I had an idea, and it was a great idea!
My family was going to do something new that year. Every night, we were going to sit down at the dining room table and do Advent devotions together.
I could already see how the night was going to go in my mind’s eye. It was going to be amazing. It was going to transform our family. We would sit down every night with the candle glow all around us, and peace would fall like leaves as we read Holy Scripture and learned about Jesus.
My children would be transfixed; they would receive every word; they would love every moment and thank me in the end for bringing them into this wonderful new Advent tradition.
The reality was that when I suggested devotions, they immediately started to whine.
They didn’t want to do devotions!
None of the kids could sit still. One of them slid off of her chair and fell onto the floor, screaming because I accidentally touched her candle. The other two fought over who got to light the candle. As my husband read Scripture, he was interrupted over and over again by a child who wanted to tell him about his favorite TV show.
When we finally made it through the liturgy and my husband closed us out with a prayer, instead of saying “amen” like the rest of us, my oldest son, who had been watching way too much college football with his father, raised his glass and yelled, “dilly, dilly!”
I’m pretty sure he got that from a beer commercial. Nice.
How did this happen? This was supposed to be a magical moment, and instead, it was a hot mess!
5 Practical Suggestions for Doing Advent Devotions with Your Children
1. It’s all about grace.
I try to think about Jesus if he were sitting leading the devotions.
Would he get angry? Would he demand that they sit still, pay attention, and “get it”?
Or would he, to borrow language from Luke 13:34, lovingly gather them in his arms, patiently answer their questions and laugh a whole lot?
2. It’s not going to be perfect…ever!
BUT over time, you are making memories, sweet memories, and you are establishing holy time and traditions.
3. Fire is your friend.
Simply lighting candles and turning the lights down low immediately creates a sense of awe in young children. They really do quiet down a little, and it makes them feel like something special is happening.
4. Try to have different levels of engagement.
Let the older children participate in reading the scriptures, leading the devotion, or lighting the candles. Let your smaller children look at some kind of Jesus picture book.
I’ve even given my littlest ones cubes of ice on a tray or a tray full of dry oatmeal that they can manipulate and play with while listening.
5. Chill out!
You are not trying to create the perfect Joanna Gaines Instagram moment!
Remember what you are trying to do. You are trying to usher your family into the presence of God, who is always delighted to welcome us there…hot mess and all!
Ashley Wallace is the author of A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Advent at Home (Revised and Expanded for 2020). If you would like to learn more about Advent traditions, recipes, and devotions, you can buy her book here!