Is there anything more terrifying than bringing home a new baby? I’ll never forget when my husband and I got the go-ahead to bring our firstborn home. We’d had the help and reassurance of medical professionals for the last 48 hours, and now they expected us to confidently take home this tiny, squeaking baby. I was petrified. And judging by how slowly my husband drove home, I think he was too!
As if keeping a baby alive wasn’t daunting enough, we then began to discuss how we’d disciple him. What are kids capable of? How early is too early? The decision on if we would disciple him was easy, but the question of how to do it left us feeling a bit paralyzed.
After pouring over resources, interrogating parents we admired, and thinking and praying, we’ve come to develop a sweet, yet simple, rhythm of discipleship in our home. Therefore, my first piece of advice to parents of young children is to start early.
The Mouths of Babies
Though at the time I did not have a fully-fleshed conviction of the spiritual and intellectual potential of children, I, by God’s grace, have memories of reading the Bible, singing hymns, and praying for my infant babies. Living in the world of counting ounces and diapers, our babies can quickly feel like a math problem to be solved, instead of embodied persons with souls. But the Bible says otherwise.
Psalm 8 says, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Jesus quotes this in Matthew 21 when the chief priests are indignant up on hearing children proclaim, “Hosanna!” in response to seeing Jesus.
I’ll be very honest. I’m not exactly sure how the mouths of babies silence our enemies, but I do know that it speaks directly to the prized place and value they have in the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us, the adults, that until we accept the kingdom of God like little children, we cannot enter it (Mark 10:15).
If our children, even infants, are held in such high regard by our Savior, then starting early in their spiritual formation seems to be a faithful and honoring action to take. In doing so, it honors our children as growing, developing people, not math problems, and shows them the value their Father in heaven places on them.
Find a Time, Stick to it
Though the discipline of family devotion has long been a part of our family’s rhythm, we still have seasons where finding the time is laborious. Young kids are, by nature, unpredictable.
As parents, we never know when sickness, teeth, development leaps, practices, events, etc. will pop up. That is why we cannot be haphazard as to when and how we do our family devotion. Instead of looking for a chunk of the day that you are not doing anything (because you probably don’t have that), look for a rhythm you already have and align discipleship with it.
Once you’ve decided to create a family devotional time, the first and most important thing to consider is time. This is a good moment to remind you that we are all given the exact same amount of hours each day.
Most often for young children, the bedtime routine is a great time for this to happen. However, this time could also look like getting ready for school and work, sitting down for a meal, taking a family walk, etc. Choose what time works best for you and your family, and try your best to stick to it.
Intentional and Practical
Next, be intentional with this time. Have you ever been grocery shopping on a whim and without a plan? You walk around aimlessly. It usually takes longer than usual, and you likely spend more money. Devotion time with our families is similar. We can aimlessly wander, not knowing what, if anything, is landing.
Therefore, think ahead to what your plan will be- what book is best? Will we sing? If so, what song? Do we have a catechism we are working through?
Simply thinking ahead and creating a plan, much like a grocery list, can help your family stay on task and persist with this discipline. Families who do not have a plan for their family devotions will sputter out.
Lastly, be practical. Recognize what is actually possible for a small child. Seeing as they cannot read and have a minimal vocabulary, look to provide a storybook Bible that is more conducive to their age.
Also, remember what is practical for their attention span. Research shows that the average attention span of a two year old is somewhere around four minutes, and by kindergarten it is about 12 minutes. Therefore, if our expectation is for a quiet, attentive child for 30 minutes, we have a world of disappointment coming to us. More often you will have fidgety, maybe even whiney, kids around. But fight for this time- it is worth it!
Paul reminds us that God has all control in providing spiritual growth (1 Cor. 3:6), and God himself says His word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). Persisting in creating times and spaces to share God’s Word with your children is promised to be fruitful.
Read, Share, Sing
In order to help you imagine what this rhythm could look like within your home, here as an example of how family devotion could play out within a home of small children.
- Read/Teach– As your kids get older, reading the actual Bible would be wonderful! But for our younger kids, I’d recommend a kid-friendly, story book Bible. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones is a fan favorite. I also love The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski, The Biggest Story Bible by Kevin DeYoung, and The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy. Read one story per night, walking through the entire Bible.
- Share and Discuss. During this part, we ask a few questions. For our younger kids, it’s lower-level questions like “What did ____ do?” Or “What do you think about ____?” For our older kids, we can go a little higher-level like “How does this apply to you?” Or “If someone said this to you, how would you respond?
- Sing or Catechize. Singing won’t work for every family, but for little kids at bedtime a quick song is precious and forming. I’d recommend choosing the same one. This is also where catechesis could come into play. I love the New City Catechism (there is also a kid version), but the Westminster Shorter Catechism is also a great one for small children.
- Pray. You can pray. They can pray. You can take turns. In our family, we do prayer requests, and usually someone volunteers.
Good News for Parents
I realize learning about how someone else disciples their children can bring one of two responses:shame or paralysis. If you read this and feel shame for what you are or are not doing within your home, I’d love to remind you that you are a beloved child of Christ. Your activity or inactivity does not change your identity in Jesus. If you feel conviction today, then respond. But do so out of the deep love and freedom you have from Christ.
Maybe you aren’t feeling shame, but feel paralyzed. It feels like too many things to do in the already overwhelming life you lead with small children. If you aren’t quite sure where to begin, I’d say do one thing. Grab a storybook Bible and read it, or sing “Jesus Loves Me,” before you tuck your little one in tonight. Just choose a single thing and begin faithfully implementing it today. Once it is a part of your daily rhythm, add another.
God lavishes his grace upon us all, and in the physically exhausting season of small children, I know it to be all the more true. God knows and loves our children far more than we ever can, and that gives us the freedom and drive to know and love them all the more.