Shoes, Sabbath, Sacrament: The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary
From an interview with President Chris Woodward and family concerning address given at Surrey British Columbia Stake Conference regarding Sabbath and Sacrament worship
At first glance, the Woodward family seems like any other ordinary family: father, mother, a 14 year-old daughter and three sons aged 12, 10 and 7. President Woodward serves as second counselor in the Surrey Stake Presidency and part of that responsibility thrust his family into a bit of an extraordinary position during a recent Stake Conference. As the spotlight fell on them during a role-play that Saturday evening, the first impression might have been that they were chosen as a role model because they are extraordinary in some way. Sister Woodward, however, dispelled any such notion when she noted in front of the stake adult congregation that “Ethan has on two different shoes even now,” to which the blond 10 year-old slowed his waggling feet, took a look and nodded in agreement. With that revelation we knew that we all share some experiences, the ordinary ones. But President Woodward spoke of how we can share in extraordinary experiences as well.
As part of a discussion on how to improve the spirit of the Sabbath, the Woodwards demonstrated a family home evening on a platform erected at the front of the chapel. President Woodward asked his family to identify things that make Sundays stressful and to suggest how stress might be remedied. Their daughter noted that getting up late creates stress and puts you behind right away. Sister Woodward said, “It’s the shoes, trying to find the shoes takes time and puts stress on everyone.” A wave of acknowledgment washed over the congregation. That’s when she noted her son's mismatched shoes. That’s when he assured us it was normal, for him anyway.
“Simple things make all the difference,” Sister Woodward says. “My husband has early morning meetings to attend, so, in the process of getting ready shoes can make all the difference. We are all less stressed when the clothes, food and shoes are ready and waiting. Minor things make a major difference to our attitude and enjoyment of how the meetings and day feel.” It’s a step in the right direction for sure. The Woodward family is fortunate; they have shoes specially designated for Sundays. Many, but not every family have that luxury. For some, everyday shoes have to be transformed into Sunday shoes. President Woodward, in his Sunday address at conference the next day spoke to that very idea--the act of making ordinary things extraordinary, even holy.
“On the night of His Last Supper, Christ needed something to remind his apostles who they really were. Although they might still fish to feed their families, they were no longer simply fishermen, but disciples of Jesus Christ. He took bread, perhaps the most common or humblest of foods, and transformed it into a symbol of the body of the most powerful being ever to walk this earth. He did the same with wine as His blood and then asked his friends to repeat this ceremony regularly to unite them and remind them of who they were. It was the start of the sacrament as we now know it. With the sacrament, we take simple and common things and make them something powerful. In the end, that’s almost a synopsis of God’s plan for each of us. He knows that each of us, normal people, with all of our individual limitations, have the potential to become something extraordinary. But He also knows we need help to make that transformation. The sacrament is one way of helping us. And so is the Sabbath—the holy day on which the sacrament is celebrated. The Sabbath follows God’s basic pattern—take something ordinary and make it extraordinary,” President Woodward said.
“Physically, Sunday is like any other day. The sun comes up and the sun goes down. Statistically it’s no more sunny or rainy than any other day of the week. It’s a day like any other. And for most people around us Saturday and Sunday are basically interchangeable. But the Lord asks us to take a normal day and transform it into something different.
How to make that happen is a question many of us ask ourselves. Nowadays, we are not given lists of rules, but are instead given a higher law that asks for the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. That is a commandment that can’t obeyed by simply ticking off a list of do’s and don’ts. Instead it requires reflection on the basic pattern we’ve talked about already – taking something normal and creating something different and spiritually edifying.” President Woodward stated.
Sister Woodward shed some light on the family’s practical efforts to turn Sundays into Sabbaths, saying, “Even before we were asked to give the presentation in Conference, we talked about what we could do to make the Sabbath a more worshipful day. We were already trying to implement our ideas, but being on the stage made us feel more accountable.” Everyone has a part. Their daughter streams sacred music and cleans the house on Saturday night. “The Holy Ghost cannot dwell in unclean places, so I clean the house, then the family isn’t stressed out and the Holy Ghost can dwell with us,” she says. President Woodward agrees, “It’s just nicer when everything is clean.” The 10-year-old's goal is to set out his clothes and make sure everything is ready, including matching shoes. “I try to go to bed early Saturday night, too” he says. The youngest son says, “I wake up early on Sunday.” The oldest son, a deacon, takes his responsibility to pass the Sacrament more seriously. “We like to run around the yard, but Sunday we try not to so we don’t get our church clothes dirty,” he says.
The family doesn’t just sit on the couch in their Sunday clothes waiting for the day to pass. “We try to play board games together or something like that,” Sister Woodward says. “The boys are planning on building a model of the Salt Lake Temple out of Legos.” “Yeah, we’re still figuring that out,” one of the boys says. President Woodward gives his wife a rest and does most of the cooking on the weekends. “I stick to easy one-pot meals, so it’s not a lot of work,” he confesses. The family is in the process of finishing the required health checks and inoculations, so that they can visit local senior centre care facilities on Sunday afternoons. “The goal is to minister, play games and chat with the people. Then we get the joy of making their Sundays more pleasant,” Sister Woodward says. “In our day, the Sabbath may be one of the best examples of the law of the harvest, particularly in our families,” President Woodward says. “We reap what we sow. We show our children what we really value on Sundays. What we actually do will teach our children better than any Sunday School lesson. If we choose something other than Sabbath observance, let’s not be surprised if later in life our children don’t prioritize religious life.”
“We’re a work in progress,” Sister Woodward admits. “I think we can still think of things to get better at,” the oldest son says.
“Whatever we do, we need to remember Jesus’ counsel that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath,” President Woodward cautioned. “I think it means that we transform the day, so the day can transform us. I like that hashtag #BESTDAY. We need to make the Sabbath the ‘Best Day of the week’. As you set the day apart, you set yourself apart. Doing this will have a calming effect in our lives,” President Woodward testifies. “The Sabbath day is vitally important and rejuvenating in a world of constant distractions. I can confidently state that no one in this world will become anything great or accomplish anything important, spiritual or otherwise, if they are checking their Instagram account every five minutes. It just won’t happen. We need the space the Sabbath provides.
“We should remember that if we make the Sabbath a priority, the calm and spiritual space it provides us will, over time, change us individually. You are like the common bread that is transformed to the holy sacrament; you are like the normal day that is transformed to the Sabbath; you and I are normal people, but at some point, something in this vast and great gospel touches our hearts and helps us understand that we, too, can be transformed into something much greater with God’s help.”
In the end, the beauty of the Sabbath’s blessing is that it is available to all of us, no matter who we are or where on our journey of spiritual improvement. We come from different walks of life, but our unity in Christ shines through on Sunday like on no other day. What we should be doing with our Sabbaths is essentially the same no matter what our age, stage, walk of life or family structure. The fact that God is no respecter of persons is never as well demonstrated as in our Sabbath activities. Consider the sacrament--the consummate Sabbath activity--as an example. In the moment that we bring the bread or water to our lips, are any of us any different? Does the gesture or its significance differ at all? Age, gender, calling, education, health, wealth, it all disappears. Once a week, we are all exactly the same as siblings in Christ.” And that is Extraordinary!