip we created throughout the week, taping them to a gratitude chain as we go.

This routine prompts us to enter our sabbath with the practice of gratitude—we walk into our day of rest with an immense thankfulness for the many ways God has blessed us throughout the past week. And as our gratitude chain wraps its way around our dining room, we also have a visible reminder of the many blessings in our lives.

But it doesn’t stop there. After we read all our gratitude slips, we continue through the prayer in Everyday Family Faith, following the prompt to recall the low parts of our week and thank God for “being with us in the hard things.” This allows us to enter our sabbath with celebration of the high points of our past week and gratitude that we weren't alone in the hard parts.

Already, only a month into these new practices, we’re finding a change in our sabbath time. Our kids are recognizing the distinctiveness of this day, and as a family we enter the rest of our week feeling more rested and renewed. I can’t say how it will impact our lives five, ten, or twenty years from now, but my hope is that it will form in my family much of Chris Schoon’s understanding of gratitude, taken from his introduction to this faith practice

Gratitude forms us as a people who look with confidence toward God as the One who loves us, who saves us in Jesus Christ, and who will ultimately deliver all of creation from our entanglement with sin and its consequences. More than simply saying thank you, practicing gratitude trains us to respond with all that we are to God’s generosity in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

For more on sabbath and gratitude, visit Faith Formation Ministries’ Faith Practices Project to find resources for individuals, groups, and families.

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