As kids return to school and activities, I have one—just one—task for parents. Do it right, and it will challenge your heart in ways we all need.
Kids are heading back to school, and sports and other activities are kicking into gear. So this is the time of year when many moms and dads settle on what the family schedule will look like for the next three to four months, if not the entire school year. It’s a good time to make sure we leave room for the most important things.
In my house, this has usually meant saying no to a few activities that otherwise look appealing to us. These may be activities our kids want to do (or some I think would be good for them) or they may be activities my wife and I would like to include on our personal schedules.
We lay out the options and look at how these things we’d like to do would affect our time together and with God. The first time slot we focus on is family dinner. It’s a block of time we try to protect, both because it’s bonding time as a family and because we’ve found that around the table after dinner is the best time for family devotions, when we read the Bible together, discuss it, sing, and pray. Dinnertime is when we feed together not only on meat and bread, but also on God’s Word. If we regularly miss dinners together, we start to starve spiritually.
Of course, the particulars may be different at your house. The fact that dinnertime works for us does not mean it has to work for you. But I’m willing to bet that you’re like me in this way: if you don’t make God’s Word and prayer a part of your routine, somewhere in your day, it will get neglected. And if you allow other activities and commitments to disrupt the routine very often, your family will start to wither spiritually just like mine.
So if I have one back-to-school suggestion for parents, it’s to decide now to make time for your family to practice spiritual disciplines together. Before you get too deep into other commitments, check the family schedule and make painful cuts if necessary.
As part of this, be sure you’ve left room for regular attendance at church, too. The Christian life is lived in community; you won’t be very good at it by yourself. And despite the fact that the glories of worshiping Christ together are somewhat veiled to us right now, I absolutely guarantee that one minute spent in worship is more eternally meaningful and rewarding than that entire soccer tournament your kid is supposed to play in. It just is. Jesus is that much better.
Do I sound heavy-handed? Sometimes when I mention these things, people look at me like I’ve turned into some sort of “legalist” who wants to make them feel guilty about quaint Christian customs. Aren’t we free of those Bible-reading and churchgoing rules that made past generations so uptight?
Well, there is a danger that putting prayer and Bible reading on the schedule will turn them into items to cover on a checklist. We could start feeling right with God and approved by others based on our record of family devotions—which is a very wrong way to think! We’re right with God because we’re joined to Jesus, and for no other reason.
It’s also important that I don’t try to guilt you into doing these things. It’s far better to draw you in with God’s promises for those who pursue him. Rather than come to him because we’ve been nagged, we want to approach God because we sense the privilege, crave the opportunity to receive grace, and feel the urgent lure of Christ himself.
But this does not mean we should only make time for God when we feel our hearts are in it (if we wait for that, we will surely drift away!). I’m writing strongly about our need to carve out devotional time on the schedule because the schedule is one of those things that reveal what our hearts really love.
That’s right. A check of the schedule is not a cold exercise in programmed religion. It’s a hard look at the heart. It’s about idols and faith.
In the part of the world where I live, sports and activities are family idols. Kids get their sense of identity from what activities they join and what sports they play. They learn to feel good about themselves because they can hit a ball, play an instrument, or take a bow on stage. I’ve heard it a dozen times: seven-year-olds who introduce themselves to each other by listing their after-school activities.
This obsession can extend to us parents. Our sense of family self-worth gets wrapped up in kids’ activities, too. The neighbor girl is doing dance, so our girl better do it too or she’ll feel clumsy. The boys at church play basketball, so our boy better join or he’ll be left out. We want to keep up. We want the best kids who do the best things in all the best ways. We quickly make this an idol; we treat it as the best thing.
But the truth is that no one and nothing is better than Jesus, and kids learn this not by hearing it in Sunday school but by how mom and dad fill out the family schedule. If there’s little room in the day for God, it means we trust something else to make our kids happy and to make us feel like good parents.
Do we really believe that in Christ we have “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28)? Do we know that the salvation he gives brings “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8)? Can we say with Peter, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)? If so, it shows up in how we plan our time. I suggest a check of the family schedule because it’s also an idol check. It’s a chance to look at our hearts and repent.
Beyond that, these quaint Christian customs—prayer, Bible reading, church services—are not any old habits. More than duties, they are practical ways to trust God every day. They are specific and deliberate ways to turn from idols and practice faith in Jesus instead.
As we stop pursuing success by worldly means and take time to pray, we learn that every good thing comes not by our own scheming but from God’s fatherly hand. When we make a point of reading the Bible, we train ourselves to think and act not on our terms but in submission to God’s terms. And when we join with fellow believers to worship together, to sit together under preaching, and to receive together the bread and cup from Christ’s table, we defeat the lie that says the coming year is all about how our own family will get ahead.
So again this year, I need to look over the family schedule. I need to do it as an act of repentance and faith.
Thoughts? Please share or comment below. I love feedback and discussion—it’s how we learn from each other! (Pick any name you like. Your email address will not be displayed.)