#6— Dinnertime family devotions fail because schedules hardly ever work for everyone to even eat at the same time.
#5— Mid-evening devotions fail because each person has so much to do that there’s no time.
#4— Bedtime devotions fail because of people’s exhaustion and crabbiness then.
#3— Morning devotions fail because people are much too tired to get up even earlier than otherwise necessary.
#2— Family devotions fail because the kids are too little yet to be blessed by them.
#1— Life is just too busy right now for everyone and will work better when things settle down.
The truth is that the main reason family devotions fail is that parents are tired and feel stretched to the max. With so much on our to-do lists, we do what is urgent. We think it’s better to wait for better circumstances than to do family devotions poorly.
In reality, the best devotions are often brief ones that bless the parents and then bless the children.
If we as parents take a few minutes to seek the Lord through his Word—even when exhausted—we will all experience blessings.
When parents—as leaders of the family—find blessings by meeting God regularly, children see blessings as well.
Is it possible that babies will sometimes cry? Yes.
Is it also likely children will adapt to the routine? Yes.
Might children sometimes express boredom? Yes.
Are they also likely to find interesting what their parents do—eventually? Yes.
Might one or two family members make so many jokes that the family is laughing hysterically and postponing Bible reading? Guilty. Both as a child and as an adult.
But did those occasional times actually increase family bonding? Yes.
Many excellent Bible materials are available in age-appropriate formats for children.
Children are capable of learning so much. That’s why they’re often called little sponges. What better material for them to soak up at an impressionable age than the Bible?
My parents traded off between reading the Bible with an adult devotional and reading a children’s Bible storybook. My husband and I used a Bible storybook when our girls were little. Later, they were all ready for regular Bible reading and an adult devotional.
Suppertime worked well for us. I know some people choose to do devotions together before the first child goes to bed. Some parents choose an after-school slot. Some parents even insist early in the morning is best for their family. I am so not a morning person that I can hardly imagine doing that!
Family devotions sound like such a good idea—for some day in the future when life is a little calmer and more predictable. Right?
Is there a part of you that wishes you could do them right now as a family? Might there be a way to try a very short version of them at whichever time of day suits your family best? If you have ideas on how this works for you, I would love to hear them.
Who needs tradition?
It’s boring to do everything just like our parents and grandparents. Besides, it will make our children think that Christianity is just a bunch of empty habits, and they’ll reject it. Right? Or is creating good traditions possible?
At one point, our girls went through a period of rebelling against church attendance. And Satan certainly did his best to reinforce their rebellion. Lost shoes, people not feeling well, hair that seemed to snarl worst on Sunday mornings. General crabbiness.
Then we countered with a special tradition a pastor had suggested: a yummy, sweet breakfast only on Sundays.
Coffeecake actually helped. Who would have guessed? One friend calls it “Fighting Satan with cinnamon rolls.”
How can we choose our family’s habits—or traditions—intentionally—to establish what my friend Jeff Fisher calls “the scaffolding of our faith”? And how do we choose actions that will reinforce in us and our children our love for the Lord Jesus and his centrality in our lives?
As we think about building this spiritual scaffolding, we need to remember that scaffolding is not fun, nice-looking, or desirable in itself, only in what it allows us to build. We don’t want our children unhappy. Still, habits—even excellent habits—can be uncomfortable at times, until we grow into them.
For example, family devotions after dinner with very young children can make everyone crabby at times. As can prayer time with the entire family before the first person goes to bed, delaying bedtime. And asking a child for a prayer request each morning before school may feel pointless when a child’s daily answers sometimes hardly vary—“I don’t know. That I have a good day.”
Sharing some of our fears and inadequacies with our children and asking them to pray for us is scary.
Because we may not want them to know that we are feeling emotionally fragile that day. Or that a parent’s job is in danger. It might even seem likely to limit their trust in us as parents.
Yet God calls us to share with our children and others around us the ways he is working in our lives.
He is not terribly concerned that we might not like feeling vulnerable.
But he is concerned about our showing him as the surpassingly awesome Lord of our lives!
And he wants us to share with our children how he is answering our prayers. As we think back over ways God has grown our faith one stone at a time, we are called to be intentional in choosing our family’s traditions in ways that help grow that faith.
Creating good traditions is good for each family member.
If, like me, you grew up in a Christian household, you may have traditions that blessed you. You may have already adopted them. Or you might plan to start once life feels a little less hectic. Or you may not have spiritual traditions to choose from. No matter our history, God calls each of us to be intentional about faith with our children.
I encourage you to choose one new spiritual tradition to establish in your household.
Is there hope for our children if we do not delight in reading the Bible?
Will our children never learn to love the Bible? Worse, will they never trust Christ as their Savior? How do we find hope for our children?
Thank God that our children’s faith and spiritual growth is in HIS hands rather than in ours! We can be grateful that our God is sovereign and can work in our child’s heart and life even if we do nothing to further the process. Nevertheless, most of us want to be part of the process of our child’s discovery of who Jesus Christ is. We desire the joy of seeing our child turn to Christ and then learn to love the Bible and prayer.
But too often the tasks that need to be done now subject us to the tyranny of the urgent.
It can be impossible to spend time developing our faith when life is this busy. We push that off until some vague time in the future.
One difficulty is that infants demand so much time that young parents don’t feel energy for anything not urgent. If that is your situation, try listening to the Bible on your phone while you are feeding your baby. Then pray out loud. It’s one way we can listen and talk to God while actively parenting.
Another difficulty is that babies often have siblings. What if you have older children around while you are feeding your baby? Is it possible in your family to have the children sit with you and listen to a story while you feed your baby?
My older children grew to love that time because they knew that when their sister was being fed, they would be read to. They rushed to get me a book when they saw I was starting to feed the baby.
Are you in a period where it is impossible to find quiet time to read your Bible and pray? Think about reading a Bible story to your children while the baby feeds. Simple prayer time can follow. God will bless you as he blesses your children.
Most importantly, remember that each phase of parenting is a season.
In some seasons it is easier to find time for spiritual routines than in others. And God loves us through them all. He loves us and he longs for us to seek him, so that he can allow us to feel his love more powerfully.
As Proverbs 2:4-6 and Psalm 21:6 tell us, when we seek the wisdom of the Lord, we experience eternal blessings and the joy of God’s constant presence with us. We find the “hidden treasure” put there for us. Finding that treasure ourselves gives us even more hope for our children.
What are little ways you have seen God bless you with signs of his presence with you? What are ways you have found to make way for the Bible in your busy life with children? I would love to hear your stories.
Praying out loud with a young baby seems to have absolutely no benefit for your baby.
Your prayer reaches God, but your baby is too young to understand. In fact, toddlers might loudly say “Amen!” in an attempt to end your prayer and regain your attention. The first time it happens, you may giggle unexpectedly. Unfortunately, Nana love does not prevent it. I have giggled during prayer as a parent and as a grandparent. I also remember that as an older child I thought it was funny when one of my sisters or I was able to make a parent laugh during prayer.
So why do I believe in the huge importance of Nana love prayer with babies? Because babies grow up. And because children learn from us. And we don’t know when God starts to give them his peace through prayer. Maybe from day one.
What is important for us to make time and space for—even when it is not convenient—impresses children as important.
There is no magical day on which they reach understanding. They gradually figure it out. Likely they’ll never know when prayer first made sense to them. If you haven’t been praying with your children yet, I encourage you to try it. Even if you need to talk to God about your feelings of awkwardness privately beforehand, show your children the importance of talking to God out loud together.
Just tell them it’s time to talk to God.
If you are starting a new habit with older children, explain that since God wants us to talk to him regularly, you want to do it together and not just silently. Don’t worry if they shrug or make a face. You’re showing them the importance of prayer through your persistence. God will reward that effort.
I remember that each time one of our toddlers first said “Amen!” in a happy voice after us, we were thrilled.
Did that mean she had any idea she was talking to God? No. She probably just knew her saying it would bring her positive attention. But was she on a path of learning how to talk to God regularly and effectively? Yes.
We were also amazed at how young they were when they first learned to be quiet while we were praying at the dinner table. True, it took significantly longer for them to be quiet for the whole reading of the Bible passage and devotional. And even then, their behavior was not always consistent.
We had to be ready for interruptions for quite a while. But with our infant daughters—as is now true with our active, toddler grandson—we saw them understand quite early the reverence they saw in us during our quiet prayer time.
At first it was hard not to giggle as they tried to engage us to distract us from prayer or devotions. It’s hard not to engage with our grandson when he sometimes calls, “Nana!” and “Gaga!” during prayer. But they will understand in time that Nana love and Grandpa love involves praying with them and for them.
As we persevered as parents, our children learned to respect prayer and eventually to participate.
We’re sure our grandsons will too. The thrill of hearing a child earnestly pray out loud for the first time is something unlike anything else.
What has gone well or been difficult for you in praying with your child or children?