Bronwyn and Lionel, can you tell us a bit about who is in your family? And what does family Bible reading and prayer currently look like in the Windsor household?
We have a young adult daughter who is about to get married, a young adult son, and a high-school-aged daughter. So currently, we are all over the place! We have tried all sorts of different things over the last two decades of parenting – and found that just as we’ve hit on something that works well, life changes and we’re having to re-think it and try something new. The key has been to keep on trying rather than to give up altogether.
How have family devotions changed over the years?
To begin with, we read a children’s Bible with our baby daughter before bedtime, even though ‘reading’ meant she only wanted to find all the pages with pictures of camels. I suppose this modelled to her that there are good things to find in the Bible, and that we like looking in the Bible in our family. Once her brother joined her a year and a half later, we can’t remember anything much because we were in the land of sleep deprivation. Probably we prayed short prayers with them before dinner and before bed.
Once they were pre-school aged, we fielded various questions (“Mummy, if Jesus is in my heart, won’t he get blood on him?” as we’re reversing out the driveway on the way to preschool), and set up a ‘calendar’ with a topic for each day of the week to pray for after dinner. They chose the topic for each day of the week (friends, family, the world etc) and decorated the prayer calendar, which we laminated, and each evening we prayed one-sentence prayers for them to echo, then for them to fill in the words they wanted, and eventually for them to say their prayer out loud themselves. When they were being silly, or feeling awkward, we still seriously said, “Amen!”, for we wanted to teach them that we (and they) were talking to our Heavenly Father, who hears them and loves them – and this is how they learnt to pray. They became more confident in their praying out loud as we took even their ‘silly’ prayers seriously, and we delighted to see them grow in their ability to say grace for us at the table with visitors, or to pray in a group.
We graduated to taking it in turns after dinner each night to read a chapter of the Bible and talking about whatever came up, with some very emotionally-charged questions at times – which we haven’t necessarily neatly resolved! – to everyone saying one good thing and one bad thing from their day and taking it in turns to pray for the person next to us at the table, and more recently, on those evenings we’ve all had dinner together (these are getting rarer!), we’ve been reading through an easy-English translation of Mark’s Gospel. It’s becoming intermittent, so it’s probably time to re-think (again!).
What have been some highlights and lowlights? Do you remember what worked best with your children at certain ages?
We used the Operation World book for a time when our kids were primary school aged, to pray for countries we’d never heard about before and learn of their gospel needs; one of our daughters loved putting a ‘Prayer Box’ together where we kept all the stuff in one place; we printed out short prayers for them to select out of the box randomly and read out as they were learning to pray out loud; we taught them the Two Ways To Live pictures and Bible verses using tunes they already knew; we didn’t push it or hand out punishments when behaviour fell apart.
What have been have some obstacles to reading the Bible and/or praying with kids?
I (Bron) remember our rector saying once that the hardest thing he did in his entire week was reading the Bible and praying with his kids at the dinner table. I was astounded – surely a rector of a parish would face many hard things in a week! But the hardest? Admittedly, he did have 5 kids. But, I thought, how hard could it be? Yet when our kids reached the same age of late primary/early high school, I got it. We could actually see the spiritual battle unfolding: as we picked up the Bible after dinner, all sorts of things were unleashed – sudden fits of uncontrollable giggles, bickering, boredom out of nowhere, extreme distractibility – was it that the blood-sugar levels had risen because they’d just eaten and now the energy was there, ready to burn?
We’ve had some gloriously memorable moments, too, though: in Acts 17, we read out loud one night, “…they rushed to Jason’s house” and the kids, almost crying with laughter, yelled “What? Jason?! Who’s Jason?!” It’s become one of those family jokes that we all still love. (Maybe you had to be there for it to be funny.)
In God’s kindness, your children are following Jesus at the ages of 20, 18 and 15. As you look back, what encouragement or advice would you give to parents with younger children?
None of what we do makes our kids followers of Jesus. That’s up to God and so we keep entrusting our children to him and talking about Jesus in our house.
We yoinked ideas from other people all the time, so copy and adapt what others have done. If it falls apart, remember that parents are playing the long game – you can always try something different in a week or two. What they will see is that you’re not giving up. Parents will know that children can detect hypocrisy in their parents even more readily than they can zero in on where the chocolate stash is hidden (1 Tim 4:16).
God has also given us a church family, so the times when our kids have had older ones to look up to and learn from (people like student ministers, youth leaders – basically, people who are NOT their parents) have seen them taking big steps forward in their own faith. Those intergenerational relationships are precious when they happen.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 24-25