Our family discovered the freedom and power of one means of grace after hearing Edith Schaeffer answer a question about maintaining family devotions. Typical of her convictions and priorities, Edith extolled the value of family devotions such as reading Scripture around the dinner table. Then she said, “But we must be careful not to make devotions a payment we make to God for his goodness, as thought he will hate us-or will love us less-because we forget one night or must rush off to a meeting or, honestly, just want to watch a special TV show that starts in two minutes. Having devotions as a family is very important, but it is not more important than being a family and communicating to our children that we don’t secure God’s love by our disciplines. If we have to have family devotions to keep God loving us, then our children will learn not to love such an inhospitable God.
Edith’s words were fresh air to my family. We had tried so long to be consistent in our devotions but were constantly discouraged, even angry with one another, because of the seemingly unavoidable gaps in what we wanted to be habitual. Our dogged insistence on “doing the devotional” did not simply reflect a desire to nurture our family in the Lord; rather, it had come to reflect a need to prove to ourselves and to others that we were a “good” Christian family. However, our consistent “failures” constantly reminded us that we were not as we wanted to be. The resultant guilt that drove us made devotions a constant pressure for the parents and a source of dread for our children, especially as they entered adolescence. We managed to surround family devotions with so much tension and guilt that “forgetting” them made life easier for everyone.
When we considered Edith’s words, however, we realized that missing devotions did not make us a bad family, anymore than doing them made us a good family. What the Bible we were reading was telling us (when we would really listen) was that our status with God did not change just because we did not measure up to an arbitrary standard of devotion discipline.
We still need to nurture our family with God’s Word, and having devotions is an excellent way to accomplish that. But we also need to be confident that God will not love us less because we sometimes choose other ways to nurture our family at meal times. We still do devotions; but we don’t beat ourselves up when we miss and we try to not applaud ourselves when we manage to be consistent. Sometimes I still question if we have let ourselves “off the hook” and have not been as disciplined as we should have been. But while more discipline could have been exercised, the worn-out Bibles and dog-eared storybooks piled beside our dining table attest to years of family time around God’s Word-time that we have managed to accumulate without condemning one another for being human. Confidence in our unchanging status before God has kept us encouraged and energized in our pursuit of family holiness.