Experiencing Sabbath with Teens

Experiencing Sabbath with Teens

We can easily fall into the trap of talking about Sabbath rather than experiencing it. Ironically, this can make keeping Sabbath feel like more work rather than a respite from our busy, overprogrammed lives.

Recently, when our Confirmation Class was slated to study the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” we decided that, rather than give a history lesson about Sabbath, we would try to create an experience of Sabbath that was experiential, participatory, and self-led.

Sabbath has many dimensions. When we take time to refrain from doing we are reminded that God loves us not for what we do, but for who we are. Sabbath is about taking time to re-encounter the God, whether that’s on the traditional Christian Sabbath of Sunday morning or simply through the time apart from our busy routines. Amidst this time of rest and renewal, we can encounter God in Scripture, another person, in nature, or any number of ways.

When we introduced this particular lesson and told the kids that we wanted them to relax and take time to chill, they were pretty shocked. They are so over-programmed—just like many of us adults—that they weren’t expecting to get permission just to be kids—really, just to be.

The whole experience turned out to be a great mashup of premodern and postmodern, ancient and digital. Here’s how the class flowed, along with the links and resources. The entire experience lasted 90 minutes.

Arrival Time (10 minutes)

The lights are dimmed. An altar (card table with a tablecloth) stands in the middle of the fellowship hall, surrounded by a circle of chairs. Around the edges of the room are different stations: a comfortable sitting area with icons, two tables with art supplies, a table with candles waiting to be lit. As usual, snacks are available. We played quiet music by the Icelandic group Sigur Ros. Click here for the playlist I used on Spotify. We projected onto the wall a calming image, which said “Remember Sabbath.”

Settling In (15 mins)

I read the Third Commandment and Martin Luther’s explanation and then introduced the idea of Sabbath and our format for the night. We watched Rob Bell’s NOOMA video called Rhythm, (DVD, Digital Download) which doesn’t talk about Sabbath per se, but about getting in tune, in rhythm, in the groove, with God’s song. At the end of the video, I elaborated a bit on that theme as it applies to keeping Sabbath in our lives.


Sabbath Time, Open Space (20 mins)

The next 20 minutes were an open, low key time for kids to relax. One group of kids hung out in the comfortable seating area and talked. (Some had their phones out. We recognized that this is a way many kids relax, so we let it go.) Most people lit a candle, so by the end of the time, that table was glowing with light. Many did some kind of art or writing—we offered Praying by Color and finger labyrinths. Others just chatted quietly and had a snack. I played the Sigur Ros playlist softly in the background.

Small Groups Discussion (25 mins)

After the Open Time we broke into small groups and looked at scripture readings about Jesus going off on retreat, and we posed two questions: Why do you think Jesus went away by himself so often? Where do you find sabbath/rest/renewal in the midst of your busy life? Click here for the handout we used.

Eucharist (20 mins)

Finally, we came back together and celebrated the Eucharist. We read prayers that people had written and put in baskets during the open time and then continued with the Words of Institution. We communed each other around the circle and concluded with a blessing from the wonderful book, To Bless the Space Between Us.

Altogether, it was a deeply meaningful experience for the youth and our adult leaders. It reminded us of how desperately us need Sabbath in the midst of our always-on always-connected lives.


Keith Anderson serves as pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania and the Associate for Digital Content for the Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary.

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