It’s Thursday night. There is something important I need to do tonight, but I am dreading it with every fiber of my being. You see, Thursday night in our house is family Bible study night.
I shudder as I remember last Thursday’s attempt at Bible study. I close my eyes and say a quick prayer: “God, tonight please don’t let this feel like a war zone.”
My mind goes back to more than twenty years, when my brothers and sisters and I attended Sunday school. I would listen attentively, mainly because the teacher knew my parents well, and I didn’t want them to give me a bad report. So inevitably at the age of 16, I made the decision to leave.
A few years later, my now father-in-law would hold long family Bible studies on Fridays. My focus had changed over the years, so I had a renewed interest that eventually led to my baptism.
But the respectful silence during my father-in-law’s Bible studies, as various people of all ages listened and engaged with him, was not shown to me when I tried my hardest to engage my own children in God’s Word.
What was I doing wrong? When I first started studying God’s Word with them, they were young. I still hold fond memories of cuddling up on the sofa, looking at pictures, saying simple prayers, and just enjoying sharing His Word with age-appropriate resources. But as my children grew older, I struggled to engage them with any story in the Bible. Whatever I tried just didn’t seem to hit the mark.
So tonight I am expecting yet another battle. I take a long, deep breath, exhaling slowly as I ready myself for the usual resistance. I can do this, I tell myself. But the voice in my head says, “Let’s give it a rest this evening. They don’t like it anyway!”
Other excuses start flowing through my mind in quick succession. I shake my head vigorously, attempting to ignore the comments that try to stop me. I slowly stand up from the comfort of my armchair and wade down the hallway toward the bottom of the staircase. “Michael? Sarah? It’s time for our special family time,” I shout, sounding a little more enthusiastic than I feel.
At first there is silence. I call their names again, pretending I don’t know that they heard me the first time. In my mind’s eye, I imagine them putting their hands over their ears to ignore me.
It takes another ten minutes and three more calls (which grow louder each time) before their uninterested faces appear over the stair rail. As they slither down the stairs, I try my best to ignore the rolling eyes and occasional whisperings under their breath. “It’s boring! My friends don’t have to do this!” are some of the more audible comments I am blessed to hear.
After heavy stomping down the stairs, Michael and Sarah throw themselves into the two armchairs in our family room. I follow them.
OK. I’ve got them down the stairs. That’s a good start isn’t it? I say to myself, trying to hang on to some crumb of encouragement to entice me to take the next step.
We begin the way we always do: a prayer of thankfulness and gratitude, followed by the usual reminder about bringing our Bibles with us to the study.
They both get up and stomp over to the bookshelf, remove their Bibles, and go back to their armchairs. As they do so, my thoughts return to a recent article I’ve been reading about the power that a prayer of gratitude instills in us. The author writes that one of the benefits of a prayer of gratitude is that it helps us to see God.
I look over at my children’s miserable and disinterested faces, losing all hope that our prayer helped them to see anything that relates to Him.
My son, as different to his usual boisterous and inquisitive personality as could be, is now quiet and reserved. My daughter becomes defiant and guarded, characteristics far removed from the congenial and cooperative young girl she naturally is.
But no! I tell myself. I will not be defeated. I rehearse the scriptures in my head that tell parents to teach God’s ways and Word to their children. “OK, Lord. I’m not giving up!” I take another deep breath, and we begin again.
I talk for a few moments asking them about their day at school. A few grunts ensue in response, and then we begin to read the Scriptures. My son, having read the passages surrounding the fall of Jericho (in the most monotone voice known to man), ends the reading with a yawn as he closes his Bible.
Throughout the reading, I see my daughter’s eyes focused on the large clock on the wall. As soon as it is over, she slams her Bible shut as well and sighs as if profoundly relieved.
Listening to the Voice
Silence ensues for about three minutes as my children look at me, waiting for me to expound on the scripture, after which they both know they are free to go. During those three minutes of silence, I hear a voice in my head that I recognize in my Christian walk as a word of guidance from the Holy Spirit.
“Move,” the Voice says.
As I sit there, pondering what the word move could possibly mean, the realization of what God is telling me suddenly dawns on me. God is letting me know that rather than sit and read, as my experience has taught me, we should instead do something that my children can relate to.
This time I smile as a different plan forms in my mind.
“OK, everyone,” I say excitedly. “Follow me and copy exactly what I do.” As we move toward the long hallway, I think I see small smiles appear on their curious faces.
My focus this evening has been to show the magnificence and power of God in the fall of Jericho. But now with this new word from God, I will do it in a different way.
I get down on all fours and crawl down our long hallway. From there we run into the garden. Once there, I jump into the air three times.
Behind me I hear a special noise I haven’t heard in months: the beautiful, unstifled cries of laughter coming from the mouths of my children! We dance and bound around the garden, the children mimicking my every action. At the end, we all return, breathless and excited back into the family room.
This time we sit in an atmosphere of excitement conducive to the lessons I had scrupulously planned and that God, in His wisdom, has hijacked.
Michael and Sarah now look at me, eagerly waiting to find out the meaning behind our fun activity. I remind them of the fall of the Jericho walls, and casually mention that sometimes in God’s Word we are asked to do things that do not make sense. But in the end, God has a plan. Even though we may not understand what it is and cannot make sense of it at the time, we should still do what God asks of us. His plan will most likely work out so much better than we have imagined.
God taught me an unforgettable spiritual lesson that night. I had to learn to meet my children at a place where they could meet God. Engaging with the Bible through activity, laughter, and ways that they could easily relate to brought the lessons of the Bible alive for them.
My planning has taken a bit more thought, work, and fervent prayer, but it’s really worth it. The rolling eyes and miserable faces are almost nonexistent. There are still days with the usual battle as I vie for my children’s attention and participation, but those days happen less often than before.
Relying on God
Our world has many distractions that compete for our children’s attention. We need to do all we can to make their moments of family time with God as relatable to them as possible.
If you have the same battle that I have struggled with, try asking God to hijack your lessons. Then wait and see what He will do to activate your holy imagination.