You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 ESV)
We Christian parents know these verses well. We’ve heard them preached many times. They resonate with our hearts because most of us do genuinely want to teach these truths to our children, but sometimes we’re just not sure exactly how. Especially during Advent, we feel this particular pressure to make sure our kids are anticipating the birth of the Savior and not just getting a bunch of presents and eventually becoming greedy materialistic scrooges. Right?
Shepherding little hearts at Christmastime can feel a little like herding cats. You want your kids to enjoy receiving presents, but you want them to know and understand that the greatest gift they will ever receive is Jesus being born as a human, to live the life we couldn’t live and die the death we should have died so we might know him. So where do you start?
You start with you.
You know on an airplane, when the flight attendants give you the “if the plane is going down, put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting other passengers..” schpeel? I suppose it’s kind of like that. You can have the greatest and most elaborate Advent calendar and devotional equipped with crafts, bible memorization, songs and candle lighting, but if your normal, every day rhythm as a family isn’t centered around Christ, most of your hard work will be in one ear and out the other.
Your kids will pick up on what your heart treasures most. They will pick up on the fact that your calendar is packed to the brim with parties, activities, cookies to bake, presents to buy, things to do…and they’ll know exactly how stressed out you are because of it all. And if creating the perfect Advent activity merely adds to your stress, they’ll know.
Before you throw your hands up in the air in defeat and scream, “so what do you do??” take a breath. Remember you have roughly 340 days a year that aren’t specifically celebrating the birth of Jesus. Make as much of those as you do Christmas day (or the entire Advent season.) Start each day in the word and in prayer on your own. Know the Word and cherish it in your own heart. You can’t teach what you don’t know. Do you do family devotions? Bailey’s just old enough now so we started using “Long Story Short” most mornings with breakfast and we love it. But again, if all we do is read a devotion and then ignore Jesus the rest of the day, our kids will catch onto that and will also learn to compartmentalize their faith.
I can’t tell you what a good, Gospel-centered family rhythm would look like for your family. That’s between you, your family and the Lord. We have many things we do all day long that remind us and our kids that we love and serve a kind, gracious, humble King, yet we don’t do it perfectly. Which continues to remind us of our NEED for a kind, gracious humble Redeemer. I think the most important thing you can do for your kids is show them their need for a Savior, and then introduce them to Him in word and in deed.
All that said, specifically for Advent, in the past we’ve read one story a night from the Jesus Storybook Bible. There are exactly enough stories to get to the birth of Jesus right at Christmas. Apparently the author (Sally Lloyd-Jones) didn’t plan that! (I think Someone else did.) This year I stumbled on this blog and we’re using her ornaments with names of God each morning after breakfast. It’s usually less than a 3 minute activity. I read the verse, the girls color. We hang them up. That’s really it. My kids are 5, 3 1/2 and 15 months. Simple is best, otherwise our follow through is quite lacking most of the time!
Anyway, I leave you with this…
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 ESV)
I pray you find peace, rest and joy this Christmas and if you have little hearts that you are leading toward the light of life, that you do so remembering his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27 ESV)