I received a call this week from the Director of Men’s Ministry at my church in Grand Rapids. This was his question;
“With families largely in self-isolation, what advice would you give parents to help their children spiritually?”
The Covid19 shutdown and self-isolation may be a blessing in disguise, at least in this sense, it offers parents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to begin practicing the lost art of family devotions around an evening meal. Most families are at least around the house at mealtimes now, with no soccer practice, no after school activities, no friends dropping by, or friends to visit. With online classes, I’m told there is far less homework in the evenings.
Based on the empty shelves of flour I see in stores, lots of people are baking and cooking at home. We now have time to prepare nutritious meals AND the time to actually sit down together as a family and have a meal together. What a novel idea!
It’s likely this self-isolation will not last more than a month or so, but with all kinds of sports and camping programs cut, families will still be together more. Therefore, families have a only a brief brief window of opportunity to begin, what hopefully will be, a lifetime habit of meals and devotions together. So, here are my suggestions for you, or to forward to your extended family and friends.
Set a time every evening for the family to eat together. You will likely get some resistance from your teenage children, if they are used to grazing anytime they want. So, explain to them why you want to do this. (But not the fact that you hope this will be a habit forever!) “I know we’ve been together in self-isolation and the last thing you probably want is more family time. But, although we’re in the same house together, we really aren’t all talking together as a family, without any distractions. So, for the next few weeks, let’s gather around an evening meal at 6:00 and just be a family.” Nevertheless, plan on lots of rolling eyes!
Think about questions to ask your children.
What’s the worst part of being isolated for you?
What scares you the most about this Covid19 pandemic?
Are any of your friends worried about their parents losing their jobs?
How do you think this will affect school or your activities in the fall? (The point is to find out what concerns your children the most about what they, or their friends are going through, Ask questions that require more than “yes or no” answers.)
Share your own thoughts or concerns. Talk about current events. Not just the latest Covid news, but stories of sacrifice, how this is affecting missionaries, your church, or tell stories about you growing up, that are comforting or funny to lighten the conversation. The point is, you want this to be an enjoyable time together, and if this doesn’t come naturally to you, you’ll need to think about what you want your kids to leave the table having learned or experienced. However, you will want to be careful about sharing age appropriate information. If your job has been permanently terminated, or you may not be able to afford college for your older children, you should have those conversations privately, with your older children, not around the table. Those are not “oh, by the way… “ discussions. But, share how this may change how you work more safely when you return to work, or how it may change your industry. Talk about what you’ve learned about yourself, or your family in this time. What good do you see coming out of this?
Be careful what you say about national, or state leaders, or even your own boss. The Bible commands us to respect those who rule over us. Is that the message your children have been hearing? That does not mean you cannot voice your opinions, or disagreements, but are they thoughtful, or respectful? Your children are learning from you how to be a good citizen.
Ask spiritual questions
What questions would you ask God about this pandemic?
Why are Christians so afraid of death if Jesus promises about heaven are true? These kinds of questions are going to require some homework for most parents beforehand. Google your questions and read what thoughtful, spiritual people are saying. Find Bible verses that tell your children, God is still in control.
Either read a passage of scripture if you have teenagers, or a story from a good children’s Bible story book, for younger kids. For children, I recommend “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones. All our grandchildren were raised hearing this wonderful stories. For teenagers, I’d just start reading the Book of Luke, a chapter a day. You may want to give your older children the opportunity to read aloud to the family. Kids generally take greater ownership of the experience if they participate. But, please don’t just read a chapter and close the book. Be prepared to ask questions:
What did you learn new, that you didn’t know before?
What don’t you understand about something we read?
Why do you think the Holy Spirit chose this story to be in the Bible? The point is to get kids to think more deeply beyond these all-to-familiar stories in the Bible. You may want to read each story or scripture passage yourself ahead of time, so you are prepared to ask meaningful questions.
Begin your meal with prayer If this is not your practice, (or you’ve gotten out of practice having devotions together) you, the parent should start by praying out loud. After a few weeks, ask one of your children to pray occasionally. If you know they may be reluctant, talk to them privately ahead of time about it.
Family devotions have been on the “endangered activities” list for years. If that’s true in your family, you may never get this opportunity again. Please don’t miss it!
How following Jesus works in real life.
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