Four sets of parents came together to share with other parents their respective journeys of having sacred time with their children. I approached them to come forward to share not because they have been there done that but because they believe the importance of spending time with their children around the Word of God and although they face challenges of various kinds, they are still persevering in this spiritual discipline. Since not all the parents attended the sharing session, I will take this opportunity to summarise what I have learnt from that session as well as share some of my own observations. As parents, we have the responsibility to be our children’s primary Christian educator. Besides providing for their physical needs and helping them with their school work, we are to disciple them in the Lord so that our Christian faith can be passed on to the next generation.
“How often do you do family devotion with your children and how long do you spend each time?” The responses come in various permutations. Some do devotion with their children every night while others do so once a week. Some do it with individual children, especially if they are of varying ages, while others do it as a family, and some others adopt a combination of the two. If we have children of very different ages, we can still come together to do family devotion. Peg the devotion at the older children’s level and let the younger ones be there to observe and listen. You may be surprised how much they can absorb. As for duration, for some, it is a 10-15 minute affair; for others, it can stretch up to an hour. It depends on the ages of our children. Usually when they are younger, it is good to read the bible to them every night and we can keep the time short. When they are older, especially when they have entered secondary school with their packed schedule, strive at least to come together once a week and more time can be set aside for questions and interaction. Ideally for the rest of the week, they have cultivated the discipline of having their own Quiet Time.
“Who takes the lead when it comes to doing family devotion?” Sometimes papa will be the one reading the bible to the children because mommy is too tired to do so while other times mommy will take the lead. It will be ideal if both parents are present. Even mommies who are expecting can start reading the Word to their unborn child! It is never too early to start the child on the Word of God. It is never too old to stop too. One family continues to have once a week family devotion even when two of their children are studying overseas – thank God for Skype! When the children are older, they can even take turns to lead.
There is really no hard and fast rule. We just need to be intentional regarding frequency and duration and to make it known to the family so that it becomes a discipline that we want to inculcate. Encourage participation and interaction. Make use of the questions in the devotional materials. Allow our children to ask questions even when those questions are not directly related to the devotion passage. Listen intently to them. Don’t jump in too quickly to give a response. Don’t chide them for thinking in a certain way, especially when we are interacting with our teens. It might just turn them off and discourage them from raising further questions. Do not tell our younger children when they ask us questions that they will naturally be able to understand when they grow older. If they can ask a question, it means that they are ready for an answer. Effort then is on our part to explain to them in a way that they can understand. If we don’t know the answer, honestly admit it instead of bluffing our way through. Tell them to give us some time to do our research and we will come back to them. They will appreciate us for our authenticity. If we keep the communication line open, it will encourage them to be more spontaneous in asking questions during or outside family devotion. In the process of addressing their questions, we too will find ourselves growing in the knowledge of God’s Word.
“What are some challenges you face?” Parents feel inadequate for such a role. Do not fret. There are devotional materials to help us and resources out there are aplenty. These resources usually have a bible verse or passage and a related article that accompanies it. There are also built-in questions to facilitate discussion. One set of parents who shared attends Precept classes so that they can pass on what they have learnt to their children during their family devotion. If we parents are having our own Quiet Time, we too can share with our family what we have learnt from the Lord. In God’s community, there will always be parents whom we can consult, share resources with and mutually encourage. Above all, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Busyness and tiredness remain the biggest challenge – parents are busy and tired; children are busy and tired, especially when they have entered Secondary School. These days, both parents are working and they feel very tired at the end of the day. Even for home-makers, they feel so exhausted by the time the equally tired working spouse comes home. Both may be expecting the other to do devotion with the children. Some parents put their young children at their parents’ home during the weekdays and only bring them home for the weekends. It is not impossible but doing daily devotion with their children will be a challenge unless the grandparents are Christians and can take over that role. Even when the parents are enthusiastic, their enthusiasm is often dampened by the un-enthusiasm of their children: ‘I still have tonnes of home work to do.’ ‘Exams are around the corner. I need more time to revise.’ ‘I am very tired. Can we skip devotion?’ Sometimes, though their body maybe present, their soul is somewhere else – they are distracted; they are disinterested; they are disengaged; they are uncooperative. Parents will have to take all these in their own stride and persevere.
We don’t need to be legalistic about doing devotion but we also don’t want to be too laissez faire. We will need to strike a balance between being too rigid and too flexible. Rigidity can cause resentment and turn devotion into a chore. Although doing devotion is a discipline to be cultivated, it is also a means of grace, a channel through which the grace of God reaches us to strengthen our faith. It should therefore be seen as a time of communion with God, a time to be enjoyed. It is alright to excuse the child if he/she is really desperate for time to meet a deadline or we can modify the devotion time and have sharing and prayer instead. But never let it become so flexible that it is irregular and the coming together is depended on convenience rather than commitment. I have often times been tempted to cancel devotion for all sorts of reasons but I am glad that I persisted because as always, something encouraging would come out of that sacred time!
It is a journey. We are all learning and sometimes fumbling along the way. Don’t be discouraged. One of the participants at the sharing session brought out a poignant point. Our children spent so much time in school and out of school acquiring knowledge of all kinds. How much knowledge of the Word of God are they receiving? Surely it cannot just be dependent on the 2 hours of Sunday school time. If they are also receiving garbage from various sources, how do we ensure that those kinds of unhealthy input do not remain in their system? We need therefore to constantly renew their minds. The Psalmist says: ‘How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.’ (119.9, 11) We also claim upon the promise from Isaiah 55.10-11 that the Word that goes out from God (through us parents) shall not return to God empty, but it shall accomplish that which He purposes (for our children). So parents, let’s persevere in this very important endeavour. The grace of Christ and the power of His Spirit is with us all.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
June 7, 2015