A few months ago, as we ate oatmeal for breakfast, I read to my girls about Moses and the burning bush. My 3-year-old appeared deep in thought. When she spoke as I paused to turn a page, her statement left me speechless: “I know, mommy, let’s have doughnuts!”
I wasn’t speechless because she shared some deep insight or asked an insightful question. I was speechless because I realized she was not thinking about the story, but about yummy rings of fried dough.
If you have kids, then you’ve probably had similar experiences. Kids, particularly young ones, have short attention spans and they’re prone to wiggling because they have lots of energy. This makes having family devotional times challenging! One minute you’re praying and the next you have one child doing a somersault in the middle of the floor, one child asking for a drink of water, etc.
Having family devotional times is so valuable—even when these times resemble a circus! Here’s why.
How “distracted” family devotional times benefit our kids
- They’re picking up concepts even when they don’t seem to be paying attention. When our kids are fussing, playing, or doing anything but sitting still and listening, it seems like they aren’t learning from the devotions. This simply isn’t true. Kids, especially young kids, are very curious and tend to explore everything around them. This means their attention is spread out, even when we ask them to focus. Though they can’t focus their attention on one specific thing in the same way adults can, they often end up noticing and remembering a wide variety of details (source). In other words, though our young kids may wiggle and get distracted during family devotions, the words and concepts contained in the Bible stories, songs, and prayers are still sinking into their minds.
- They’re seeing that prayer, worship, and Bible reading are priorities for mommy and daddy. The adage that “actions speak louder than words” is perhaps more accurate in parenting than in any other context. If our kids don’t see that the disciplines of reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping are important to us, then it is unlikely they will make these priorities for themselves. The converse is also true. If they see that these are important to us, then it is likely our kids will make these disciplines priorities in their own lives.
- They’re forming a habit. In our busy lives, it’s a lot easier to spend regular devotional time with the Lord when doing so is a habit. No, I’m not saying we should set aside time for devotional activities simply because it’s a habit. We should do this because we love God and want to spend time talking to Him, worshiping Him, and reading about Him. However, it’s a lot harder to do this when it’s a new practice than when you’ve grown up doing it.
- They’re learning to be reverent and still. Our kids won’t wake up someday and magically know how to sit still in church or be reverent when praying and reading the Word. We have to model these things for them and teach them why these are important. The few hours we spend each week in organized activities such as church and Bible studies aren’t sufficient for most of us to teach these things to our kids. When we have family devotions, though, we have plenty of opportunities to teach these things.
Two passages from the Bible keep coming to mind as I think about this topic:
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8
When we speak God’s Word to our kids, it doesn’t return empty. When we sow into them the disciplines of reading the Word, worship, and prayer, we reap kids who practice these same things. Even if none of this was true, it would be good and right for us to persevere in having devotions with our kids because it is one way we can be obedient to God’s directive that we impress the Lord’s commands on our children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Next week we’ll consider some practical ways that we can keep our kids engaged during family devotions.
Do you have devotions with your kids? Do these devotions ever look like a circus? When they do, what inspires you to keep at it?