With all of my heart I believe that parents have a huge responsibility in raising their children. Not only am I concerned with my children having strong character and being healthy (physically and emotionally) and happy, I want them to have a transformative relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So when my wife and I think about parenting, we think in a way that integrates teaching them life skills as well as keeping the gospel at the heart of everything. For us, there’s no such thing as “life parenting” and “spiritual parenting.” They are one in the same for us because we believe the gospel applies in every area of life.
That being said, while we do our best to keep everything connected, we also take time to focus specifically on what could be described as “spiritual things.” One of the ways that we do this is during our family devotionals.
Wait, don’t panic. Remove the pictures of homeschool families from your mind. Do not assume I am suggesting that Mom needs to own a jean jumper or play a tambourine. Dad doesn’t need to grow a beard. The children don’t need to sit quietly and have half the Bible memorized.
When we had our first child, I was deathly afraid of having to eventually do some form of a Bible study with my kids. Have you ever tried to explain Chalcedonian Trinitarianism to a five year old? Just the thought was enough to make me pass out. I had this assumption that any sort of “family devotionals” had to be… for lack of a better word, perfect. I assumed that during this time, no questions could be asked and if they were asked, the asking child should be disciplined immediately! After all, questions were the first sign of rejecting doctrinal orthodoxy (or so it was assumed). I also assumed that this had to take place for no less than an hour.
However, I’ve learned that many of my assumptions and fears didn’t really need to worry me. Here are some of the things we’ve done to have “normal” family devotions:
(1) Questions are encouraged. Right now we’re reading Exodus together and I absolutely love the questions that are coming up! Why did God send the plagues upon Egypt? Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart? What’s Moses’ big problem with speaking? My kids have lots of questions. Some of them are difficult to answer. Some of them I don’t know the answer to. Some of them are incredible opportunities to talk about God’s activity of redemption though, and I want to keep moving towards those subjects as they keep asking questions. So no question is ever treated as dumb. When one of my daughters asks me if ladybugs were bothered by the plague of gnats, I’m going to do my best to answer it. Why? Because she’s going to know that asking questions during this “normal” family devotional time is okay. So later, when she wants to know why Jesus talks so much about repentance, she’ll know that it’s okay to ask that question. We don’t ever give the impression that our family devotional time is a “just sit and listen” time. And we’re not afraid to create an atmosphere where questions are encouraged. The kinds of questions that get asked are just plain hilarious too. For example, Mark Driscoll recently wrote that one of his kids asked,
“Dad, since Jesus lived for eternity before he came to earth how many candles did he have on his birthday cake as a kid?”
(2) Everyone gets to read and participate. For some reason I thought that family devotions had to have me sitting at the end of our dining room table reading from a gigantic family Bible. I kind of assumed that everyone had to sit silently and just listen. It’s not that I don’t read Scripture and teach, because I do. But now that our kids are either reading or learning to read, we have them participate in the reading. Everyone takes turns. This is also true for our time of prayer too… and it’s really fun to see the kids think of prayer requests that I would never think about, yet that are very important. So we’ve worked hard to create an atmosphere that communicates to everyone in the family that they get to participate.
(3) Joy and happiness are encouraged, not avoided. When I think of Jesus inviting all of the children to himself, I think everyone was smiling (everyone except the Disciples). Yes, there are times where we need to be serious and focused, but it’s also okay to have fun and enjoy the family devotional. Smiles are aloud. After all, our kids are still young (9, 7, 5, and 2.5)… they are still in wide-eye wonder about everything around them! Life is exciting and full of surprises and even more so when they hear about the great and beautiful God that we serve and how gracious and amazing is the love of our Savior!
(4) It’s also okay to be upset and frustrated. This is kind of related to having an environment where the kids are encouraged to ask questions. If you are a human being and not Chris Traeger of Parks and Recreation (played by Rob Lowe), you’ll have bad days. You might even have a lot of bad days. Sometimes you wake up and you just aren’t excited about anything, right? Well we can either teach our kids early on in their development that they need to put a mask on and pretend everything is going good or we can help them learn how to take those emotions to Christ. But before we teach them that, it’s important that they understand that hiding them isn’t going to help us process them and turn them over to Jesus. When our kids wake up and they are worried about something going on at school, we talk about it and pray about it and look to Scripture.
(5) Adults are learning too. As you well know, adults can be very arrogant and very condescending. We often have a hard time remembering that we can learn a lot from our kids. You want lessons on faith? Look to your kids (Mark 10:15-16). You want lessons on being teachable? Look to your kids. Our kids can teach us a lot. Sometimes they teach us negatively (you don’t believe in sin nature? hang out with a kid) and sometimes they teach us positively (kids can be far more generous than we are). In our family devotional time, we do everything we can to let the kids know that we are learning with them and to let them know when we learn from them. For example, just the other day my oldest daughter gave an explanation of what having a “hardened heart” was and I can honestly say that it was one of the most insightful explanations I have ever heard. I’ll never forget it. So make sure your kids know that you are growing too, otherwise you might not help raise life-long learners because somewhere along the way, they’ll think it’s possible to arrive at completion this side of glory. And that’s not good.
These are just a few of the principles at work in our home. What would you add?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.