6:30am, Nelson Household, sometime early in the 21st century.
Beep, beep, beep!
Gabe’s eyes flew open as he threw off his blanket and jumped off the top of his bunk bed in a manner so practiced it could have been mechanical. The alarm clock was on the dresser a few steps from his bed. It wasn’t likely that either of his brothers, Mal and Joe, who he shared the room with would wake up in a reasonable amount of time to turn it off. But now Gabe was too awake to go to all the work of falling asleep again, so he sighed and went to brush his teeth before heading downstairs. If breakfast wasn’t ready yet, it would be soon. Taking a left at the bottom of the stairs, he entered the living room, where Mom and Dad both sat reading their Bibles. They were sipping coffee and conversing quietly. It was dark outside, so several lamps were lit.
“Mornin’,” Gabe said, shuffling through the living room and rubbing the last remnants of sleep from his eyes.
The parents greeted him as he left the room to go to the kitchen. At this time, Gabe wasn’t quite as much of a coffee fiend as he would be later in life, and the coffee was at “trap level” – which is when the level in the coffee pot gets to less than or equal to one cup, forcing the last person who gets coffee to make the next pot – so he avoided it and sat down to get some cereal. Two of Gabe’s older siblings, Sam and Em, were already finishing up their own breakfast, and their oldest brother Zac wouldn’t be up for another half hour or so. After finishing a bowl of regular cereal plus a bowl of “sweet” cereal, Gabe went back to the living room to read a couple of Bible chapters before the day began in earnest.
Around 7:30 or 8, Gabe began to get ready for church. As he buttoned up his dress shirt, he considered which of the waves leaving for church he would join. While the church service started at 10am, some of the family would go with Dad to arrive around 9am since they were involved in a Sunday morning ministry. Sam, for example, was on the worship team rotation, and Dad was an elder. The rest of the family would go with Mom in the 15-passenger van, White Cloud, to arrive around 9:30am. Mom was well-known as a greeter, and when she wasn’t doing that, she was helping out with the Coffee Crew. Gabe was scheduled for the CD Ministry (previously known as the Tapes Ministry) this week. They duplicated the recorded sermons from the master recording and distributed them to those who weren’t able to be in the sermon, such as Sunday School Teachers. Since this happened after the service, Gabe caught the later bus to church.
Getting ready for church could be an exercise in patience and resource management for all parties involved. The kid’s bathroom had two sinks and could accommodate anywhere from two to four people doing their hair. As the oldest girl, Em was generally the one in charge of getting the girls out the door. Hosanna, Talitha, Livia, and Aleiyah would have to check their outfits with her or Mom before getting the OK to go. The boys were mostly on their own, and didn’t have to worry about doing their hair since it was usually buzz cut.
Once at church, the Nelson children would scatter around the hexagonal church. To pass the time, Gabe often went through the halls to see who he would run into and engage them in conversation. Cleverly, Dad discouraged running in the church by telling the children that Johannes, the helper to the Tooth Beetle, was too small to see. But he would be with the kids when they were at church, and if they ran, they might accidentally smash him. If Johannes died, how would any of the kids get money for their lost teeth? Thus, as a young lad, Gabe would speed-walk whenever he had to get anywhere fast in the church and hope that Johannes was on his game.
After the musical worship part of the service, the children were dismissed to Sunday School while the older folks stayed in the sanctuary for a sermon. This was an invaluable time for the kids to catch up with their friends before seeing them again at Youth Group on Wednesday, and a great time for the parents to be separated from their kids. Around 11:45 or noon, the parents of most kids would come to pick up their children. As elders, though, Mom and Dad were generally praying with people after service. Because of this, the Nelson children would often have to be taken to the lobby by the teacher or get picked up by one of the older siblings, like Zac or Em.
After the service itself was completed, everyone gathered in the lobby for coffee and cookies, and the Nelson family would stay until around 12:30. Then they would gather and return home. Occasionally, a child would be left behind, but that was a rarity because of the parental habit of counting the children when they were in the van. Other times, the kids would bring some friends home from church.
Once home, Gabe changed into “comfy clothes” and got ready for an afternoon of relaxation. Lunch was usually leftovers. Gabe’s favorite, especially in the winter, was chicken pot pie or chili. From there, he might bundle up and go outside to make snowmen, sled, and have snowball fights. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad would take naps. When the kids came inside, they would warm up with hot cocoa and sip it while reading a book from the Midland Library. Sci-fi was Zac’s favorite, and the Inheritance Cycle was consistently popular among the family. Patches of sunlight by windows and seats by side tables were especially coveted, but for different reasons. In the case of the former, the warmth from the sun was amazing. As for the latter, it allowed one to easily stash coffee and popcorn, which Dad made for dinner. Throughout the afternoon, which was a designated Quiet Time™ as Mom napped, games of Risk, Scrabble, or euchre might be played.
In the evening, the family would often retreat to the basement theater and watch a movie of some kind. First, a family movie that everyone could watch, complete with popcorn and root beer floats. Once that was done and the younger kids were put to bed, the older kids and parents could watch movies like The Lord of the Rings or The Bourne Trilogy. Finally, it was time to get ready for bed and prepare for the school week starting the next morning.
Looking back, I think that having a Sabbath as part of my regular weekly routine was incredibly beneficial to my childhood development. Once I got into college, it was a lot easier to use the extra time I had on Sunday for homework rather than relaxation, which ended up compounding the stress I experienced. That’s not to say having a full day of relaxation is practical for everyone at all points in their life, but more and more, I am learning how valuable it is to take a break from the relentless flow of life. My challenge to you is that the next time your Sunday (or whatever could be your Sabbath) rolls around, try taking a break from everything, and spend some time in a patch of sunlight reading a good book. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, it’ll do wonders for you.