I understand the tension. Christian parents love the idea of their kids spending time alone with Jesus… but they want it to come from the heart. “If I force the issue, will my children associate God with rules and resent Him?” “Are my kids old enough to understand?” “How can I talk to them about Jesus or quiet times when I don’t have it together myself?”
Parental confusion turns to inaction, and by default, many Christian parents never teach their children what time alone with God can be.
This isn’t a problem that has one correct path or solution. But it is definitely a problem. Lately, more and more of my friends are wondering whether faith is a teachable thing — and if it is, are they qualified teachers?
On feeling hypocritical teaching our children about Jesus:
I have this amazing group of friends that began as a Bible study group. They’re real. We all mess up at life and faith quite often, so we have a saying: “I stink.” What we mean is this: No sin is surprising, because we’re only human. No sin is defeating, because we have a Savior who both paid for our forgiveness and promises to change us bit by bit into His likeness.
So many mothers feel like frauds speaking to their children about Jesus. Our kids see our angry rants, our impatience, our imperfection. But our flaws do not invalidate the truth or beauty of who Jesus is. When we mess up and apologize to our children, we have a chance to say, “I stink. Humans stink. But we have a perfect Savior. And He will help mommy change. I’m sorry.”
On whether forcing your child to have daily quiet times will make him/her resent it as a chore:
Growing up, my dad read devotions to us every morning as we chomped cereal, before rushing upstairs to dress for school. I’m not sure how much I retained from those groggy mornings, but I did learn this: my parents thought it worth daily effort to introduce us to Truth. I’m thankful.
It’s one thing to read to your children; at our house we do that constantly, and often it’s the Bible or books that point to Jesus. But can we make our children have solitary time with God each day?
This is a touchy subject. Many of us spent years failing at the “rules” of Christianity before we realized that our failure isn’t the point — the joy of being with our Savior is. We don’t want to set our kids up for a religion of regulations, leading to feelings of guilt and disconnection from God. We want their joy in Christ to be organic and authentic — not a path to behavior modification.
So what do we do in our house?
Our kids have a daily quiet time. It’s a part of the “chart” they complete each day, up there with baths and bed-making and reading. No, I don’t want them to equate time with Jesus to brushing their teeth — but they are both habits I intend to instill in them.
A habit (like a child’s quiet time) is not a matter of the heart — not at first. Habits are defined as “a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” My prayer is that my children will develop a hard-to-break tendency towards opening their Bibles, towards hearing truth, towards quieting themselves before God. Only Jesus changes hearts. But I pray they expose their hearts to Jesus every single day of their lives.
So how do you implement a quiet time without making it seem like a chore?
For one thing, a quiet time should be age-appropriate (a few thoughts on that below.) It shouldn’t feel hard or burdensome. It’s just meant for a child to open their hearts to hear from God, daily, habitually.
Tone is so important. Our girls have to finish their “charts” before they can watch any technology that day. The charts include a quiet time, and the girls often head towards their devotion time for the sole purpose of getting to play with a smart phone afterwards. Yikes.
So I usually stop them beforehand with a smile and sweet chat. “If you don’t feel like having a quiet time, start by telling God that and ask Him to help you enjoy this time. Remember, if you read/hear something about how great God is, thank Him for it! If you read about how much we should love God or love others and you don’t feel that love, pray for God can make you feel it. He can! If it tells you to obey in some way that you don’t want to, tell God that! He can help change your heart!”
Does my pep-talk work? I have no idea. I’m not claiming to have perfect parenting strategies, and I can’t guarantee how my girls will turn out. God Himself has prodigal children — who am I to think I won’t? For me, this is less about results and more about my obedience to God in parenting.
One last thought in this section: Have your own quiet time every day. Become who you pray your kids will be. God can do it through you. Pray that your children would see your genuine love for God and His Word, despite your daily failures.
Quiet Times for Different Ages
Over a weekend retreat in middle school, I was given a handout on how to have a seven minute quiet time. I kept that guide by my bed for a year and consistently met with God. Nothing fancy. Nothing hard. But it was the beginning of a habit.
My five year old still finds reading burdensome. Reading = school. So she doesn’t read for her quiet time. Sometimes she listens to three kids’ worship songs, alone in her room. I tell her ahead of time to think about the words, thanking God, or asking God to make her heart agree with the words.
Other days, my five year old colors pictures for God. I’ll read her a short Bible-storybook story, then leave her alone to draw something from her heart. There are even days when she does nothing but flip through Bible picture books, thinking about the story each picture represents.
My seven year old is halfway through her first workbook. We bought her a tiny bag to hold her Bible, workbook, a blank notebook, a highlighter, and a pen. She looks up Scripture herself now. I ask her to use the blank workbook to write down things she thinks God is trying to teach her, and to date each entry. Once or twice, she’s used the notebook to take sermon notes. Mostly, she feels grown up with her bag and highlighters and all.
You’ll notice my ideas may not be the best for older children, or for boys — hey, I only know what I have!! But I pray these ideas can help you brainstorm different ones that work for your family!