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TitleWorking on Sunday
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1978
AuthorsGilliland, Steve
Issue Number1
Date PublishedJanuary 1978
KeywordsSabbath Day; Ten Commandments

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Working on Sunday

By Steve Gilliland

“We do shift work here, and everyone takes his turn on the Sunday shift,” the foreman says. His Latter-day Saint employee, anxious to keep the Sabbath day holy, is also concerned with earning a dependable income. The job market is tight. Can he afford to give up his good job in order to honor the Sabbath? Should he even concern himself about it?

For some, the question of working on the Sabbath might be simply answered, “If your job requires you to work on the Sabbath, get another job!” But the problem may require deeper analysis.

For instance, there are certain essential services that must be continued on the Sabbath. Those who provide emergency services, such as hospital personnel, ambulance drivers, policemen, and firefighters, must remain on duty all day every day. If the bus and taxi systems shut down on Sunday, how would those with no other form of transportation get to Church? And what about those who work in motels, where some travelers must stay to minimize Sunday travel?

Some work must be done on Sunday. (See Elder Mark E. Petersen, Ensign, May 1975, p. 49.) And it seems clear that we should not take the position that all such work should be left strictly to nonmembers. We need good Latter-day Saints in all honorable occupations, to influence and to bless those they work with and those they serve.

The question of Sabbath work, then, invariably becomes an individual one. Knowing that some Sunday work is not only justified, but also needed, we must ask ourselves, “Is my situation such that Sunday work is unavoidable?”

Even though our decision may affect the lives of many people, the full weight of such a decision is upon the individual. But we needn’t decide alone. The Lord has promised inspiration and guidance in such major decisions.

If you are already in a job that requires Sunday work, you need to ask yourself the following:

Is there an alternative to Sunday work? Can I change my schedule?

If I did not work on Sunday, would it put an unfair burden on other employees? Could we trade Sunday shifts?

If I quit this job, what would happen to my family? Are there other employment possibilities that could keep us secure and yet allow me to participate fully in the Church and obey the Lord’s commandments?

Is there a ward where I can still attend some or all of my Sunday meetings, even though I work?

Am I sure I’m not using my job as an excuse for laziness?

Discuss these questions with your spouse or family; and take your answers to the Lord for his counsel.

What if you do not have a job—but are being offered one that requires Sunday work? Or what if your potential job has hidden “Sabbath-stealers,” like frequent weekend business trips, high-pressure deadlines that mean putting in Sunday time occasionally, emergency Sunday work, and so forth?

In coming to a decision about accepting or keeping a job—or even in choosing a long-term career here are some things to consider:

What if you do not have a job—but are being offered one that requires Sunday work? Or what if your potential job has hidden “Sabbath-stealers,” like frequent weekend business trips, high-pressure deadlines that mean putting in Sunday time occasionally, emergency Sunday work, and so forth?

1. What kinds of restrictions will be placed upon my time with my family and in Church attendance and service? Is there much travel? Are unusual hours required? What Church meetings would I not be able to attend? What kinds of Church service will this work prohibit—could I work with the Aaronic Priesthood, for instance? Will I be able to be home when my children are home?

2. How much of a spiritual drain will this work be upon me? This is one area that is easy to underestimate. It can be like dieting—it is easy to make a decision to diet when your stomach is full. But later how difficult it can be when you are hungry and tempted by fattening foods! We imagine, starting a job in a worldly environment, that we are strong enough to overcome unpleasant influences. And so we sometimes underestimate the strain of being continually surrounded by an atmosphere of cigarette smoke, profanity, sexual innuendos, bickering, and gossip, coupled with power struggles and ambition. It is foolish to think we can forever resist having our spiritual sensitivities dulled and eventually darkened—unless we can have a weekly Sabbath in the light.

My counselor once expressed this idea to me in a bishopric meeting. “The emphasis on wealth and status, the gossip and power-seeking that so heavily pervade the climate at my work,” he said, “seem so powerful and seductive that I almost become part of it by the end of the week. It is good to come here to draw upon ‘living water’ each week. Without my Sabbath, I don’t know what I would do.” His Sundays were busy, yet spiritually restful, helping him to maintain his righteous frame of mind during the rest of the week.

Satan can find in any occupation many opportunities to tempt and try our souls. I remember President Lee saying that we don’t lose our testimony with a blowout, but with a slow leak. Likewise, virtue, honesty, self-discipline, etc., can gradually be sapped out of us until we are vulnerable and weak. Remove the spiritually recharging effects of the Sabbath—and other opportunities for spiritual retrenchment—and we are dangerously susceptible to serious transgression, doubts, and confusion. Some careers are potentially so spiritually debilitating that Latter-day Saints might well avoid them altogether—or pursue them while taking great care to preserve the Sabbath influence.

3. How many spiritual resources do I have available? Not only is it impossible for us to become exalted without divine help, but also we need each other. Families, quorums, wards, and stakes help to strengthen us in the midst of weakness and confusion. A person considering work where Sabbath spiritual transfusions are seriously limited should consider if there are sufficient other sources to draw upon.

The loneliness of trying to maintain celestial values in a telestial world is very real. The people of the world do not understand why we do the things we must. It is wearing to have to continually explain why you won’t drink “not even coffee?”; to try to say no without giving offense to those whose well-meant (or not so well-meant!) invitations may compromise your virtue; the silence of “we can’t talk about that in front of him!” that comes when you enter the room or sit at the table; the raised eyebrows and all-knowing smile when you mention your religion (“Oh, you’re one of those Mormons. Yes, I’ve heard about you!”). All these can leave one feeling lonely and hungry for contact with someone who understands the powerful spiritual joy that makes one willing to sacrifice all things for the gospel.

Work that requires frequent travel or moving can leave you without the roots of close Latter-day Saint friends and Church service. This may eventually lead to a disruption in your life patterns and leave you not only out of touch with others and lonely, but also confused and out of touch with yourself.

But if you must work in such circumstances for a while, a loving and compassionate spouse or an understanding roommate, other Saints who are employed with you, nonmembers who understand and support your standards, a close relationship with your bishop or home teacher, and the support of parents and family can all help you over the hard places. The best help is the Comforter, who may urge you to give up such a costly career in favor of one that pays more than money.

4. What is the impact of my work on the lives of others? Many who are involved in such public careers as athletics, entertainment, or politics find that their occupations demand at least some Sunday work or long distance travel on Sunday. Some that I discussed this with said they felt that the Lord gave them particular gifts that could be used to influence many people for good. After prayerful consideration they felt that the positive aspects of their careers outweighed the negative.

But one very talented person said that he decided not to “go professional.” He felt it was a test of his faith to turn down a potentially lucrative public career, not only because it would make him work on Sunday, but also because it might encourage others to violate the Sabbath.

Just as important to consider is the strain upon your spouse and family, who may frequently have to attend Church meetings without you.

The fact that you take a stand on Sunday work (when your circumstances permit) may influence your co-workers. One man who works the undesirable shifts so that he can be home Sundays has some of his friends meeting with the missionaries. They respected his dedication and wanted to find out why he was so willing to sacrifice for his church. However, if you have no choice in your work schedule, having a good Sabbath attitude can also make a favorable impression on nonmembers.

A teenager who was applying for work as a stock boy in a drugstore was turned down because he refused to work on Sundays. The personnel manager called him a week later to offer him a position in their managerial training program. “We desire leaders with your kind of integrity,” he was told. The results aren’t always so positive—on the surface. But the Lord honors righteousness.

5. If you know an active Latter-day Saint who has worked in the occupation you are considering, it may help to talk with him or her about the above-mentioned issues and any others that come to mind. And Church leaders, parents, and others may have had intimate discussions with people about career frustrations that could not have been shared in public. Without violating confidences they may be able to provide you with some insights they have received.

6. Learn from Lot’s wife. When the spiritual guidance is received and the decision is made, stick with it. Continually looking back regretfully is unwise.

Every job has negative aspects to it. Focus on the positive and move ahead. If you have courageously decided against certain occupations because they would mean Sunday work, thrust your full energy into the options that remain. The Lord will continue to guide you in your decisions.

And if your prayerful decision, accepted by the Lord, is to pursue a career that requires some Sunday work, then follow that course as long as the Spirit directs, forgiving any fellow Saints who, not understanding, might criticize you.

What can be done to continue your spiritual growth even though some Sunday work is required of you? The following suggestions have come from Latter-day Saints who have found them helpful:

  1. Begin your Sabbath with a special devotional service. If you are married, include your family. Because of travel or unusual hours, some have begun their Sabbath on Saturday evening.
  2. When traveling, read the scriptures or Church-related publications. Individual study of the Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide has been beneficial to many brethren who must miss priesthood meeting.
  3. If your work requires much driving or the kind of labor that takes less than maximum concentration, and yet doesn’t let you read, listening to cassette tapes can be very rewarding. Tapes of the general conferences and scriptures are available for loan at most meetinghouse libraries.
  4. Dress for the Sabbath—even though you may have to change at work—especially if you are able to attend a nearby Sabbath meeting.
  5. Seek every opportunity to give extra service, to be extra kind. Avoid the grumpy “I wish I didn’t have to be here today” attitude. Do not be apologetic for being there. Be prayerful and let the Lord guide you to bless those around you.
  6. Be a missionary. You aren’t the only person who remembers it is Sunday. Sometimes people are more open to religious discussions on Sunday than other days. Bear testimony.
  7. If at all possible, attend as many Church meetings or parts thereof as you can. Sometimes you may have to slip in to meetings in your work clothes just to be there—it would be a shame to miss a meeting because you don’t have time to change.
  8. A medical intern has his wife and children come into the hospital for a meal each time he has a Sunday shift and they then spend a few minutes in a corner reading and discussing the gospel. The children review their Sunday School lessons. Seeing their example, other workers, not members of the Church, have begun inviting their families into the hospital to eat together on Sunday. One quiet example is making a difference in many lives.
  9. One brother never misses having family prayers on Sunday even when the family has to crowd around with their ears to the phone during the prayer.
  10. Spend more time in prayer and meditation on other days of the week.
  11. Take time during breaks and idle moments to read the scriptures and meditate. Invite others to read and study the scriptures with you during breaks.

Those who have had to work on Sundays each stated that they really missed the meetings. Some who had once had a habit of complaining about attending meetings said that now they hungered to worship with other Saints. “Just to sit and sing the hymns with the Saints is a special privilege,” said one. “It means a great deal to me to go to all Church meetings now. Even after working twelve hours, I try to find a Latter-day Saint meeting to attend wherever I am.” And some hold special worship services with their families on other days of the week.

These faithful Saints who have tried to have Sabbath experiences each week in spite of Sunday work have caused me to realize that even though I do not work on Sunday I sometimes do not make that day as special and spiritual as I should. They have motivated me to strive harder to do so.

And I wonder if it isn’t the responsibility of those of us who don’t work on Sunday to also help the Sunday workers to have a good Sabbath. Why couldn’t home teachers or friends take notes in priesthood and sacrament meetings to share with them later?

And perhaps most important, it is our responsibility to avoid doing things that will create Sunday work. “Nothing makes me angrier,” said a waitress who had to work Sundays, “than to have members of my ward come into the restaurant on Sunday. If enough of them stayed home, maybe could, too!”

Sunday employment should be avoided, where possible. And when a member of the Church must work on Sunday, he still should do his best to keep the Sabbath. The Lord judges us by the intent of our heart, guides us when we seek his counsel faithfully, and will help us over all the hurdles of life, if we live righteously. The Sabbath, like all the gifts of God, was made for man; and whatever our situation, if we seek his help, the Lord will guide us into ways of partaking of the blessings of the Sabbath.

Steve Gilliland, director of the LDS Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts, serves as director of the Boston Massachusetts Stake social services, and as a Sunday School teacher. He resides in the Cambridge First Ward.