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?
#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.
When Bible reading’s a chore.
I used to rush through my Bible reading like a chore. When I remembered it.
It took many years for it to become enough of a true habit to bring me joy—consistently. The good news is that after many years of reading my Bible—even when I sometimes didn’t feel like it—this became a time I now really look forward to. It also became a habit I could pass on to my kids.
Joe Stowell writes in “Sweeter than Honey” that he reads his Bible until he finds something the Lord is telling him for that day. That seemed like a great idea but a little impractical with the many things in my life. Until I tried it.
When I first read of Stowell’s practice, I was reading Leviticus. The next morning I skeptically said to God as I began, “Good luck, Lord. I’m in Leviticus.”
God amazed me. The text I was reading detailed all of God’s requirements for the regalia of Aaron as God’s new high priest. It suddenly hit me that Aaron was between 85 and 90 years old when he began the career that defined his life.
That realization was extremely relevant to me. I was beginning a new phase of life, after forced early retirement from a job I loved.
I have been a teacher my whole life. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teaching. Being forced to leave my college during a downsizing caused me great grief. And the state of the academic market made me realize my full-time teaching days are over.
I knew I should not think of the past years as the best years of my life. But it was tempting.
God encouraged me through this text to see the enormous possibilities of how he will bless me and use me in the years ahead. If I am looking to him. Reading my Bible regularly is a huge part of this. This blessing came through my reading of Leviticus. Go figure.
What do you do when Bible reading’s a chore?
Try asking God to speak a meaningful word to you for the day through your Bible reading.
Think of the times God has given you delight through his Word. Were they times in a Bible study, in a worship service, with friends, or alone during a time of deep struggle of trying to find God’s will? Or sharing Bible stories with your kids?
Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we only need the Bible during special times or that he only speaks to us through it occasionally. But what if every day we honestly ask him to speak a word to us that day? What could happen if we listen for that?
My experiences are not usually as dramatic as on that jolting day in Leviticus. But I have found much more consistent daily encouragement since I started looking for it.
When Bible reading’s a chore, maybe we need to ask God how to change that for us.
C. S. Lewis writes in his chapter “Let’s Pretend” in Mere Christianity that as we grow in our walk with the Lord, sometimes we need to fake it. As children, many of us have reveled in games of pretend. Lewis says we need to do this to grow spiritually. And growing spiritually is huge in the process of conveying who Jesus is to the children in our lives. Lewis says we need to act like better Christians than we actually are.
That idea is jarring and smells of the worst charge against Christianity: hypocrisy.
Until we think about what he really means by this . . . . Think about babies. We talk to them immediately–telling them how much we love them, how cute they are, etc. We never, ever think, “I’d better wait to talk until my baby initiates the conversation. He doesn’t know what I’m saying yet anyway.” No. We fake it. We start off pretending they know what we’re saying, and eventually they do.
In the same way Lewis tells us to act like nicer people than we actually are.
Sometimes we need to act loving toward others when we don’t feel up to it. We need to fake it. It reminds me of Walter Trobisch’s Love Is a Feeling to be Learned. We certainly don’t always feel loving towards everyone around us, just as our children don’t. But we can train ourselves to act in kind and loving ways. We need to remind ourselves and our children that the reason we need to act loving is that we are the children of the most loving person on earth: our Holy Triune God. We need to reflect His character to those around us. By doing this, we can allow the Spirit of God to shape us into better people.
We grow into the people Jesus wants us to be—by pretending we already are.
How does this help us grow spiritually? If you are like me, your devotional life has its ups and downs. One day you feel super motivated to read your Bible. Other times you feel stuck and not at all motivated. Feelings vacillate. Unlike our feelings, God’s promises are secure. The more faithful we are in reading his word, the more he will bless us through it. Some days we need to pretend we want to read the Bible. Just do it. But we need to remember not to read the Bible out of guilt.
God wants our hearts—not feelings of guilt or shame.
I love that in Jesus Calling Sarah Young reminds us not to feel ashamed that our minds wander. She says God knows we are that way, because that’s the way he made us. We just have to work at getting back on track. Just like with making time for reading the Bible.
What if you plan now for a time to read the Bible tomorrow? Even if it’s only for five minutes. Then write yourself a note somewhere to help you remember. Choose a time your house is usually quiet. Preferably before you check your phone or go online. For me, deciding to spend this time before checking for messages allowed me to be much more consistent and enjoy devotional time much more.
But we need to be careful not to beat ourselves up about missing planned times with God.
Just keep moving forward. Give it a try, and wait for God to bless you abundantly with a strong sense of his presence in your life. Your child will notice that too. Just as children love acting more grown up than they really are–and learning in the process–we can all learn by taking on the behaviors and character of our God. Even when we don’t feel like it. As Walter Trobisch says, the abundant feelings will follow.