I don’t know what family devotions are like with your kids, but at our house over the years, the words “torture”, “frustrating, and “epic fail” come to mind. Can you relate at all? If you can’t, please don’t tell me!
I just want these kids to act like adults: stop fidgeting, picking their noses and tone down the general rumble that I KNOW is going to turn into a full-on fight at any moment. Is that asking too much?
When our oldest kids were babies, I had visions. Visions of them sitting like those good little Sunday School children (you know, the vintage ones from the 50’s…Mayberry, Leave it to Beaver, that kind of thing), smiling sweetly, listening intently and able to remember everything we just read. Oh, and praying wholeheartedly WITH enthusiasm.
Something went terribly wrong. My kids didn’t sit still, they didn’t seem to be hearing most of what I said and they were NOT happy about being hog-tied to their seats (figuratively speaking of course). And their prayers sounded more like a wish list for Santa Claus. They seemed as though they had better things to do. Like chasing frogs, riding their bikes, or pretty much anything that didn’t involve sitting still.
What kind of heathens had I given birth to? I worried. Worried that they would NEVER want to read their Bibles or pray. I was in a dilemma off and on for several years. I prayed for their souls. My husband and I talked things over and over. Sometimes we just gave up for periods of time because it didn’t seem worth the battle. But deep down, we knew this was important.
Eventually, we decided that reading a little something out of the Bible every night at the dinner table was the best option for us. The kids were already sitting, so we didn’t have to lasso them. They still made noise, fidgeted and weren’t overly enthusiastic. But we stayed the course. And we prayed with them: after dinner every night, when they were struggling or sick, in the car as we left on trips, when WE were struggling as a family.
We have tried to live out in daily life what the Bible says and explained that to them along the way. They have seen us reading our Bible often and praying. They’ve seen us pray with others who were grieving or having a hard time in life. We’ve shown them that we find our answers for life’s issues in the Word. We have admitted our short comings to them and our need for Christ. We have thanked God with them for answered prayer and blessings. And we have encouraged them to learn to hear from God personally.
You know what? Our kids are much older now and each of them has an active, growing relationship with God. (Well, the youngest is still in process). None of them are perfect, but they’ve seen their need for Christ and they are growing in their love of the Word. They read their Bibles on their own and they pray often.
We still read the Bible and pray together after dinner most nights. I also have a short time with them most mornings going through The Children’s Catechism* (sounds more involved than it is) where we learn the basics about who God is by looking up and reading short Bible passages.
They are older now and it is finally much easier. Looking back, I think there are a few things I would try to keep in mind:
*Boys especially often need something to do WHILE listening: sitting on a big blow up ball, having something to fiddle with in their hands, drawing/sketching, coloring, playing with clay. Remember that they still have lots of growing and developing to do and many of the things we hope for, come with time and maturity *. At the same time, be sure to remind them of the importance of a certain amount of respect and reverence for God and His Word.
*Keep things simple and be REAL with your kids about God’s Word/prayer and try to example it to them. They hear and see more than you think they do and tend to really remember more of what we DO than what we SAY.
*If we’re too serious and strict, we pretty much suck the life out of the whole experience and leave a bad taste in their mouths (NOT what we want when it comes to the Word and prayer).
Mostly, pray often for your kids’ hearts. The truth is that unless GOD does the work in their hearts, we do everything in vain. He is faithful and able to bring them to Himself.
(Here are a couple of resources if you are interested: *Children’s Shorter Catechism
*Also, Firmly Planted has four volumes of family devotions that include activities for all ages and parent’s manual. This enables everyone in the family to study the same thing together while each person has an age appropriate activity. Wish this were around when our kids were young!)