Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Family Devotions

Okay, I've not got much time so be extra tolerant of bad spelling, punctuation and/or unclear sentence/paragraph structure, please. n_n

Reading Quivering Daughters has given me much to think about concerning the practice of family devotions. Standing by my own husband as he begins to deal with the emotional fall-out of having been raised in an extremist fundamentalist evangelical environment is also causing me to reconsider much of what I believed about Christian practice, Christian parenting, etc.

I hear echoes of my own daughter's heart in some of Hillary's journal entries. It makes me wince. I never meant to bring pain to my children, or saddle them with guilt. I didn't intend on making anyone feel that they could never measure up. No! No! No!

I thought I was always telling the gospel of grace, and emphasizing the great love of God. I was mystified when my daughter would say things, "I just want you to be proud of me!" or "I'll never be good enough for you."

Usually she would say this right after I found out about some action of hers that was in direct contradiction to all I thought I was teaching her! I would think, but not say, "If it matters so much to you why don't you DO things that will make me proud? Why are you defying me?"

Well, smack me upside the head with a two-by-four! I see know that all that emphasis on right living, behavior and thought added up to INTENSE PRESSURE TO BE PERFECT! In all my personal religious instruction, I failed to see what I was teaching from the eyes of a child.

That breaks my heart.

Of course my daughter would feel I was impossible to please. I wasn't continually building her up for all the good she said/did/thought. I didn't praise her for her acts of service, kindness and compassion. Not like I should have anyway. And here's why: I set up a world in which "obedience to God" was to be the norm, not a commendable extra, but a demanded least level of performance.

How did I do that? Through those well-intentioned daily devotions. I read them as an adult, an adult who needed constant reminders to act as a mature Christian should. I was after all, a fully formed person at that point.

That's fine for an adult like myself who has good personal emotional boundaries. I needed to be reminded that frequently. But my children, who were just starting out in life, were getting an entirely different message. I was hearing "keep trying", they were hearing "anything less than perfect isn't good enough". I forgot to listen with the heart of a child.

My daughter was hearing put yourself last always, and set out to do that very thing with all the earnest determination of a pure heart yet untouched by cynicism and selfishness. Whereas I was being pulled back from being too selfish, she was hearing "your self is bad, your self doesn't matter as much as other people, other people always matter more and that's how life should be..."

Oh, I thank God I did disagree with them at times, and say so, and sometimes ask my children what they thought, and let them disagree, but still...moral instruction every single day? For me, as a fully formed adult with my ego strong and vigorous, I needed to be reminded to think of others needs, be gracious and loving, etc. But those precious children, just starting out in life, did NOT need that all day, every day!

I think that Deuteronomy 6, the verses that tell us to "talk about" the Word of God as we go through our day, were talking about the spontaneous conversations that naturally spring up as we spend time together. I had those conversatoins with my Grandma growing up, and the neighbor lady across the street. Those meaningful little starbursts of glory breaking into everyday life are still with me today. They were life-giving.

But that is a far cry from deliberate, planned, canned moral presentations handed out like cod liver oil to obedient pliant children. It may have tasted awful, but they dutifully swallowed it out of love for mom. And along with that daily (and for those using overtly Christian curriculum, hourly!) dose of law, cheerfully endured by loving lamb hearts, came the ministry of condemnation.

You know the warning, don't you? God has made us all able ministers of the new testament: not of the letter, for the letter ministers death, but of the Spirit, because the Spirit gives life. The new covenant is written in our hearts by the Spirits. When we speak spontaneously, from what is written in our hearts, then it ministers life.

But the letter, the commandments, the rote, regular predetermined by the will of man presentation of the letter of the law- it kills!

How did I not see that before?

Am I saying I don't believe in canned family devotions? Yes, I think I am.

I think I am saying exactly that. It's kind of scary, but, yes.

I think that when we switched to fun books rather than devotionals at night, it was way more important than I realized! I wish now that I had done so many more things for joy, and not let fear rule so many of my decisions.

A time where we all pray together? Yep, that I would not change. A time to remind the children of God's great love and His thoroughly attractive nature of goodness and joy? Yes, in fact that's what I would replace all those canned devotionals with, stories from the life of Jesus! Just a smidgen at a time, the story of the ten lepers, the widow's mite, the healing of the man blind from birth.

Jesus said if he was lifted up, he would draw all men to him. Yep, looking back, that would have been the much wiser course, and a truer interpretation of Christian parenting. Deuteronomy 6 was given to those under the Law, the letter that kills.
What we all need is the Spirit that gives life.

Well, I may change my thinking on some of this as these thoughts have more time to distiill. Right now I have to go. See ya!


  1. I like this. I like this a lot. Far more than actions, we need hearts that long to be like Christ. And that longing comes from knowing Him, following Him, connecting with Him.

    Good stuff.


  2. Excellent post.

    Sometimes it's easy to impose our own personal vision of Christ upon others rather than point them to Him and let them determine for themselves what they see - and do it in the most well-meaning ways.

  3. WELL MEANING should be all caps! ;-)

    AS I am reading the stories of unhappy home school grads, I am seeing this common theme. Many parents grew up in the 70s, in a teen culture with no restraint or wisdom about drugs and sexual behavior. When we became Christians, this was one pain we wanted to spare our children.

    We were ripe for the Christian book industry to mine for our money. Once again we were in new uncharted territory, how to raise children in a Christian home, and we were looking for someone to guide the way.

    Since the selling point in all this Christian literature and the lecture circuit is so shiny clean and happy, first generation Christian parents were enchanted. We could all relax. We may not know how to create a healthy Christian family, but all these experts did.

    I bought so many books. I have books by Dobson and Ross Campbell side by side on my bookshelf. They actually have very different approaches, but I was trying to make it all fit in my life somehow. (Still recommend Dr. Ross Campbell, by the way.)

    Others read books I was not at all enamored with- Mary Pride, the Pearls- but what we had in common was the relief that someone else KNEW the way to make this work. We put our trust in their books/lectures.

    Yet we should have seen that all that angst was unnecessary. After all, we had all come to faith in Christ without daily devotions and rules about every facet of life. Why did that not occur to us?

    We wanted to spare our children the pain we went through, and inadvertently caused them different kinds of pain. All because we relied on others to tell us how to live, instead of letting our uncertainty guide our daily prayers that God Himself would reveal His heart to our children in the way that would work best for each of them!

    I'm not saying don't share your faith with your children. I'm saying LIVE your faith- pray, read YOUR Bible, speak from your heart by the grace of God when it seems fitting (if you are walking with God that will be often). Share the stories of Jesus Christ, and let Him draw your children's heart to his great love!

    I am saying if I had it to do over again, I would not go over and over the do's and don'ts found in scripture every day. I would focus more on living it out myself than on teaching it by rote memory.

    Yes, I know the verse "I will hide thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee". And I would do that, in front of my children, for myself. But, if I had to do it again, I wouldn't assign it to my children. I would be completely non-coercive about it.

    Wouldn't that have been wise! If they see Mom and Dad living this way, but it is not demanded of them, my guess is that they would be seeking God on their own in their own way/time, and it would be a joy rather than a burden, and the Holy Spirit would be in charge of the whole process rather than a curriculum provider or some other Christian book publisher.

    But I could be wrong. I am researching my theories for now. =)

  4. Ha ha! Blogger didn't seem to accept this comment so I make a new post out of it. Comment on the new post rather than here, please. That is, if you have anything to say! LOL =D

  5. Oh, how I wish I could send this to my parents! THIS is what they don't understand.

    Maybe I could, if you don't mind if I edit it a bit (to take out things they would not understand and see as total condemnation of themselves) and send it in an email. Is that ok?

  6. I am reminded of a line from the Newsboys song "Cup O' Tea":

    Words are forever
    When we speak we set 'em free....

    The words are out there now. Use them in anyway they benefit you! =)

  7. this is what my parents don't understand. they themselves were very loving, supportive parents, but we were homeschooled and more than half of our day... each and every day... consisted of bible study or church or devotions or whatever. i don't think the fault lies within well-meaning parents, but the message itself and the way that it's presented. i have definite self-esteem issues now... whether it is due to christianity or other factors i will never know, but i do know that i grew up thinking that every human is filthy and full of sin, and there is nothing we can do to be good, that our only worth is the worth that is "given" to us by jesus, and that as a woman i'm even lower on the totem pole, as as a child i was even lower then that, etc... it's supposed to be humbling, and it is. when taught to children, christianity has a huge impact on our self esteem.

  8. I am filled with sorrow that this happened to you, lktomi. Please accept my heartfelt apologizes for being part of a system that hurt your young heart. And my good wishes for you to find a life of love and freedom in the love of God everywhere you go and everywhere you look!

    I am still mystified as to why I believed that this was necessary or good, seeing as how I came to faith in Christ without a daily Bible lesson, and so did your parents probably.

    Also though Jesus taught everywhere he went, and welcomed little children and loved them, he was always traveling. I think it is safe to assume he was teaching primarily adults, but even if we agree that whole families were present, he was not teaching the same people every day.

    I wish I had looked more to the life of Christ for guidance instead of church, bookstore advertisements, curriculum fairs, speakers, etc. I really don't think a person can go wrong looking to the life of Christ.

    Jesus didn't go on and on about "original sin" and when he referenced hell, he talked about in the context of religious leaders that were in danger of the wrath of God, and in the context of saying that each individual is responsible for his own actions. He did not go around preaching hellfire and brimstone for everyone like the fundamentalist preachers do, but went around telling people the kingdom of God had arrived!

    What a contrast. Why is it the religion that bears the name of Christ so seldom looks to His life for our doctrine or example? It puzzles me.

    I wish now that instead of daily devotions, we just loved on and played with our children everyday. That they would only SEE ME having my own times of seeking God in MY OWN way for MY OWN life.

    Once a week church and being in a relationship that we could discuss faith anytime our children wanted to discuss it, THAT seems to me now to be the way to go! More prayer FOR my children, less talking TO/AT my children. I would even skip church every now and then to go camping, have water gun fights, go to the beach, and then remember to thank God in prayer for a beautiful day sometime during the festivities.

    God is love. He said that about himself. He never said God is doctrine. Why, why, why did I not get that right?!?

    He loves us with an everlasting love. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He will never cast us out, He will never leave us, He will never backstab us. While we yet "sinners" he loved us - he truly LOVED us- LOVES US!

    Jesus should have been the focus all along.

  9. Yes, praying together with your children is a very special thing, as long as it is also communicating God's love - not just praying to repent of sins or pray that someone else will repent of their sins. To the extent that it is about a happy, wonderful, loving relationship with Jesus - it is a great thing. There is a line in a song that makes me cry - "Someday I'm gonna teach you the reason why we pray - so that Heaven's love may reach you every single day." I had never known why prayer is good or important until I heard those words. Those words captured my heart, and I always remember them now when I or someone else asks why we pray.

    Thank you for your post! It is beautiful! *hugs*
    ~Annie Oakley