Spiritual Routines

As a mom of three young kids, I have been struck recently by the value of creating rhythms and routines in our household. This is not anything new, especially to any veteran parent or grandparent out there. In fact, I’m sure it’s something people have told me at least a hundred times. But I’m apparently hard of hearing, and I often need to discover the value of these things on my own by trial and error.

From the time a child is born, every parenting book, website, and blog tells you to get that child on a routine, and they’ll sleep better, eat better, play better, grow better, learn better, just be better overall. As they get older, they learn the routines we teach them for themselves. We start our day with breakfast. We brush our teeth after that. We get dressed. We make our beds. (At least, I hear that’s what happens in other households. Mine…not so much!) Just those simple morning routines set the tone for the rest of the day.

I understand and appreciate the value of these routines, and (besides the making-the-bed part of the morning) my young kids have already learned (or at least, have mostly learned) what to do after they eat, and then what comes next after they brush their teeth. Different households may have different routines, some more rigid and others more relaxed, but they’re there. And familiar patterns, once created, tend to continue for a long time.

But for some reason, when it comes to training my kids in the spiritual disciplines, this appreciation for routines that I claim to have flies out the window. We read the Bible and pray together, but I find myself getting frustrated when they can’t sit still, when they don’t appear to even be listening, when they’re unresponsive as I ask follow-up questions, and when they pray the same “thank you for the food” prayer every single time. And it’s very tempting to think, “It’s not working. They’re too young. I’ll put it aside and try again in another year or two, when they can understand better.”

And if I’m perfectly honest, I see this in myself, too. Some days I wake up, eager to open my Bible and learn as much as I can in the thirty minutes before the kids find me downstairs. But other days – more often than I care to admit – I struggle to focus. My mind wanders, and I don’t feel like I’m learning anything, and I just don’t get it, whatever “it” is that day. “It’s not working,” I’m tempted to tell myself, “Today’s just not my day. I’ll put it aside and try again tomorrow, when I can focus better.”

But what about the value of that familiar routine? What about perseverance, and creating expectations within my children’s – and my own – hearts? Just because I feel a lag in my own learning, or I see a lag in my children’s own enthusiasm, doesn’t give me an excuse to set it aside and try again another time, when I feel better about it. Repeating the routine, even on the “off” days, helps them – and helps me – grow. 

But I don’t do it out of duty, or out of a sense of earning a good standing before God. There’s no law that says I must read my Bible daily or else I’m a bad Christian (or worse, that I’m no Christian at all). But even when I don’t feel like doing it, I keep the routine going because it teaches my heart to trust that God is working in me even when I can’t feel it. I keep the routine because I know my emotions are fickle, and they will convince me that I don’t need to spend time with God if I don’t feel like it, and if I keep falling for that lie, I know I will one day wake up to discover how far I have drifted. I keep the routine for myself because I believe God is what I need, more than anything else that day, even when I feel like I can handle whatever comes my way on my own. I keep the routine for my kids because I know prioritizing time with God is the most important part of their day, and they need to learn that through repeated practice. I’m not scoring any bonus points with God by opening my Bible every day or by teaching my kids to pray; I’m being faithful to what He has called me to do. And thankfully, even when I fail, Jesus has already been perfectly faithful for me, and He has exchanged His righteousness for my sin and failure. By continuing to go to God day after day, I am asking Him to change my attitude and desires, to shape me to become more like Him, to remind me of the abundant joy that is found in His presence.

I may not see the change right away, but I think sometimes God is playing the long game. He’s concerned with our spiritual growth and development. This deep change He produces in me cannot come from my own strength, but from Him alone. He is slowly shaping our hearts to desire a deeper relationship with Him, and that relationship is a joy He graciously allows us to grow in daily, even if our felt experience of it fluctuates.

My kids may not understand the full, scientific importance of why they need to brush their teeth, or exactly why it’s better for our brains and bodies to eat a solid breakfast when they wake up, or even the psychological reasons for making our beds every day (we’ll get to that sometime, I promise!), but creating those expectations are healthy and beneficial and good for them. Someday, I trust, they will know not just the routine, but the importance of each action for themselves. In the same way, they may not fully understand why we open our Bibles every day, or why we spend time talking to Someone we can’t see with our eyes, and I may not understand the value of opening my Bible even when I don’t remember anything I read five minutes later. But those routines, those rhythms, are creating something inside each of us, something healthy and beneficial and good for us. They’re creating a deep reliance on God, even when we don’t feel it. I want my kids to learn – and I want to feel this for myself – that something is missing when that part of the routine gets skipped, something important and essential.

So I encourage you, as I remind myself, to create those rhythms in your household, for yourself and your kids. God does not waste time; we can trust that He will use those routines for His glory in some way, even if it’s a long way down the road.

Sing: Come Thou Fount (Above All Else) by Shane and Shane
“Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee…Above all else, tune my heart to sing Your praise.”

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