“In six days the Lord created the earth. On the seventh, he made nachos and watched the Ravens vs. 49ers.”
Shoot. That didn’t sound right. I might be going to hell.
But before I go, let me explain.
Super Bowl Sunday presents a bit of a challenge for Sabbath-worshipping, sports-loving Normons. We strive to follow the Lord’s commandment to “rest from our labors” on the Sabbath day — meaning that instead of filling our Sundays with typical, other-days-of-the-week activities, we try to fill them with things that bring us closer to God: we attend church, we participate in uplifting activities, we spend time with family and friends, we make greater efforts to find and help those in need. As part of observing the Sabbath day, we also try to avoid unnecessary work, spending of money or worldly entertainment.
Basically, the Super Bowl is not the most ideal Sabbath day activity for a Mormon.
Ugh. But the 49ers! Steve Young used to play for them and he’s Mormon.
And what about Dennis Pitta? He plays tight end for the Ravens and he’s Mormon too!
For me personally, the Super Bowl is doubly hard to resist, as it’s basically the Christmas Day of Ad Land. If there’s one day a year people actually look forward to watching commercials, you better believe I’m gonna be watching with them.
So what’s a Mormon to do on days like yesterday? Since I’m the only person I feel comfortable speaking for, I’ll tell you what I did:
I woke up and went to a morning meeting regarding the missionary work being done in our congregation. I attended my worship services. I talked to my parents on the phone. I then went to a friend’s house to eat pizza, scream my guts out at the TV, and wish for the infinitieth time that my name was Beyonce Knowles-Carter.
Was I wrong? Was I right? Maybe I’m biased, but I’m gonna say both.
Often when I talk with friends who aren’t Mormon, there’s a common assumption that if we “break the rules” we will be “banished to hell.” OK, so those aren’t the exact words that are used, but there’s a perception that every “rule” in the church is black and white, and that if we break one we will immediately be struck by lightning. But some commandments, like Sabbath Day observance, are purposely left to our own interpretation and personal application.
Let’s take a minute to clarify the commandment through scripture:
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High. . .” (D&C 59:9-12)
In simpler terms, our actions on the Sabbath day should reflect our love for and devotion to God.
You can see how this “rule” is not exactly black and white — showing love and devotion for God can mean different things to different people. For example, I like listening to classical music on Sundays; you might prefer Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I like taking nature walks on Sundays; you might prefer to stay home, dressed in your Sunday best.
God understands that we each have or own unique relationship with Him. Besides asking us to attend church regularly and set the Sabbath day aside for spiritual purposes, He hasn’t dictated that each individual follow the same routine — and He certainly hasn’t given us an exhaustive list of what we can do and what we can’t. To be clear, I’m not saying that a gray area softens the commandment: I believe that keeping the Sabbath holy is an important part of our spiritual growth, and observing it has blessed my life in many ways. But it’s also a commandment that the Lord trusts us to interpret.
So let’s answer the question: Will I be struck by lightning for watching the Super Bowl yesterday?
I don’t really think so.
Did I grow closer to God for watching the Super Bowl yesterday?
No, I don’t really think so.
The bottom line is this: observing the Sabbath day is a God-given commandment that speaks to an important spiritual principle, not to granular specifics. It’s about finding ways to outwardly express an inner commitment to God. It’s more about what we choose to DO on Sundays than what we SHOULDN’T do, and it’s up to each of us to determine what that is. Observing the Sabbath isn’t new doctrine, but its public observance has definitely decreased over time — making us yet again seem weirder every day.
I won’t pretend it’s always easy. Especially when you live far from family and close to the beach. Yes, there are Sundays where I have to work or go on an emergency grocery store run. Yes, there are Sundays where I glut myself on nachos and watch an amazing game of football. But I find that when I spend my Sundays working to actively draw closer to the Lord, I receive greater strength, calm and happiness to carry me throughout the week.
I love the guidance to keep the Sabbath day Holy. I love the chance to step back, reflect on my life, and make sure I’m moving in the direction I want to be. I love the 49ers and I really hate that they lost.
If you want to read more about observing the Sabbath day, do so here.
What was your favorite Super Bowl commercial? Did you know this campaign was created by two Normons?