That’s how I describe my family’s devotional life growing up. Six days a week. We attended church on the “off” day.
The devotion setting: The round wooden kitchen table brought the family together for every breakfast and supper. There was a certain seating order based on age and who was left-handed. Mom’s seat was also closest to the stove and fridge. Once seated, nobody was allowed to leave the table until the final “amen” was said. A bookshelf behind the table held five well-worn Bibles and some hymnals. Twice a day, those Bibles came out. The day began and ended with God’s Word.
The morning devotion: A psalm or two were read out loud. Everybody would take a turn reading. Then Dad would read the daily devotion from “Meditations” out loud. We’d close with the prayer, say the Lord’s Prayer together as a family. Afterwards, the table would erupt with dishes cleared, backpacks stuffed, and doors opening and closing as everyone head out.
The evening devotion: A chapter or two from the New Testament was read. Again, every family member would take a turn reading two verses. Then came the “family prayer”. It was handcrafted as the years went by. As we turned from kids to teens to young adults to having families of our own, the prayer multiplied with the additional names of spouses and grandchildren. Everybody was prayed for by name. We would close with a hymn led by Mom and her beautiful choir voice. We’d giggle when Dad’s voice cracked, or he mutilated a note while singing.
But family Advent devotions were special. In the center of the table, Mom created a special Advent wreath. She twisted tiny pine boughs together in a circle. Purple candles, one for each week before Christmas were strategically placed in the Advent wreath circle. An Advent countdown calendar was on the kitchen wall. I can’t tell you how many fights erupted between my brother and I over whose turn it was to light the candle or open the next window on the Advent calendar to read the bible verse. It was the one chance to play with fire, and we weren’t going miss out even under Mom’s careful supervision. It was a special season filled with special decorations to illustrate the approaching sacred birth.
Like clockwork, years of family devotions flew by. Did I get impatient and think the devotions longer than they ought to be? Yes, especially in my teen years. Did I wonder how my friends would react when they joined us for supper and the devotions? Absolutely, though none ceased being friends because of it. Did I go through times when devotions weren’t a high priority in my personal life? Admittedly. But every time I went back home, the tradition carried on because it never stopped. What a treasured memory for my kids to now join in to read and to sing together.
Here I am forty years later. I look back to my childhood. I can still see where everybody sat around that table. The Bibles positioned on the shelf behind me. The lit advent candle on the table. The voices of my parents and siblings joined in prayer and singing a hymn in the early dark of night. They never told me to read God’s Word and to pray. They showed me by modeling it. They invested their lives into creating a devotional culture. I treasure that sacred childhood memory bequeathed by my parents.
If you have never experienced the ritual of a family devotion, I invite you to create one this Advent season. Create your own custom! Maybe it’s a few minutes in the morning or at night before tucking the kids in bed.
Then commit to it for a few minutes a day. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before. It’s never too late to start! Advent devotions can provide the comfort of history, regularity, and spiritual tradition to the season. There’s something special and comforting about gathering as a family, lighting a candle, and hearing God’s Word that prepares hearts and homes for Christmas.
Rev. Donn Dobberstein
Director, Commission on Discipleship
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