When we first became parents, Proverbs 22:6 sounded simple enough to my husband, Barry, and me: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." We're currently in the arduous process of trying to "train" our three boys. There's a particular way we're trying to get them to go, and if they decide not to turn from it, well, that would be just swell.
With this in mind, I recently sensed we should undertake a more proactive approach to our children's spiritual growth. It began one day while driving when I heard a radio announcer mention two little words that strike terror in the hearts of Christian parents around the world. No, not "potty training." The two words I heard over the glorious sound of my boys fighting in the back seat: family devotions.
Hmm, I thought. Sure, we do family devotions all the time. Then I felt the Holy Spirit's quiet voice drowning out Steven Curtis Chapman's latest release on our radio.
Holy Spirit: Um, Suzanne?
Me: Um, yeah?
Holy Spirit: Did you say you do family devotions "all the time"?
Me: Um, yeah.
Holy Spirit: Well, I'm not sure if that's entirely accurate.
Me: Well, what about this morning? We studied First Samuel!
Holy Spirit: Putting the kids in front of a Dave and the Giant Pickle video while you mop the kitchen floor doesn't count.
Me: Yeah, but those kids know God made them special and he loves them very much. Plus they know how to talk to tomatoes.
Needless to say, this argument didn't hold much weight. So Barry and I decided it was time for a more consistent routine. I began my quest by locating the children's devotional Bible I'd purchased for my kids last Christmas. I found it under my son's bed next to five dirty socks and an empty Snickers wrapper. I took that as a sign my son had been studying the Bible on his own while enjoying a chocolate snack. And maybe his feet were cold.
Next, we picked out a day and time to have our devotional time together, which turned out to be a task in and of itself.
"Well, it can't be Tuesdays or Fridays because of Little League. And Wednesdays we have youth group. The weekends are too crazy. How about Thursday nights?" Barry suggested.
"Thursdays? What are you, nuts?" I asked. "We might miss Survivor!"
At least we have our priorities in order.
In the end we chose Monday nights, right after dinner.
The following Monday night we convened in the living room, ready to "train" our kids. Seven-year-old Caleb and four-year-old Jonah took a seat on the couch. Unfortunately they took the same seat and immediately began pummeling each other. Barry intervened and sat between the two angels.
I put the baby, Silas, in his Exersaucer with a few quiet toys. He promptly launched the quiet toys across the room and began shouting, "Out! Out! Out!" I felt this might, perhaps, be a bit distracting, so I took him out of the room.
"Okay, guys," Barry began, "We're going to look in God's Word together for a little bit tonight and see what God wants to teach us."
"Dad, can I get a drink?" Caleb asked.
"No, Caleb, let's do this first," Barry answered patiently.
"Dad, can I get a drink too?" Jonah asked.
"Yes, Jonah, but after we're done," Barry said. "Okay, now we're going to read the story about Jesus in the desert."
Just then Silas tripped over a lamp cord and knocked himself (and the lamp) to the ground. We took a moment to stop the bleeding and remove the hazardous broken glass. Then we resumed our special time of training our children.
"Okay, Jesus in the desert " Barry began again.
"Dad?" Caleb again.
"Can I have soda?"
"Caleb, we'll talk about that later. Now listen to Daddy," I interjected.
Barry cleared his throat and began again, "Jesus went into the desert "
"What's a desert again?" asked Jonah.
Okay, clarification is important. No problem. Barry explained, "It's a place where it's really dry and dusty and there are no trees or grass. So anyway, Jesus went into the desert "
"Did he sneeze?" Caleb inquired.
"What?" Barry said, his eyes narrowing and a small vein beginning to pulse visibly near his right temple.
"Did Jesus sneeze?"
Barry and I looked at each other. We knew the way we wanted our children to go, and we were pretty sure this wasn't it.
"Caleb, why do you want to know if Jesus sneezed?" I asked.
"Well, cause you said it was dusty. I sneeze when it's dusty." Perfectly logical question, really. A bit off the point maybe, but logical.
"Well," Barry said with a deep sigh, "Jesus was a person just like us, so he probably did sneeze sometimes if it was really dusty."
The boys were silent for a moment, as if picturing the Messiah with a first-century hanky. In the corner, Silas found a penny on the floor and put it in his mouth.
After we retracted the choking hazard, Barry said, "Okay, now where were we?"
"Hay fever," I answered.
"Right," Barry continued. "Okay, so, maybe sneezing, maybe not, Jesus went into the desert. While he was there "
"Dad?" Jonah interrupted.
Barry took a slow, deep breath. "Yes, Jonah?"
"If Jesus sneezed," Jonah began with a mischievous grin, "does that mean he had BOOGERS?!" At this point, both boys burst into peals of hysterical laughter.
"Jesus had BOOGERS! Jesus had BOOGERS!" they shrieked. Silas began jumping up and down screaming, "BOOGER! BOOGER! BOOGER!"
Somewhere in the background, the telephone rang.
Barry quietly laid the Bible on the coffee table and said solemnly, "Let's close in prayer."
The moral of this story?
- Family devotions are a time for developing biblical character traits such as love, patience, and perseverance. And if your kids learn something, too, well, that's just a bonus.
- Amazingly God uses us to reveal himself despite our missteps. We set out to teach our kids about temptation; he decided to help them understand the incarnationJesus in the flesh (and possibly phlegm). Go figure.
- Fostering spiritual growth in your children is a full-time job, and sometimes teachable moments can't be scheduled. I guess we might just have to tape Survivor.
Suzanne Pearson, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Virginia.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.Click for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.