Before I had children I had glorious plans about parenting. Everybody does this; we pre-parents can’t help ourselves. We see some small child melting down in public and think, I still have a shot at this. I don’t have children yet, so I can make good on mine. I know it.
And then we have them and we get really, really tired. How tired?
I’m tired enough that I long-ago abandoned my all-organic menus. I let go of sneakily trading in a Boxcar Children for Captain Underpants. I even let go of wishing my children could match their shirts to their pants just once, for the love of Pete!
But I can’t let go of my love of family devotionals. They’re too important, and they will, I hope, stick with my kids. When I was little, about once a week Mom set up a sort of Bible school in our bedroom, complete with story time and coloring sheets. This was her own attempt to keep Jesus around, since we didn’t visit any church on a regular basis (which changed as we grew older and my parents’ faith deepened). We eventually started regularly attending church, but I have always remembered those early lessons with fondness. They were homemade and simple, and as my sister and I competed over answering the most questions about Joseph and his multicolored coat, we learned that faith is not just for Sundays.
I never asked my mom what prompted her to start these weekly lessons. I don’t recall anything tedious about them; they were just a quiet hour or so, facing my sister at our little art table, drawing stick figures of Jesus. They are a sepia-tinged memory of a sunlit room and time with Mom. I was horribly shy as a kid, so any sort of group activity—like Sunday school—terrified me, so in my opinion, this was perfect. Just Jesus, Mom, my sister, and me. That was all I needed.
As I grew older, I found my way into churches and Bible studies and Sunday schools, but part of me longed for the homemade worksheets with Mom. Perhaps it was the introvert in me, or just the nostalgia. Either way, I knew that when I had kids, weekly lessons would resume. What I didn’t take into account, however, is that nothing ever really stands up to idyllic memories. Anyone who has ever tried to show their kid their favorite childhood television show can attest to that. H.R. Pufnstuf just does not translate well to children today. Which is probably a good thing because that show was nuts.
I imagined my two boys, with matching shirts and shorts, sitting quietly at a table and drawing cute pictures of Moses and the Red Sea. What I got instead was this: “Was there blood? When they crossed? The Egyptians? Did anyone, like, lose an arm?”
I’m sure my kids were simply just interested in historical accuracy, but as I tried to wipe away my horror at their questions and redirect their thoughts, I had to let go of some expectations. A lot of expectations, actually. But that’s parenting. What I realized was that my two boys had been attending Sunday school since they were in pull-ups. They had Sunday school down. They were, in other words, ready to be dazzled.
I have two thoughts about this:
1. Bible instruction should not have so many bells and whistles that Jesus gets ignored because of all the racket.
2. Heaven help me, how do I do this?
My first thought was Pinterest. Pinterest is like slathering real butter on day-old muffins; it makes it all better. But for some reason, I hesitated. Pinterest, just like real butter, can really pack on the pounds with a glut of so many ideas I become immobile. I decided to go with the next best option: prayer. And yes, I realize that prayer should never be second in line to Pinterest. I’m working on it.
I prayed and asked God for wisdom. Since this is a daily prayer for me, I added some specifics. “Let me be frank, God,” I prayed. “I really need inspiration, and I don’t even have a felt board. Please.”
Because God has a marvelous sense of humor, what God told me was, “Do what you know.”
As if that were going to work. There are no YouTube videos in my version of Bible study. There are no cool action lessons with shaving cream and Twizzlers. I just, well, study the Bible. I read it, write about it, reread a lot. I underline. Memorize. All of these things are very adult-y and basic, and there is nary a Veggie Tales video in sight.
I want my kids to know Jesus. I want them to understand that the Bible is one of the best ways to hang out with him. I want them, also, to finally stop asking me where the book of Matthew is. They really should have that down by now.
So I did what I know. One morning, we sat down and proceeded to read the Bible. We talked about it. I had them write a few things. Yes, there was a drawing. And, with very little preparation, we were underway. All of this lasted about half an hour, and as they got up from the table Charlie said to me, “I think we should do this twice a week. Mondays and Fridays good for you?”
I have tossed a billion baseballs at my boys, training them to catch. I drill them over spelling words. I taught them to fold their own (non-matching) clothes. Parenting is about time spent teaching over and over again—how to talk to adults or tie one’s shoes. It is a nonstop tutorial for them—and a massive lecture series on patience for me. So why not include in these daily lessons the basics of Bible study? Why save the eternal stuff for Sundays? It’s possible, and it doesn’t have to involve shaving cream. Thank goodness.
What’s working for us so far:
1. Journal. We use a large one with sections. The boys had fun deciding what all the dividers could mean, and as long as one was set aside for our study, I was fine. Henry has an entire portion devoted to “Star Wars and Cats.” If you want more focused journaling time, you can use something like this.
2. Schedule it. Actually write it in the calendar, together. We have Bible study (which Charlie abbreviated to BS, until I suggested otherwise) on Monday and Friday mornings.
3. Start small. I didn’t even want to cover Bible narratives because I wanted the boys to see the merits of analyzing and working on just one verse. I did cheat and use a “Bible Verses Your Kid Should Know” list from—you guessed it—Pinterest.
4. Break it down. For example, we marked the journal page into quadrants and labeled them with Verse, Picture, Prayer, Gratitude. These ideas can be toggled, of course. I’d also like to have a “What is God saying here?” section at some point, but that’s five sections, and drawing is hard. If you want something that provides the structure for you, this devotional has an easy format and is magnetized for your fridge.
5. Make some rules together. One of their decisions was that the daily gratitude(s), which really don’t have to apply to the verse, couldn’t repeat. This should provide us with some interesting gratitude statements eventually. For Henry, it usually has something to do with Star Wars. And cats.
6. Sit with the kids and do the work. Yes, I have a journal too. And I have drawn some really bad pictures.
7. But don’t expect the Bible Answer Boys. Our conversations, thus far, have not necessarily been intellectually or spiritually life-changing, but in a way, they have. We’re doing the work and enjoying the company. And making a few memories of our own. If this means there’s a rousing and graphic discussion on how the Egyptians met their end in the Red Sea, so be it.