I'm not against devotions, but I fail to do structured devotional time. Being a homeschooling family, we are always on the lookout for those "teachable moments" when a life lesson about the Lord, following Jesus' example, a virtue, (or even math or science) etc. can be jumped into at the spur of the moment- giving our kids an actual application on the spot for something we teach them.
But, we do all eat meals together; that is very important to us. The idea of sparking up meaningful conversation and giving a structured devotional another shot was appealing. There are benefits to having conversations with the entire family present and "on the same page." Our current conversation, if you could call it that, was mostly inclusive of my husband and I taking turns scolding the 3 and 6 year old boys for misbehaving while sitting next to each other on the bench.
I was also skeptical that our almost 13 year old daughter would do anything aside from roll her eyes at this "little kids" devotional. Would the 3 year old be able to participate at all? The book's description didn't give any indication as to the age level, so I just assumed it was roughly where the Adventures in Odyssey [cartoon] viewing audience age would be (maybe 6-10; some parts of the shows are a bit intense for our sheltered 6 year old, but he does okay when we talk them over).
First of all, I was impressed at how simple, convenient and (potentially) brief the devotions are. There are 90 different devotionals (each one takes up only one page in this standard size paperback, so there isn't a ton of reading), and each one is broken into the following segments:
- Mealtime Prayer: 1-3 sentences of prayer or giving you a topic to pray about
- Appetizer: a handful of sentences either telling you an interesting fact such as: Did you know that broccoli has been served up for dinner for at least 2,000 years? (Parts of the Bible have been around even longer!) If you could outlaw one vegetable, what would it be? OR giving you instructions for a simple task which doesn't really require preparation such as: Have everyone go outside or look out a window. Is the wind blowing? How do you know? Can you see it? How do you know when wind is there? OR just giving a little nugget as a conversation starter such as: If you gave a party for all of your aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, what would it be like and what would you do?
- Main Course: This is where the main "message" is. You may be asked to read a few verses and/or ask a series of leading questions such as: Have you ever helped make a grocery list? What things did it include? Read Genesis 6:17-22. What do you think Noah's grocery list looked like for the ark? With God's help, Noah built the ark and gathered food for his family and the animals. How does God help your parents gather (buy) food for your zoo. . . uh, family?
- Table Talk: 2-4 questions to ask your family to keep the conversation going and help them to delve deeper into the meaning of the devotional lesson being presented such as: What would you be like if you only ate baby food? How will studying the Bible help you "grow up" in your faith? What is one thing that you know is evil? What is one thing that you know is good? How do you know the difference?
- Vitamins and Minerals: a verse or two about the lesson (and they're typed in the book for you, so if you don't still have your Bible handy a this point of the meal, that's okay)
Of the 90 devotions, 11 are "themed" to go along with a certain type of meal such as a salad or an activity such as having grandparents or older guests over to eat. 15 are centered around specific holidays, and the remainder are considered "anytime" devotionals. Personally, I think any of them could be done in any order. We just pick up the book, flip through the pages and I read a couple of the funny titles for the kids to pick from.
This book doesn't look like much when you get it and it really has nothing to do with the Adventures in Odyssey other than the picture on the cover (there's no mention of the characters or story at all). I was amazed at how "simple" it seems, I mean, how could less than a half a page of text (if it were all condensed into one paragraph rather than formatted) per page really help our family get structured enough to do devotionals together? Besides, I was sure either the parents, the tween, or the littlest kids would be bored.
As a test, one day I chose a devotional that seemed particularly boring compared to others to see how it went over. One of the questions was, "If you had to lead your entire family over the river, how would you do it?" Our 12 year old daughter said, "Everyone would just have to swim and if you didn't make it you're on your own." (She later modified this to include that they could at first try to throw small children across to the other side since they can't really swim.) Our 6 year old son said (after hearing his sister's plan), "I would get lifeguards to go across with us." Then it was time for the three year old. He answered, "the bridge" LOL
I have been really impressed with how well this draws out conversation and gets us talking again. The important thing is to get an answer from each person in the family for every question in the devotional. We've done them in as short as 5 minutes, but we've also taken much longer. I don't think there's been a single time we did this devotion and didn't end up laughing at something one of us said in response to a prompting question. It has been amazing to see how quickly my 6 year old grasps the deeper concepts and even my tween enjoys the creativity of the conversations. The 3 year old has had some great quotes and I am certain he is learning a lot from listening.
I think the baby may be getting the most out of this, though, because he'll have the benefit of growing up in a family that doesn't just eat together, doesn't just do devotionals together, but does both at the same time and has a lot of fun doing it. I am excited to see there is a "Whit's End Mealtime Devotions: The Second Helping" and I will be purchasing it. We can now safely donate all of the other family devotional guides we have gotten with good intentions and hung onto out of guilt that they just didn't work well for us. Without a lot of preparation, memorization or reading lengthy passages, Whit's End Mealtime Devotions stimulates conversation and laughter, opening the door for so many opportunities to share stories of our personal experiences, bring up how verses apply to our daily life, and make memories of spending quality time together. It really is a tremendous tool.
**** In the interest of full disclosure: I received a copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of reviewing. I was not obligated to give a positive review, my opinions are my own.