Teaching Children to Worship at Home

When the year is fresh and the calendar pages are crisp and spacious, our commitments and resolutions seem like adventures. “We can do this!” we declare as we gather the family around and open our Bibles to Genesis. Unfortunately, by Epiphany, the luster has worn off our resolve, and family devotions have begun to feel like a chore. And then there’s Leviticus . . .

Lora A. Copley and Elizabeth Vander Haagen have prepared a guide that does the heavy lifting of plotting a course for family worship. Teach Us to Pray is organized into seasons based on the church calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The readings are dated for long-term use through 2027. An introduction to each section provides background and front loads a challenge to the parents along with a heads up about materials and recommended activities for planning purposes.

In the process of teaching the small people in our lives to worship, our own hearts learn the practice anew, and as I perused each day’s lesson for Advent, the eight-part pattern began a drumbeat in my thinking about exactly what worship entails:

  • Preparing – What environmental conditions will enhance the experience?
  • Inviting – God is there already. Invite Him into the center of your worship.
  • Stilling – In the silence, ask the Spirit to help you pay attention to God.
  • Singing – Music and lyrics for thematic songs are provided.
  • Reading – When we read Scripture together, we hear the voice of God.
  • Dwelling – What questions come to mind in relation to the text?
  • Praying – Thank God and praise Him for the day’s wonderful truth!
  • Blessing – Words from Scripture invite you to pray a blessing over your family.

How would my personal, grown-up variety of worship be enhanced if it was continually being shaped by these action verbs?

Encouragement for Worship at Home

Family worship took on many forms during the growing up years of our four rowdy sons. Often we gathered at meal time, but there were seasons when we occasionally claimed a Saturday night for a more intensive teaching session — followed by popcorn or some other treat. Three principles come to mind that guided us through those important years:

1.  Persevere.  Don’t give up!

If you forget, remember next time.
If you fail, do better next time. Just be sure there IS a next time.

2.  Take grace.

Conversations about spiritual things with my kids never go as smoothly as I plan them.  Sometimes my words sound brittle or awkward even to my own ears, and now that they are older, even if they are gracious enough not to roll their eyes, I wouldn’t blame them if they did! However, the Word of God is living and powerful. He keeps His promises, and He is able to incline our children’s hearts toward truth, even if we are unhappy with our own skill in delivering it to them.

3.  Maintain a long view.

Even the most serious of cross hymns sung during Holy Week lose their solemnity when there is a St. Bernard in the dining room throwing his head back and howling a descant in accompaniment.

Advent candles set a worshipful tone and help us to focus.  They have also been known to ignite a paper napkin that somehow went airborne during family worship.

I can laugh at these aberrations now because they are part of our family’s story. They remind me that worship is part of life, and as we guide our children’s faith-formation, daily times of family worship will set up a rhythm of faithfulness that will enable our children to envision a life in which God and His Word are part of every season and every day.


This book was provided by Calvin College Press via Westra Events and Media in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Grateful Parents: Grateful Kids

Finally, about ten years ago, the light began to dawn, and you can’t imagine how disappointed I was.  I realized that parenting is not a cause and effect proposition.  It’s not a vending machine in which I insert my actions (seizing teachable moments, training in character, consistency in discipline) and then am rewarded by equal and corresponding reactions (obedience, respect, good behavior).

I’m a slow learner, so this was earth-shattering for me, but . . .

Having said that, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch reminds me that if I want my children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, I had better be modeling the right heart attitude myself.

In the Great Balancing Act called parenting, we are at war against three words:  “Is that all?”  In ourselves, in our kids, Western culture exacerbates our entrenched selfishness in everything from “ice cream servings to allowances.”  “Enough” is never enough.

Kristen is writing from the trenches of raising three kids, and so the tone of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World is NOT “we have arrived and here’s how your kids can ooze gratitude like our perfect children do.”  She comes alongside her readers with humble offerings:  “Here’s what we’re doing.  Here’s what others have tried, and that’s great, too.”  Kristen’s perspective is derived from the knowledge that parents who are willing to fight against the prevailing culture and for an attitude of thankfulness in their children will feel as if they are swimming upstream.

My oldest son talked early — and often — so I can still hear his husky toddler voice saying, “There’s a difference between a need and a want.”  To me!  Even so, one need that is common to all kids is their parents’ love, and ironically, in our culture of possessions and privileges, it is common to find children who are sadly lacking in that need while every want is speedily fulfilled.

No one sets out with a goal of “spoiling” her children, but little daily choices that arise from incorrect thinking accomplish the task over time.  Kristen unmasks some of these:

  1.  We want our kids to be our friends.
  2.  We’re afraid to say no because of the fallout (slammed doors, tears, eye rolling, shouting).
  3. We feel guilty about our circumstances and try to compensate with permissiveness.
  4. We are busy.  We eat fast food on the way to one of Junior’s three different soccer league practices, take on an extra job to pay for a Disneyland vacation, and don’t have time for the slow work of eyeball to eyeball interaction in which we pass on our values.
  5. We don’t want them to fail, so we make things “easy” for them.
  6. We don’t want them to feel left out, so we cave to the “everyone else” argument.
  7. We don’t want them to be unhappy.

It is not for nothing, then, that Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World provides an end-of-each-chapter assortment of age-related hints for going against the flow.

For parents:

“Put a plan in place.  Decide in advance what you will say ‘yes’ to.”

For toddlers:

“Make cookies together.  You may eat one for your effort, and then give the rest away to brighten someone’s day.  Teach your children that we don’t have to keep everything for ourselves.”

For elementary age:

“Clean out closets and drawers, and instead of giving away only things that they won’t miss, urge your kids to include something they really love to share with someone else.”

For tweens/teens:

“It may seem to your son or daughter as if she’s the only one in her class or he’s the only one in his grade or on this planet who isn’t fitting in or keeping up.  But if we are going to compare ourselves to others, let’s also compare ourselves to kids who live in poverty.”

The award for most practical feature goes to the chapter called “Making Smart Choices about Technology” with its related idea of a cell phone contract.

Central to all this intentionality and hard work is the goal of  introducing kids to the freedom of self-discipline; to the security that comes from seeing parents follow through on their principles; and the self-confidence that can only come to kids who have been allowed to “struggle” a bit and then to solve their own problem before a parent comes swooping in to rob them of the privilege.  We must love our children enough to make the hard choices that lead to a lifestyle of gratitude.

This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishing,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Enjoy Your Preschooler

“You need to stop reading those magazines.”

Once again, the patient husband had come home from work to find me in a puddle of panic over some detail in the life of our firstborn.  Some days I was convinced that I was a failure as a mother; other days I was sure that I had already done irreparable damage to our son’s development — all based on the opinions of the “experts” I was consulting.   (Thanks be to God that there was no internet access in those days!)

Based on that experience, I’m obviously a little suspicious of parenting books.  Everyone seems to have a handy list of guidelines, an opinion about what’s “normal” or “enough,” a foolproof checklist, or a guaranteed plan for successful parenting — often with advice that is contradictory, confusing, or impossible for normal people to follow!  What would happen if parents decided that instead of doing more and enjoying their children less, that they would do less and enjoy their children more?

In The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler, Tim Sanford, licensed counselor and member of the Focus on the Family counseling staff, has offered his Big Four, over-arching, low-pressure principles to help young parents shrug off the pressure:

1.  Shrink your job description

The way I understood parenting in my early days was this: (1) Make sure the boy turns out “right;” (2) Do everything perfectly.  (No wonder I was stressed!)  By contrast, Tim’s first rule of parenting preschoolers is:  Relax!  It is the role of mothers and fathers to nurture and to validate their children.  In actual practice, this will look different in every home, but the message children need to hear sounds like this:

  • “You’re good enough!”
  • “You belong in this family!”
  • “I love you!”

Nurturers and validaters (i.e. parents) take time to hold and play with their little people; their voices are gentle and playful; they are focused on enjoying their child rather than rating their own performance or worrying about the “what-ifs” of the future or the stress of fixing their own past and living chained to by-gone resentments.  Naturally, parents who love the gospel will also introduce the sober truth regarding the havoc that sin has wreaked on our relationship with God, along with the off-setting joy that “good enough” is attainable only through the righteousness of Christ.

2.  Make friends with free will.

One of my sons was born with the conviction that life is a multiple choice test — and all the answers are none of the above.  He and I used to lock horns every day over choices.  Many of them needed to be worked out, but honestly?  Some of them could have been avoided if I had been more comfortable with this concept.  It boils down to sound theology:  God made humans to be choosers, and sometimes we make dumb choices.  It is not a parent’s job to make everything in life turn out perfectly, and, as frightening as it is for a parent, it is important that a child be allowed to experience age-appropriate life lessons, and to be given a voice, even as a toddler, in life’s little choices.

3.  Step away from the power struggle.

As a new mum, I think I truly believed that I was responsible for controlling every stray atom in our family’s universe.  Here’s Tim’s wisdom on that:

“Trying to control what you can’t equals HIGH pressure when it comes to parenting.”

“Accepting the truth that you can’t control all you’d like, and focusing on how to best influence, equals LOW-pressure parenting.”

For example, we are responsible to see to it that our children cannot put a paperclip into an electrical outlet.  This we can control.

We are not responsible for the look on our mother-in-law’s face when our son throws a temper tantrum.  This we cannot control.

4.  Reduce the rules.

Rules that are developed ad hoc and on the fly are usually ineffective.  Because they are so critical for keeping safety in and chaos out, it’s important that rules be few, specific, enforceable, relevant, and — most importantly of all — worth the effort!  If a rule is actually keeping safety in and chaos out, then it’s worth the battle.  If it’s not, then it can be relegated to the category of good advice, but not mandatory, (see Big Four Principle #3).

Cynthia Tobias predicts that Low-Pressure Parenting will have this effect: “You can replace worry with joy as you learn to celebrate and delight in the earliest years of your child’s life!”  I wish this book had been among the piles (and piles) of parenting books (and magazines) that I read when my boys were small.  Certainly, I will be passing this gem along to my beautiful daughter-in-law, because Tim Sanford’s parenting advice really comes down to some extremely astute theology:  God is sovereign.  He is bigger than any of the hurts that my grandson will face in his dear little life.  My son and daughter-in-love cannot control every outcome or circumstance of their son’s days, but the relationship they form with him now will have huge sway over the amount of influence they have with him in the future.  So, in these days of parenting their preschooler, I have begun praying for them that they will find grace to do what they can — and NOT what they can’t.

//

This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Chickens at the Crossroads

Stop signs and flashing lights preside over busy intersections.  Commas and semi-colons mark the collision of clauses.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if there were some ready marker or built-in gulp of air at the major crossroads of life?

Kelly Chripczuk began living the transition from ten years in full-time mothering mode when her youngest children went off to school.  “Who will I be,” she wondered, “in the face of so much open time and space?”  Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk & Poultry is a thirty-day record of Kelly’s vital signs in the early days of this transition, because one of the first things Kelly did to mark the beginning of her new listening-to-life is to buy ten laying hens.

She soon realized that chickens (like children) are inconvenient.  They get out when they are supposed to stay in.  They are uninhibited with their bodily functions.  Even so, we welcome them into our lives as a reminder that we also are inconvenient at times, and that we refuse to bow down to gods of convenience or efficiency.  Convenience and efficiency are not the boss of us.

capture

 

In  Kelly’s  longing to join the psalmists at the “intersection between heaven and earth, writing, singing, and praying from the very center of their lives,” her chickens became a symbol for a way of life that was spacious, rooted in nature, and that demonstrates the truth that “there’s no arena of life in which God is not able to be known.”

With equal measures of self-deprecating humor and here’s-what-I-learned wisdom, Kelly shares stories that kindled within me a deep thankfulness —  for the fact that tools and bicycles now inhabit the hen house on this country hill, but also for the glorious reality that life with critters is helping me to see that there are “different ways of being.”  I can’t control our family’s pet St. Bernard’s predilection for using window sills as a handy chin rest, and maybe that’s a good thing because, as Kelly points out, “there’s only so much you can control.”  I need that reminder in as many different contexts as possible.

As she grows deep roots into the person she is becoming, Kelly expands her heart around the ache of life and death (after all, things happen to chickens), and, in the process, she gains a heart that is more open to joy.  In the day to day experiences of love, risk, and poultry, she begins to find the courage to live the life she loves.

//

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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The Heavens Declare!

Capture2Little people find words first for the people and the things that are most important to them.  As one of the “named people” in my grandson’s life, I love to read books to him that include pictures of the sun, moon, and stars, because he responds by pointing to them, naming them over and over, and then returning to that page again and again as if the drawing is truly lighting up his life.

How exciting for him that Mary Manz Simon and Lizzie Walkley have collaborated on a pair of books that celebrate two basic — and yet profound — theological truths:  God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon.  Sturdy cardboard and rounded corners mean that the books were designed for little hands.  Vivid primary colors and a diverse mix of friends trumpet the fun and beauty of each day that God has made, while soothing pastels, soft jammies, and a comfy bedtime routine remind little sleepy-heads that the moon is God’s hand-made night light.

Daytime and nighttime are both gifts from God, and while tiny fingers trace the cut- away circles and crescents in each book, eager ears and hearts can be absorbing truth from the rhymed text as loving parents (and grandparents!) read about about these foundational concepts:

  1.  Every day is an adventure!
  2. Every night is a time to be thankful.
  3. Routines and schedules — lunch time, bath time, story time, prayer time — are sweet boundaries that bring structure and security to a child’s life.
  4. God’s love is even more reliable than the sun and the moon.
  5. The God who made the sun and the moon is well able to keep and care for His children.

What a great opportunity to introduce the truth of Psalm 19:1,2 — and a manageable memorization project for little sponges!

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.

Let’s accept this invitation to join the sun, the moon, and all of God’s creation in fulfilling the purposes for which we were made!

//

This book was provided by Worthy Publishing in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Parenting Past the Mid-Point: More Thoughts from the Garden

“These bean plants are a mess,” I muttered.  “But, wow . . . lots of beans.”

Our eleven rows of Providers (that’s the variety of green bean we always plant) had lived up to their name, but after four pickings, the plants looked tired, ransacked, plundered.

They looked like us.

I smile when I say that my good husband and I are “middle aged”.  I suppose if we live to be 108, we are middle aged, but the reality is that we are past the mid-point on many levels, and this is most glaringly obvious in our life together as parents.  Parenting feels different in these days of a teenage majority when almost everyone is taller than I am.  It was so much easier when I could put all the “forbidden things”  (cookies, snack food, breakables) on top of the refrigerator.  Now I find myself asking my kids for help with top-shelf-reaches.

So, how does a medium-short mother set boundaries for tall boys who still need them?  Now that we are past the days when someone might eat Drano, does parenting still qualify as my priority?

My vote is “yes,” and my campaign slogan is:  “T.V. is not the default in this house.”  Well, actually, to be honest, it’s more like this:  “T.V. IS NOT THE DEFAULT IN THIS HOUSE!!”   (Can you hear the difference?)

Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a balancing act of “yes” and “no,” of remembering that, sometimes, the “no” has to be for me, and the “yes” for my boys.  Writing a blog post one day, it occurred to me that I did not know what Boy #4 was up to . . . not exactly, anyway.  All his brothers were busy and gone for the day, and he had been left behind.  I kept typing, but the thought was nagging me, chewing ever harder, until a Proverb popped into my head:  “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother,” (Proverbs 22:15)  End of story?  Joel was fine, playing with Tucker the St. Bernard.  It would have made for a more dramatic story if I had caught him smoking, right?  But more and more he is spending time alone, so even though we can’t be “play mates,” and I will never be an adequate stand in for his brothers, that afternoon we sat down together for a read-aloud chapter of The Return of the King, and the blog-post got finished later.

I don’t want to drop the ball on the relationship with this boy, just because there have been three before him, and I’m “ready to do something different now.”  Having come late to marriage and family, most of our friends were raising their last child at the same time that we were still figuring out our first born.  On the phone, feeling the tether of the phone cord (remember those?), I could hear in my friends’ voices the feeling of being tethered.  “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do when _____________ starts school.”  (_____________ was six months old.)  Today, twenty years later, having resolved not to follow in their footsteps — but having taken on the challenge of a summer job —  I still want to be living in the present moment with the fourteen-year-old who is waking up every morning to a new, teen-age day.

Besides just the daily challenge of staying in the game, we are finding that the older our children grow, the more we need godly wisdom.  For us, Parenting Past the Mid-Point has meant parenting through disappointment.  Somehow, throughout childhood,  it seems as if our kids all managed to make the team, ace the test, and nail the audition.  It was inevitable, but, nonetheless, a JOLT, when we entered the days of college applications denied, cars totaled, and job interviews with disappointing results.  Now, I’m happy to say that the sons who experienced each of these calamities have lived to tell about it, are driving intact vehicles today, are enrolled in  college, and are employed.  This may not always be the case in our future, and I know this because I have listened to the sadness of mothers whose sons did not survive the totaled car or persevere in the job search.   On this fallen planet, happy endings are not a given, but I have noticed a tendency to ride through the difficulties in my own life with much more sanity and trust than I do the disappointments faced by my children.    Here’s what I’m learning about making productive use of those times:

  1. Pray for your child, and let him know that you are praying.  In at least one of our disappointments, I was so blind-sided by the “no” that came, I did not know how to pray for that son’s future.  I could see no better road than the one that had been blocked.  It was time to offer that attitude up to God (since it was all I had), and to ask Him for wisdom; not that He would give ME  a vision for my son’s future, but that He would do that for my son.
  2. Share Scripture with your child — not as a period, to end the conversation (“All things work together for good to those who love God.”  We know this will work out, so just stop worrying and put on a happy face and things will be fine  . . .”) —  but as a cup of water to prime the well, to keep the conversation going.  Jeremiah 29:11 reassures me every time that God has my children’s futures well in hand, and Psalm 5:8 gives me words to wrap around my hope for straight paths and righteous living for all my boys.
  3. Do the obvious — love them in the way that you know love to be loved!  That might mean listening to the frustrated rantings of your more vocal offspring; it might mean keeping your mouth shut if it seems as if your questions and suggestions create more anxiety.  It could mean that you sit down and help with resume preparation, provide transportation for a while, or offer encouragement in your child’s love language (write encouraging notes, give him a back rub, or bake his favorite lasagna).

Lest anyone get the impression that Parenting Past the Mid-Point is a desert waste-land, let’s go back to the garden.  Those bedraggled bean plants yielded an entire bushel which resulted in fourteen quarts of canned beans for winter, a batch of dilly bean pickles, and enough beans for dinner besides.

There is fruit.

It is a glorious thing to see the friendships that develop among “grown-up and growing-up” kids.  I love that my boys are friends, and am thankful for the grace of shared jokes from a life time of laughing together; spontaneous visits and phone calls; a daughter-in-law with a sweet, quiet smile; a grandson who melts my heart; the knowledge that values we have passed on and the God we love will hold center stage long after the Mid-Point has past and the End-Point is in sight.

//

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Wherever the Poem Takes Us

A perfect Saturday:  a hand-holding walk with a patient man, an antique store, a cafe, and, finally, a beach with two lawn chairs.  In the company of the Atlantic Ocean, the summer sun, and my snoozing husband, I was introduced to a new poet — Marjorie Maddox  — in my meandering read through True, False, None of the Above, a song about life in the key of grace.

Based on her reading, her teaching, and her embrace of a life of faith, Marjorie’s poetry examines important themes with clarity and an open-mindedness that spurs the heart on to more pondering.

To jump start your worship:  Unlike God we tilt and turn, but “the Trinity’s still point throws no shadow.”  “His face is the greater flame, but doesn’t flicker.”

To celebrate beauty in nature:  Marjorie notices and then reports.  As it happens, “lightening does, after all, saw through space — a jagged bread knife of sharp.”

Events from the evening news find their way into Marjorie’s poems along with whispered prayers over dirty dishes and clean laundry.  It is a delight when poetic imagery illuminates daily tasks and decisions — even the generational do-si-do of storing people’s stuff and then throwing it away to make room for new memories in “this world of want.”  It is a blessing to find images from an ancient Book reconfigured so that this time there is no favoritism — both Jacob and Esau have received a poem.  And on a perfect summer afternoon, it’s pure bliss to open a book, to read it slowly enough to savor images, and then just to “go wherever the poem takes us.”

//

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.