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Don't Forget to Nourish Yourself

I remember a bad thunderstorm we had last summer. Lightning flashed and crashed, and the wind blew mightily. We even spent a few minutes down in the basement. As I walked around the yard the next morning, I didn’t see much damage—only a few leaves and a couple of small twigs—EXCEPT for my prize tomato. There it lay in the mud in the garden! In another two weeks, it would have been the first trophy of the season. I picked it up and put it on the windowsill in the sun to ripen, but it was no use. The best we could get was an anemic pink tomato that was hard and tasteless.

This simple illustration shows what happens if we do not stay close to the source of our strength and nourishment. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. . . . If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers” (John 15:5,6). Horrors! That this should happen to any one of us or any one of our precious children!

Will they grow up like weeds?
Thinking about my tomato, I could have lost that coveted prize tomato in a variety of ways before it came to maturity. It could have gotten the blight. Some animal could have chewed on it. It might have dried up because I neglected to water it. Growing healthy vegetables demands regular attention and constant care. The same is true also for each individual in our families. We cannot expect our children to grow and develop into happy, well-adjusted Christian adults if we neglect them and allow them to grow up like weeds.

More often the challenge is not so much trying to keep them from growing up as weeds but trying to balance all the activities that we want them to experience. Soccer moms, how many miles a week do you put on the car as a taxi service? Dads, are you into Little League, or is it football or basketball? Maybe it is all three, and then do you also have to run to softball or volleyball, or to piano, trumpet, or flute lessons? How do the kids ever have time to play the Wii or surf around the Internet for an hour or two each day? Is it another night for fast-food burgers, or are we just going to grab a few subs on the way home?

All of this does nothing to help us keep ourselves or our children attached to the vine.

I remember my great-uncle proudly attending his son’s final graduation, as he became a doctor. He asked his son, “How did you do it? No one else in our family ever accomplished so much?” The answer was, “I did it by watching you.”

Parents can “set the table”
The best way to teach your children is to model for them. If you scream, yell, and turn the air blue in your family room because a referee made a bad call against your favorite football team, what do you expect your son will do when he is fouled trying to make a game-winning basket in the big tournament? It will be a little late to run out onto the floor and say, “Jim, do what I tell you, not what I taught you.” Or will you join him in screaming at the referee?

It is just as easy to teach good habits as bad habits. Certainly the best way to nourish the spiritual growth of your family is to schedule regular daily devotions. The trick is to have the devotion at the same time and in the same place with sufficient time and everyone present. After breakfast before everyone leaves for the day is probably the best suggestion. It can’t be like a Chinese fire drill, the way we try to herd everyone into the car for church on Sunday morning. Another practical time for a joint devotion is after supper, even if it is as we are finishing up our sub sandwiches. Another possibility is to share a devotional thought individually with each child as he or she heads off to bed. The disadvantage with this approach is that we don’t have the whole family together for the devotion. The advantage is a special one-on-one time with the child.

It’s also very beneficial to have age-appropriate Bibles or Bible stories for everyone. Little people need to have brightly colored pictures so that they can visualize the story. It also helps to read dramatically for them. When they are able, they should read the story at their own levels. When it’s the adults’ turn, everyone can either participate or listen quietly. This is important for everyone, even Mom and Dad. Encourage participation by having everyone ask at least one question. Those who know the answer can be encouraged to answer. If you get to a question that not even you know the answer to, it doesn’t hurt for you to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find out.” What an excellent way to start tomorrow’s Bible study by giving the correct answer!

And wouldn’t it be great if someone came up with a question that not even the pastor could answer?

Other activities for family devotion could include listening to memory work and hymn stanzas from school or Sunday school. When Christmas comes, what a profitable way to learn Christmas recitations and songs! Finally, don’t forget to close with prayers that allow everyone to contribute a request for some special need or special person.

The Bible is the main course
Of course, there is nothing wrong with private Bible readings and devotions for yourself. One practical suggestion might be to set up a program to read the entire Bible over the course of several years. Forward in Christ has a handy schedule for reading through the Bible in three years. One way to read a single book of the Bible is by reading sections of The People’s Bible. This popular commentary provides a much fuller explanation of backgrounds and other biblical connections in a simple, easy, and very understandable way. In addition, it will even help to answer all of those questions that your children ask during the devotions.

One congregation I know of has developed its own reading program called Bible Bytes. Every morning two chapters of the Bible, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, are e-mailed to participants so they can read a devotion from their computers as they begin the day. The readings are taken from the Web site Bible Gateway gives many options, including an audio one.

Obviously, the high point of the week to nourish our families and ourselves should be Sunday church and Sunday school. Also, don’t forget to attend Bible class. Again, both mom and dad can model the importance of growing in God’s Word with their attitudes and participation. Mom and dad need to be regular and sincere, not hit-or-miss.

As parents we have the responsibility to nourish our children and ourselves. We have the time. We have the resources. Let us stay connected to the vine so that the Holy Spirit can work in our hearts through the Word.

By Harold Schewe, from Parents Crosslink © 2013 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: "Small Green Tomatos On Vine" by Glenda Green is licensed under CC0 1.0.

Harold Schewe has served as a parish pastor and a professor. He is retired from Luther Preparatory School, where he taught religion and British literature. He and his wife, Jeanne, live in Watertown, Wisconsin, and enjoy being grandparents to 13 grandchildren.

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