Aug 8, 2014

Family Devotions: A Work-in-Progress

By Ruth Meyer

Picture this: The candles are lit. The hymnals are open. Your husband leads the family in a reverent service of Vespers or Evening Prayer, reading appropriate Scriptures at the appointed time, and together everyone sings hymns that tie in with the Bible readings. Catechism recitation wraps up the evening before the children go cheerfully to bed.

Does that sound like your house during devotions? It sure doesn’t describe mine. Family worship is tremendously important, of course. Just as we feed our children lunch, we also want to provide spiritual nourishment through God’s Word. We want a family culture of reverence and prayer. Yet even though we all have ideas of what family devotions “should” look like, more often than not, reality falls far short. Maybe that whole candlelight Vespers thing works for you. But maybe you’re more like our family, where devotions are more like pulling teeth. If so, take heart. You’re not alone. Fortunately, there is no “one” way to do family devotions.

Okay, let me explain that pulling teeth thing. I don’t mean to imply that I dislike devotions or that I find
them boring. But believe you me, the devil doesn’t want Christian families to do devotions together, so he tries his darndest to prevent that. Schedules, homework, sports, etc., all compete with family time, and I find that almost without fail, my children are at their absolute worst behavior during devotions! They talk, goof off, and make faces at each other, and so we yell at them and everyone gets mad at each other. So much for a nice quiet reflective devotion. Can you relate?


It is helpful to study your family dynamics and figure out a plan that will work in your own home. Temper your plans for family devotions with realism. Kids are easily distracted and usually dislike sitting still (even my 10-year old still has problems with this). Keep things short enough for success. You know your family best. If you aren’t in a regular habit of devotions, start out modestly. Maybe read through a Bible lesson and say a prayer together. Sing one stanza of a hymn. For kids who are in the early years of grade school, I find the My Devotions quarterly publication from CPH to be an excellent resource. If you want to follow a service but aren’t quite ready to tackle Vespers or Evening Prayer, try one of the short service formats for Daily Prayer, found on pages 294-298 of Lutheran Service Book. There are four short (one page!) services for different times of the day, and it helps give structure to your devotions.

Also, keep in mind that “devotions” don’t have to be relegated to one, marathon session after dinner. I prefer to think of devotions not as a single event, but as a way of life-- “devotional living,” if you will. Consider the words of Deuteronomy 6:7-9, “You shall teach [My words] to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, incorporate God’s Word into every facet of your life. Make it as natural as breathing. Live your faith throughout the day.

In our family, one thing I’ve found to be extremely useful is to break up devotions into mini sessions at different times of the day. Here’s how it looks in practice:
- During the school year, we read a devotion from My Devotions (mentioned above) during breakfast, and then I say a prayer that also addresses the kids’ prayer requests for the day-- tests, projects, a certain classmate who’s been giving them trouble, and so on.

- Later, after dinner we try to review a section of the catechism via the Follow and Do Set from CPH (there are six books in the set, one for each of the Six Chief Parts, and the illustrations help keep kids’ attention). Sometimes we also try to follow one of the formats for Daily Prayer.  
- At bedtime I’ll try to read them a Bible lesson from Egermeier’s Bible Story Book or from CPH’s 120 Bible Stories. Sometimes we’ll just read an Arch book. It all depends on the day and temperaments of all involved. Bedtime is also when I encourage the kids to pray their own prayers out loud. We finish by singing a verse of a hymn and going to bed.

One day, my kids will be mature enough to tackle an entire Vespers or Evening Prayer service, but in the meantime we’re slowly teaching them the canticles from those services. Our kids can sing the Phos Hilaron (“Hymn of Light”) from Evening Prayer, and now we’re working on the Nunc Dimittis from Compline. During Advent and Lent, we learn a verse from a different hymn each week. I have a friend whose family sings a different hymn each day of the week, so that every Monday they sing the same hymn, but each day of the week is different.

Perhaps you read that last paragraph and thought, “Yeah, right! That’s way too ambitious for us.” In all honesty, the above scenario describes an ideal day, the way I want things to be. In reality, things rarely work out so neatly. There are days when a prayer together is about all we can manage. Remember, you’re not a terrible mother if your kids don’t know the entire catechism by heart. We (and our families) are all works in progress. Don’t compare your own family devotions to those of other families. Do what is manageable, and rest in the confidence that God works through His Word, however imperfect our efforts to read it.

Ideally, your husband should be the one leading devotions, because the husband is, after all, the spiritual head of the household. But sometimes that just doesn’t happen. In my own situation, my husband is gone at least three times a week during dinner, so I’m completely on my own then. Sometimes the father of the family must travel or is deployed by the military. Even if he is absent, he can be involved in setting the tone and scope of how his family prays together. Ask him how he would like to see family devotions run.

Sometimes, however, a husband chooses not to be involved with family devotions at all. This is a difficult situation. Ask gently and respectfully if he would lead them for your family, and explain why it is important to you and helpful to the children’s spiritual development. If he refuses, you want to make sure that you aren’t stepping into his place in an “in your face” sort of way. However, your children still need to hear about God and to pray. See that they are still learning Bible stories, reviewing the catechism, and praying. If your husband is merely intimidated by the idea of family devotions, when he sees you doing devotions with the kids, he may come to realize it’s not as daunting as he thought, and eventually offer to lead them himself. In the meantime, pray about it, and pray for his heart as well as your own attitude, that you wouldn’t grow resentful toward him.

Remember, every family is different, and perfectionism is not your friend here. Anything is better than nothing, right? Tailor your devotions to something that is age-appropriate for your kids, and use what fits into your schedule as a family. Light candles if you wish (I’ve heard that sometimes candles serve as a cue to the kids that it’s time to be quiet, although I can’t speak from experience), or just pull out some Arch books and say a bedtime prayer. The point is, make devotional living such a part of your family life that it becomes natural. It may be a struggle to do devotions with young kids, but the dividends pay off in the end, because some day, they’ll be the ones leading devotions for their own families. God bless you in your own devotional living!


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Ruth Meyer is living out her vocation as a Lutheran woman in the roles of sister, daughter, mother, and wife. Her greatest joy in life is living as a redeemed child of God, who has blessed her in her many vocations. Besides her human relationships, Ruth's other interests include music and writing. She is a church musician and has a special love for Lutheran hymnody. She also loves to write, and has a children's book set to be published through CPH this fall. Ruth keeps her own blog at truthnotes.net. Her hope is that through her writing you are encouraged and perhaps even challenged in your God-given vocations.

Title Image: Detail from The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, 1432

2 comments:

  1. My kids are 2, 4, and 6, so right now our family devotions are really simple. While they change into jammies every night, my husband reads one story from a copy of NPH's "Primary Bible History" that was mine when I was little. There's a picture for almost every story, and they eagerly ask to see it. Then as I tuck them into bed, I pray with each of them. As they mature, we'll switch to something more "devotional," but right now, this works really well for us.

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  2. My husband found family devotions to be a negative experience growing up and so is not comfortable leading our children in prayer or devotions. If a situation arises with our teens that needs addressing he will approach it from a Biblical perspective but other than that he rarely speaks with them on Biblical issues.

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