Sharing food together as a family does not need to wait for special occasions or for elaborate preparation.
It might be food from a box or take out—or leftovers. It may only involve one parent and one child–whoever is home for that meal. No matter what, eating it together while talking adds value for us all. Especially for our kids. It’s a kind of family communion. Does it feel like family dinnertime belongs to another era? Maybe with June Cleaver and Leave it to Beaver? Or that it’s something for special occasions?
But how do we connect with the whole family if we rarely see everyone in one room looking at each other?
Can it work when older children have late sports practice? What about if one parent nearly always has to be at a job during dinnertime? And what if kids are big enough to protest that they don’t want to eat with the whole family?
Family dinners are not always a joy, but they don’t have to be pure joy to be family communion.
Neither were they when I was a child. I’m sure my mind chooses not to remember the less fun times. And they certainly do not require the whole family to be there for them to be valuable. But coming together as a family for supper provides built-in connection and communion, plus the opportunity for spiritual time as a family. In my birth family and in the family I parented, we had prayer time before and after dinner. And we had Bible reading–or Bible story reading–after dinner. Sometimes I know those dinners were a chore, but they provided inestimable blessings as well.
Chances are your household enjoys fewer family dinners than you did growing up and far fewer than your parents did growing up.
It’s a blessing that our culture lets us easily connect online, with people nearby and with friends and family who live far away. Whatever device we choose, we can allow our children to see faraway people regularly. Yet this continual connection to the internet can also be a curse. It’s not limited to just loved ones. Mealtimes these days are typically interrupted by repeated dings, connections that are immediate but not really urgent. Or by something we’re watching—either as a group or solo. Complete strangers, Facebook “friends” we hardly know, and even celebrities can clutter our lives and interrupt the times we plan to spend with our families.
Is dinner something you just need to power through with as little hassle as possible, or is there time to enjoy it?
For me and my husband, dinner times with our children grew from being a bit of a pain—when one parent had to stand holding a baby—to being positive events. But I can hardly overestimate the opportunity those times gave us to bond and to read the Bible as a family, discussing our questions together. Sometimes the kids had questions we parents needed to check out. Continuing the process even with a parent or children unable to be there was important for us.
One of my favorite memories of my own mom is of her laughing so hard at the dinner table that she needed to get down onto the floor to avoid falling off her chair. We called those “Mom with her paws in the air” moments.
What are your memories of dinnertime as a child? What is dinnertime most frequently like for your family? Do you grab dinner as you get time? Or do you eat together often? Have table-time devotions worked for you as a family? Could they?
The perils of young adulting seem to be increasing.
The perils of young adulting have always existed. But today they seem more confusing than ever. As I’ve worked with countless college students and three daughters navigating that territory, I appreciate the growing complexity they face.
When I sought a clear path as a young adult, I often found “Road Closed” and “Detour” signs blocking my way. And I longed for flashes of lightning or a banner down from heaven.
But today the perils of young adulting almost seem like distorted bright reflections on a wet pavement.
My college students often told me they had expected college to be a wonderful time. And it often was. But it was also often painful. Life confused them.
I regularly shared my mother’s wisdom. She had comforted my sisters and me more times than I can count this way: “Honey, don’t ever let anyone tell you these are the best years of your life. It gets better.”
One of my students responded by telling me her story. She had so frequently been told in high school that those would be her best years, that after graduation she attempted suicide.
Similarly, at twelve, one of my daughters heard from an elderly woman in church, “Enjoy these years, honey. They’re the best years of your life.” My daughter walked to the car with us afterward and asked, “Shall I just kill myself now? It’s all downhill from here?”
Fortunately, she was not feeling suicidal. But she was twelve! And for someone to tell her that was the best time of her life was unknowingly cruel. She wanted reassurance that life would get better. We probably all remember the painful swings of emotions in adolescence. Clueless adults can make those even worse.
Unfortunately, as adults we can easily idealize childhood or young adulthood and give pain to others as we reminisce.
Even college students are guilty of the same thing as they idealize their childhoods.
I remember being shocked by how hard it was for my students to understand the topic of a poem I taught on the fears and traumas of childhood. They read it through the eyes of nostalgia. A poem talking about night lights and thumb sucking had to be happy. Most simply could not see the fears expressed in the poem.
What they needed to see is what all of us need to see: each age has its joys and its pains. And at any stage, focusing on our fears can derail us.
We can pray through Philippians 4:6-7, by ourselves and with our children:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
We know that God promises us peace, but that does not make the baby’s hunger disappear instantly. It doesn’t prevent a child from being afraid in the night. And it doesn’t prevent young people from having to figure out what God wants them to do with their lives. And it certainly doesn’t prevent parents from experiencing the agony of letting go and letting God take charge–of our lives, of our children’s lives, of our friends’ lives.
As I often said to my girls while praying through Philippians 4 with them, “It would be so nice if we could just give our concerns to God and be done with them. Unfortunately, he still wants us to do the required work. And we have to trust him to let us know what that is.”
And trusting is hard. At any age. Whether in the perils of young adulting or much older.
God grew my trust muscles during a time of terrifying limited vision for my immediate future.
To me as an adult now, that sounds like an extremely overdramatic depiction of my situation then. But to me as a thirteen-year-old, entering a huge new high school–with no friends–was scary.
I was leaving a tiny Christian school with an eighth-grade graduating class of thirteen. I had known each student for years. Becoming a part of a public school of sixteen hundred unknown students was daunting.
It didn’t help that the only person I knew who was also going to my new school was a girl who had been the primary instigator of my seventh-grade bullying. Knowing she had spread lies about me for years did not give me confidence that she would not do the same in the new school. I longed for a good experience meeting people and making friends in a new environment.
My limited vision made me feel lonely and afraid.
Knowing God was with me was not the same as feeling confident. Hearing from parents that I would be fine did not take away the knot in my stomach.
Joshua 1: 8–“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” was a verse I claimed–though I certainly had no physical enemies to slay.
My parents prayed with me and for me in my fear.
I’m sure it helped that they believed I would be fine. But it also helped that they validated my fear by praying for me in it.
I have a vague memory that my mom also told me that I didn’t need to make friends with everyone on that day. And she encouraged me that many other people would be feeling much the same way I was.
She told me to try to find one person I could connect with. Then after school that day she asked me if I could tell her about one person I thought I might be able to be friends with. I could–I excitedly told her about many possibilities.
When God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, he wasn’t telling him he had to do all the work alone. God rarely tells us we need to do our work completely in solitude. He calls us to community.
Sometimes the work he calls us to is finding our community. At other times it’s finding other people who need the community that comes from walking with Jesus Christ together.
In that way God blessed me with two very different parents who each helped me see different parts of what God was calling me to.
My mom helped me in figuring out how to be open to people who were possibly feeling as alone and in need of a friend as I was. She helped me see them as potential friends rather than as threats.
My dad helped me see each new friend or even acquaintance as someone who might be yearning to know who Jesus Christ was. The great thing is that God doesn’t have limited vision. We can trust his vision.
I felt disoriented, almost dizzied by my parents’ indecision.
Parents are supposed to know what’s happening in life and be in charge, right? At ten, my world felt flipped over because of my parents’ not knowing what to do. It disoriented me. First, they believed God was calling my dad to a different ministry. Then they weren’t sure. My mom and dad needed to pray about it more.
For what felt like a long time—probably only a few weeks—my sisters and I didn’t know whether we were going to continue living in Tri-Cities, Washington, or move to Portland, Oregon. The memorable thing is that while my parents were praying and waiting for God’s answer, my sisters and I felt disoriented–unmoored. As children, we obviously found our security not in God but in our parents—and in their knowing what to do.
Our family had moved from California to Washington the year before, which had disoriented us in different ways.
Initially I had experienced great homesickness, believing I’d never again find wonderful friends like the ones I was leaving. But by this time my sisters and I had all adjusted. I think we were not so much scared of the potential move as freaked out that our parents didn’t know what to do. One clear memory is of the three older girls gathered in a closet for a meeting and having a secret “vote.” It was probably my crazy idea. We each gave all the evidence we had on either side and then “voted” by “secret ballot” on whether we thought we were going to be moving or staying.
We were looking for some sort of certainty in ourselves, since we were not seeing it in our parents.
Ironically, the sister vote was unanimous for Portland, but we ended up staying in Tri-Cities. We later learned my parents had also initially believed God wanted to move them into a new ministry. But then God showed them otherwise. During those weeks of their indecision a number of people committed themselves to the Lord and to our local church, giving evidence to my parents that the elders were correct: God had been using their gifts of evangelism. And he wanted them to stay and continue to work there.
God continued to bless their ministry in the church abundantly over the next decade.
Clearly my parents had heard God correctly. What I remember most powerfully, though, is my parents’ waiting to hear what God wanted them to do. I never heard them discuss either the advantages of friends in Washington or the culture and beauty of Portland.
It was simply “What does God want us to do? Where does he want us to serve him?”
As a child, it amazed me that adults would make major decisions simply because of what they understood Jesus wanted them to do.
I wish I could say I began then to instantly trust Jesus for daily decisions in my life. I didn’t. But I did perceive for the first time this important practice.
How do we show others that we trust Jesus for major decisions?
#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.
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.