Our Bibles were propped open on the table before us and my heart was full of anticipation for a beautifully spiritual event. As my oldest daughter began reading the passage that I had picked for the day, one of the boys started poking the dog. Determined to have the perfect family devotional time, I overlooked the offense and pushed on.
But over the course of our “spiritual experience” one kid fell backwards off the bench, another ripped a page in her Bible because she was turning the pages too fast, and the oldest broke down in tears because no one was listening to her read.
Yep, it was pretty much an epic fail. In fact, the oldest wasn’t the only one who cried. That night as I went to bed I felt like a complete failure. I was an awful parent, a horrible Christian, and pretty much a complete loser. One thing I was certain of- I could never have one of THOSE amazing family devotional times like every other good family has, especially as a single mom.
I know what you are thinking, “This whole scene is ridiculous, Kim. You’re not a loser, an awful parent, or a horrible Christian. Even good parents have hard days. This is NORMAL.”
I have to admit that even I can see how ridiculous the whole thing was as I type it. I can actually hear how silly my thoughts and feelings were. But it wasn’t silly or ridiculous in the moment. And if we are all being truthful here, you’ve probably had the same little pity party yourself.
The truth is, everyone struggles with having a family devotional time. Maybe it’s the discipline to actually start it, perhaps it’s the fear of not having enough biblical knowledge, or perhaps it’s even the absence of a spiritual leader in your home. Whatever it is, most of us have defeated ourselves before we even begin. But it’s time we stop it, ok?
How to Have a Family Devotion Time Without Feeling Defeated
1. Don’t get all legalistic
If you are waiting for the right moment to have a family devotion, it’s never going to come. The best thing I ever did for our time together was throw out all of my rules. If we don’t do it in the morning, no problem. We can do it that night. If we don’t do it that night or any other night for a week or two, no problem; we can start again.
If we beat ourselves up over time of day, length of time, or consistency, we will always feel defeated. So no more of that. Focus on the truth- 5 minutes in God’s Word is better than none. Start there. Do it whenever you can and don’t picture that family in turtlenecks gathered near the fire singing hymns together for hours every night. (They don’t exist anyway.)
2. Expect your kids to be kids
It’s ok if someone falls off the bench or picks their nose. God is not offended by children being children. Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t teach our kids manners and expect them to be able to sit still for this. I believe we want both, but I know for certain that we won’t always get it. Kids are a work in progress (ahem… so are we), so let go of perfectionism and focus on working toward your goals. Which reminds me…
3. Make your purpose more about habits and family unity
After failing multiple times at establishing a regular family devotional time, I spent several days in prayer trying to find a solution. One thing I realized was that everything we do in life has a purpose. I wondered what the purpose of this family devotion time was for me. Over time and with lots of prayer, I came to the conclusion that my primary goal was to develop daily habits of intentionally discussing God and His Word as a family. That was pretty much it. Not exactly rocket science, but when you focus on that goal it makes everything else seem much clearer.
4. Save the deep theology for later
Even if you don’t have a big family, it can be hard to figure out what you can do at your family devotion time that will meet the spiritual needs of everyone. In fact, this is the most common question people ask me. Having a 5-year-old and an 11-year-old, I can understand why this comes up. Even though I don’t consider this gap all that big, it still poses a problem. Either the 5-year-old is lost or the 11-year-old is bored.
Actually, it’s neither in my home. Remember my purpose? This time of family devotions is NOT the time for deep theology. I save that kind of study for our quiet times or Bible studies in our homeschool. Our family time is a time to talk together about what we are learning. It’s a time to pray for each other and with each other. No need to go “deep.”
5. Involve everyone
If you follow the ideas above, this one becomes easy. During a family devotion, everyone should have a part of some kind. It could be prayer, leading in a hymn, reading a verse from the Bible, or simply sharing what they learned that morning in quiet time. Give everyone a chance to talk and share what is on their heart.
What Family Devotions Look Like in Our Home
This is what we have found to work for us. Before I share, let me make sure I mention that I believe God puts men as the head of the home. As a single mom, I assume the role of leader for now, but will give that to my boys as soon as they turn 13. If you are married, I would encourage you to discuss this with your husband and allow his expectations to guide your family.
As I mentioned, we make this flexible, but typically do it at night before bed. It just seems to work best and I love sending them off to bed with thoughts of our time together. Most of the time it lasts about 30 minutes, but honestly, there are many times when we can only pray together for a quick 5 minutes because we were out too late. I have indeed learned to be ok with that!
We start by each sharing something that we learned about God that day. Sometimes this is from quiet time studies, others from our Bible study times (right now we are going through My Brother’s Keeper), and it can even be from something we experienced throughout the day.
Next we share prayer requests with each other and pray over our family and anyone else we know who needs prayer. We write these down in a notebook so we can keep track of the wonderful ways God answers prayer.
Finally, we sing. We pick one hymn a night and sing as many stanzas as we have time for. We only have two hymnals at home, so we often gather very close as we sing.
And that’s it. None of that requires planning or prep work, but all of it points to my main purpose: to be constantly building the habit of talking about God!
So what about you? Can you relate to me at the beginning of the story? Have you found something that works well for your family? Share with us!
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