Keeping short accounts with one another is impossible when seeing through pride-colored glasses. The eight of us found ourselves in the bunk room tonight: confronting, weeping, confessing, and facing some of the ugliest truths about the way we've been treating each other...especially in our hearts. Stress reveals what our hearts beat for. And tonight, we were grateful that the Lord didn't allow the sun to go down on our anger. Tonight it was clear: He doesn't just paint beautiful sunsets, He mends ugly hearts.
We often think of family meeting times as opportunities for parents to instruct and correct their children. It is...however, this past weekend, it was Troy and I who were struggling to communicate with one another, and our children who were coming alongside of our confessing and forgiving...and exhorting us with the truth. It set me to thinking about the difference between our family worship times and family meetings like the one we had.
I'm not so good at writing how-to posts. In person, I overflow with practical tips and tons of counsel, but my writing style and heart is slow to write tutorials on life things...for fear of being taken for formula. Every family's different; just because yours doesn't look or sound like mine doesn't mean God's not at work among your people and your particular situation. My desire is to point us to principles, to the bigger picture, to God's faithfulness and not our own. So when I posted the other night that our family had a major meltdown and breakthrough family meeting, questions came pouring in about how to implement such a thing.
I want to help. And will share some thoughts later. But, I (took the easy way out) and asked Mr. Simons for his thoughts. I know I'm biased, but I find him to be deeply encouraging:
There is a constant need for our family to be in the Word and praying together: what we call family worship. Consistency in family worship is vital for our spiritual health. But there are those times when there is clearly something wrong, where sin has a foothold and it has shown itself in family relationships. That's when you need a different kind of meeting, one in which you deal with the raw feelings and out of control emotions by confessing, asking forgiveness, and reminding one another of what you know God's word has to say about what has been going on.
I would venture to guess that these kinds of meetings are less necessary when there is a vibrant and consistent family worship since part of family worship ought to be these very elements of confession and applying the word. We hope to have a family culture of honest confession, being quick to ask forgiveness and eager to impart grace to one another. But there are times when you NEED an ad hoc meeting to address something that is best not left in the heart and imagination to grow stronger with time.
I learned this past weekend that God can and does use our children to bring conviction. My sons might not be able to vocalize their theology like Ruth and I can, but they sure know when we are not living it out. It is not easy to take a rebuke from your children, but when it is clearly spoken out of respectful concern we need to readily and humbly accept it.
So, here are some things to consider when your family is in need of a reset, restore, or return to what's important- kind of family meeting. (Ruth and Troy collaboration!)
WHY A FAMILY MEETING/WORSHIP
- Because despite our best intentions, the words we say to one another in passing can often be misunderstood. Deliberate time together allows for real communication, rather than just passive-aggressive words.
- Because not everyone gets to share what they are feeling without an invitation, when you have a large family (or even when you don't!)
- Because Deuteronomy 6:7 reminds us to speak of God's word and to teach it to our children:
"Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."
- Because gathering together to confess, pray, forgive, and encourage isn't just for church groups and Bible studies...it's for the community group within your own home. Worship isn't something we do with a praise band and a preacher; worship is sinners turning their hearts and hands and lips to His praises.
- It doesn't have to be formal or perfect. Sometimes we gather right after dinner. Most of the time, it's after a long day, and we circle up on the floor in one of the bedrooms before bed.
- Littles will learn through observing. They won't sit perfectly still, and sometimes they fall asleep while we talk, but don't underestimate what they will gather simply by observing those they love, love one another and love God.
- As parents we lead the time, but we can do so by drawing our children into the leading with us. Let them read scripture, encourage them to ask questions that everyone answers. Give them ownership and they will value it far more.
- Confess: Our rule is to make the time more about confessing rather than accusing. There's no question that we all have things to confront in someone else, but when we take a posture of confession and ownership, the time is always much more productive.
- Reconciliation: This is always the goal...with one another, and with God. Some children in our household are not yet saved. They must witness what it is to wrestle with our own sin and the sin of others, and how we trust Christ for the remedy. No good has ever come from simply venting all that is wrong with relationships or family dynamics; real change and comfort occurs when we submit to the transforming work of Christ through redemption. In short, apply the gospel to all sin and conflict!
- God's Word: Always seek to address whatever is brought up during a family meeting, with the truth of God's Word. Even when the Bible doesn't specifically provide the answer to a specific dilemma or specific concern, it always speaks to the principles of the heart. When we apply God's truth to our deepest burdens as a family, we will find that the Gospel is not good news only for salvation, but for every moment of our daily lives, great and small. Don't forget to ask your children if they know scriptures that apply to whatever situation has come up. This teaches them to address their problems by applying what they know of God's word.
- Pray: Pray God's word, pray for one another, pray for yourself before your family. Humility finds its home when we pray.
A few things to remember...
Our children learn when we attend with interest. Do almost anything to get their attention. You don't have to pull out the flannelgraphs, but don't read scripture monotonously either! Sometimes, when we gather at the breakfast table, we play a dramatic audio Bible reading from Faith Comes By Hearing. When they see that you love the Word, prayer, them... they will be inclined to pay attention.
- Keep it simple...enough. We have always used big words long before the boys could understand them, but we worked to help them understand them in context. Build bridges. Illustrate. Get anecdotal. The exercise of making the difficult passages of God's word understandable for children will give you a better understanding as well. (Docendo discimus!)
- Make a feast of the stories of scripture and strive to connect them with your family's story. There is nothing more powerful than informing a child's imagination with the truth of a story for those times when they have critical decisions to make. For example, "This is just like when David had to..." or, "How about when Paul and Silas were singing hymns after being beaten and..."
- Know your stuff. Not so you can show off but so they can see you always "growing in grace."
- Celebrate, and I mean, CELEBRATE the gospel. Even when struggling through conflict, discouragement, and challenging circumstances. There is no greater truth for this life!
Like yours, our family is a work in progress. We are not perfectly consistent with family worship or family meetings. We let bitterness get the better of us, and we harbor unforgiveness. We often wait too long to reconcile or to deal with hurts. We don't always set the best example for our kids, and our kids aren't always respectful. We need Jesus and we need to see his sanctifying work in our lives each and every day. That's what family worship is all about, and that's what meeting together accomplishes.
We pray you find something useful here for your family's encouragement. Don't strive for ideal...just start somewhere. And as C.K. Chesterton was known to say:
Because of grace,