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Parenting Series: Is Sabbathkeeping Giving or Stealing?

A friend of mine blogged awhile back about playing baseball in his youth. He talks about not being able to join a Little League team because they played on Saturdays. Like me, my friend grew up Adventist, and his reflection on this experience continued: “So no team ball for me. It wouldn’t be the last, or the worst, thing my religion robbed me of.”
Reading these words yesterday really stopped me cold. I am raising two children in the Adventist church — we are perhaps more liberal than a lot of Adventist families, but one of the things we’re pretty conservative about is Sabbathkeeping. I have kept my kids out of Friday night and Saturday activities — friends’ birthday parties, that kind of thing. Last winter their school had a fundraiser, competing with another school to see who could sell the most tickets to a local junior hockey game. At the game there were going to be lots of fun activities for the schoolchildren, including the principal of the losing school getting a pie thrown in his face. It was just the sort of fun community event we would have supported 100% had it not been held on a Friday evening.
I realize there’s a lot of room for debate among Sabbathkeeepers about what constitutes proper Sabbath observance, and some Adventists might be quite happy with attending a hockey game on Friday night. That’s not really the point I want to debate here — let’s just take it as read that this hockey game, while a fun and positive event, is also the sort of secular and commercial event that would be out of tune with how our particular family observes the Sabbath. The question that really bothers me is: By raising my children in this particular religious paradigm, am I robbing them of something? Will they someday resent us for the hockey games and other events that were “stolen” from them because of our religious choices, imposed upon them?
I’ve been involved in some lively online discussions on whether parents have a right to “indoctrinate” their children in their religion, and the general consensus is that everyone, even atheists, passes on their worldview to their kids whether they want to or not. But if you observe religious practices, particularly ones that are rigid in some ways (and Sabbathkeeping can certainly fall into this category), then you’re leaving yourself particularly open for the charge that you’ve forced your children to miss experiences they would have liked, and to live through experiences they didn’t like (my son has an opinion on 45-minute sermons!), in the name of your religious beliefs.
The thing is, there’s no way to know how they will view this without knowing what their own spiritual journeys will be like as adults, and that’s the one thing I cannot know. I look back on my own upbringing in the church and I am so grateful for it. I believe growing up with solid and unquestionable spiritual practices lays a foundation for those practices in adult life. I can think of two things — taking a day of Sabbath rest every week is one, and tithing 10% of your income is another — about which I often hear people say, “Oh, that’s a wonderful idea, I’d love to do that, but I just couldn’t fit it into my lifestyle.”
For me, these things have been a part of my life since I before I was aware of them, and so I don’t have to make any effort to fit them into my life: my life has been shaped around them. (I will point out that my husband did not grow up with these practices and is arguably more observant about both Sabbathkeeping and tithe-paying than I am, so it is obviously possible to adopt such practices as an adult, but I do think it’s more difficult). Despite the odd few interesting classes or concerts I’ve missed because of Friday night or Saturday scheduling, I am deeply grateful for a non-negotiable day each week which is completely dedicated to rest, worship and renewal. Sabbath rest is simply a part of how I live, and so I view the fact that I was raised with it as a gift, rather than something that was stolen from me.
But I can see how I could so easily have turned out with the opposite view. I know far too many people who have been scarred by a fundamentalist or conservative religious upbringing, people who were made to carry a huge burden of guilt for trivial “sins”; people who have struggled to emerge from a worldview that simply didn’t fit them; people who are angry about having been baptized as infants into a faith they have never accepted as their own. And people who are angry about having been raised with no faith at all, and left to figure it out all on their own.
It’s a big question mark for parents — what isn’t??! — and all we can do, I think, is to teach kids the things we think are important, try to do it with love and not harshness, and give them the critical thinking skills and the permission to seek and find their own truth as adults.
I don’t know what my children will come to believe. I would be happy if they both grew up to be active but fairly liberal Seventh-day Adventists, exactly like me and their father, but honestly I know the chances of them adopting our exact same views are slim. I want them to be interested in spiritual things and pursue a relationship with God in a way that’s meaningful to them. I am prepared for the possibility that they will be angry with their parents for some of the religious observances we imposed upon them. I hope they will be grateful for some, too. I even hope they will be mature enough to be able to say, “I haven’t chosen to follow exactly the same path as my parents, but I am grateful for the foundation they laid down for me; they taught me what they thought was right.”
The missed hockey game was over a year ago. This year their school did the same fundraiser, but the game was on Saturday night, and we all attended. Our kids seem to have already accepted “things we don’t do on Sabbath” as part of who we are as a family. I hope they won’t feel I’ve robbed them; I hope I haven’t. But it basically boils down to the perennial parental hope that we’re not messing up our kids too badly, and as we all know, only time will tell.
Trudy Morgan-Cole is a writer, teacher and mom from Newfoundland who blogs at Hypergraffiti, where this essay was originally published.

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