If yours is like most religious families, you pray together before meals. Maybe only on Sundays, or only at dinner, or only when guests are in town, but most of you pray either on occasion or regularly because it’s simply what one is supposed to do. Additionally, if you’ve been to a church sermon or two in your life, you probably also know that you’re supposed to be reading your Bible more than you currently are.
My topic this month is Spiritual Disciplines in the Home, a subject that, upon first impression, seemed bound to induce boredom, guilt, or soon-to-be-forgotten zeal in you. These seemed to be likely outcomes because I have felt all three things when confronted with the subject of spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual Disciplines in the Home; the phrase alone sounds terrible! For most of us, the word discipline has been reduced to a merely implicate punishment. And even those who have retained its more nuanced meaning continue to hold a negative association when thinking about the word. It takes discipline to go to the gym, or to keep one’s house clean, or to keep up with work. Gross.
Disciplines are nearly always means to an end. No one wants to discipline their kid just because it’s something fun to do and most people don’t go to the gym for laughs. We engage in discipline or disciplines because they are good for us. Most of us have come to accept that a successful life requires a certain amount of discipline and forbearance; and so we carry on, at work, at school, at home, and yes, at the gym.
As Christians it should make sense that there are certain disciplines in which we must engage in order to keep our spiritual lives in good health. Praying before meals is a tradition passed down to most of us through generations. As a practice, it is a small remnant of the many daily prayers taught to the pre-literate Christians as a means to help them engage their faith within their homes. Similarly, we have been instructed to read the Bible on our own since the days of Martin Luther and the invention of the printing press.
But you know all of this. You know you should pray more and read your Bible more, and you want to model these acts of faithfulness to your children. You are right to want these things; and should always endeavor to do better, to be a little more faithful. But honestly, these aren’t the spiritual disciplines I want to write about.
I do not want to write about them because you don’t need someone telling you to do more. I am writing to parents, after all; parents of teenagers. I am sure you already have plenty to do.
Instead, the two spiritual disciplines I’d rather encourage you in, if I may be so bold, are the disciplines of rest and of silence. If I were to pick two spiritual disciplines that should be modeled for and encouraged in any teenager’s life it would be these, for the disciplines of rest and of silence give life to all other disciplines.
What if, for one evening a week, you kept your home quiet? No TV, no shouting down the stairs, no computer binging and keyboard-clacking, no phones buzzing, no stereos blaring. What if, for one day a week or one Sunday afternoon, you actually rested? You sat on the porch; you went out to lunch; you talked with each other and threw a ball for the dog. These are spiritual disciplines not only at their most gentle, but also at their most effective—these disciplines meet us in the precise location of our need. Nearly all of us need more quiet and more rest than we get.
As parents, you knew that your toddlers would exhaust themselves if left to their own devices. Because of this knowledge, you enforced the discipline of naps in their lives. As adults, we are actually not that different from toddlers, when left to our own devices. We have just become a little more tolerant of being tired and a bit better at keeping our exhaustion under wraps.
But maturity and holiness don’t have to come alongside of, or through, exhaustion; in fact, exhaustion might just be their enemy. It is quite possible that, after an evening of quiet, or a Sunday afternoon of genuine rest, you would find yourself with the energy to read your Bible, and the heart to pray. And your child needs these things too; whether they are two or twenty, they need someone to show them how to be quiet and how to rest. These disciplines are necessary so that you and they, like Elijah on the mountain, can hear the God that speaks in the soft breezes. This is, after all, the reason for any spiritual discipline in the first place.