Tips for Finding Time in the Word

There’s been a quote by D.A. Carson making the rounds on the blogosophere, most recently here (emphasis not mine):

Martyn Lloyd-Jones once spoke with a group of medical students who complained that in the midst of their training and the ferocious work hours they really didn’t even have time to read the Bible and have their devotions and so on. He bristled and said, “I am a doctor. I have been where you are. You have time for what you want to do.” After a long pause he said, “I make only one exception: the mother of preschool-aged children does not have time and emotional resources.

It is important to recognize, too, that there are stages of life where you really don’t have time to do much, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Children will sap you. If you have three children under the age of six, forget serious reading unless you have the money for a nanny. When our youngest finally went off to kindergarten, we celebrated that day—I took my wife out for lunch. Only then could she get back into reading again. It’s the way life is. You have to be realistic.

You can read the comments for some of our attempts to point out the flaws in his logic.  But it did make me think: what are some practical, concrete ways that Mommies of littles can still meditate on Scripture and spend time in prayer?  There are no “right” answers here, but these are some of the things I’ve personally experienced.

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1. On the computer.

Be it a tablet, a laptop, or a full-fledged desktop, computers are a lot more child-friendly than a thin-paged Bible. Bibles and toddlers do not fare well together.  So let’s get out of the way, right away, that there’s nothing holier about reading a bound book than a glowing screen.  I’ll bet the glowing screen will be a lot easier. If you’re reading this blog post, you could be reading your Bible.

2. On index cards.

High schoolers taught me this one: write verses on cards and stick ‘em on your mirrors, on your windows, over your kitchen sink.  Who says it has to be a whole chapter? Better to eat a bite here and there than to starve!

3. With your children.

This is easiest if you invest in some good, Scripture-filled story Bibles.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading illustrated Bible stories to my kids and found my own heart profoundly convicted.  I imagine older kids would have the attention span to listen to a non-illustrated, real Bible reading, but for toddlers, I can speak firsthand of the great impact that an illustrated, but still literally Scripture or at least paraphrased Scripture, Bible story reading can bring to Mommy’s heart.  Similarly, you can memorize a story and tell it to your children.

4. When your children are asleep.

Naptime. I really believe in naptime, for many reasons. In our house it is a “quiet hour” (actually, two hours long) when the children are expected to be quietly in their room, by themselves, asleep or resting.  This is a great time to do things like talk to God and spend time reading His word.  Also, children, especially toddlers, need a lot more sleep than grown-ups, so hopefully they either go to bed way before you or get up much later than you – even more time to read and pray.

5. In music.

There is a LOT of music out there that is just Scripture.  Seeds Family Worship jumps first to my mind.  If I’m having trouble eking out time to sit down and read the Bible and pray, I’ll put on some Seeds or other Bible memory music and listen and sing and praise and pray while I’m dashing around the house chasing children, cooking dinner, or mopping floors.  Multitask!

6. With other people.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I can make time appear out of nowhere if there are other people expecting me to accomplish certain tasks.  In other words, all I need sometimes is a little push, a little pressure, to inspire me to tear through the laundry or the dishes in record time so I can sit down for a moment and get to the Bible study.  If I know someone is expecting me to have read and prayed, and expecting to discuss it with me… I’ll usually have figured out a way to get it done.

7. As a family.

This is like #3, of course, except that I’m talking about more of a “family worship” type thing here. This isn’t including the children in my devotional time, this is a time of mutual benefit in which I am following my husband’s lead.

8. In school.

If you homeschool, pay attention when you teach Bible!

9. On your phone.

Waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the pediatrician to decide it’s time for the appointment to actually begin, sitting in the rocking chair nursing the baby, sitting next to your toddler soothing them to sleep, pacing the church foyer with a fussy baby… like computers, phones make great Bibles. I am not an extremely distractible person, but I still try to keep the apps on my Android phone at a minimum to encourage myself to reach for the Bible app rather than something else to alleviate those temporary moments of boredom.

10. Throughout the day, constantly.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
(Hebrews 4:12)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
(2 Peter 1:3)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)

I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
(Psalm 119:11)

The message of the Word of God is relevant to our lives. If you live with toddlers, how do you answer the unending questions without cracking open the Bible? So many things in our daily lives tie back to the Word of God. So many things with children require the wisdom of Scripture. We have to know it and use it in order to evangelize our little ones.  We have to know it and use it in order to know how to behave ourselves.  We have to know it and use it in order to remind ourselves of the daily comforts of grace and the coming glory of heaven.  The words should come to our minds and be in our hearts and flow out of our mouths. If we don’t know the words, we should be flinging ourselves into the pages of Scripture and pleading with God to engrave it on our hearts.

Being without Scripture is like being without water. We thirst for God. We need to drink.

God of Monsters

Our house has recently suffered a monster infestation.  Apparently, there are monsters in the garage, monsters in the bathroom, even monsters in the living room.  Or so our two-year-old tells me.  She is deeply afraid.1007389_monster

Every time she exclaims,”but there’s a monster!” and refuses to go into a room (or refuses to be left alone in one), the nice, pat answer pops into my head: there’s no such thing as monsters, sweetie.

But really, by what definition is that true?  No scary beasts? What are pythons, hippopotamuses, whales, sharks, cobras, or hyenas? No invisible, silent killers? Like viruses?  Nothing supernatural, profoundly evil, and devious? There’s fallen angels and demons.  Rare but human evil? Serial killers, child molesters, genocidal dictators.  Nothing commonplace and evil? We need look no farther than the mirror.  I can’t tell her monsters don’t exist.  It’s not outside of the sovereignty of God that there could indeed be a murderer lurking in the closet, after all.

So what can I say?  I can dutifully go and look, and inform her that there is nothing there.  But lately we’ve been working through our own little monster catechism: Who is bigger than the monsters? God.  Who is in control over the monsters? God.  Who created everything, even the monsters? God.  Who is the only one Who can keep you safe from the monsters? God. Who is always with us, always watching us? God.  So should you be afraid?  No.

I’m struck by the questions that are missing from our little rehearsal. There’s no promise of safety, no promise of a monsterless room, no promise of protection.  This is one of the times when I’m deeply feeling the difference between being a Christian parent and being a lost one.  I’d like to tell her some empty platitudes about how everything is going to be all right, there’s no such thing as monsters, that Mommy’s going to keep her safe.  But that’s not true, and I’d rather teach her that there is One who is completely capable of keeping her safe, One who is perfectly good–and teach her that she can depend on His goodness and mercy whether there’s a monster in the next room or not, whether the monsters are banished or whether they have her for supper.

She’s beginning to grasp some of this.  “I can go upstairs because God will be with me?” Yes. “I don’t have to be afraid?” Yes.  She recites our little litany herself now, and it actually works.  While I can’t persuade her with promises of chocolate (yes, I’ve tried), she apparently can be persuaded by the very idea of an invisible God.  It’s thoroughly cool, and also terrifying, because I want her to have a right vew of God, and it’s so hard to explain Him to a two-year-old.  Has she noticed that I haven’t promised that God would keep her safe, only that He can? Is her idea of God like a cosmic Santa Claus? Am I communicating also the incredible depth of the justice and righteousness of God? His fearsomeness? That He is, in fact, more worthy of fear than any monster that could ever haunt her dreams? It’s complicated to communicate all this to her.

For Mommy, though, this has all been a really good reminder.  I shouldn’t be brave because I’m grown-up enough to think that the monsters don’t really exist.  Whether the monsters are imaginary ones lurking in the garage, or real ones lurking on street corners, I should be brave because God is God over them as surely as He is God over me.

Embrace the Chaos

Embrace the chaos.  I can’t tell you how often I find myself saying that, whether it’s to myself (usually), offhandedly to random strangers who stop me in the middle of a shopping trip to inquire how I “do it,” or to someone who is overwhelmed by children, be they mine or their own: embrace the chaos.

Now, there’s a real limit to that.  I’m not suggesting a lack of discipline, or a messy house, crazy noise levels, or food-streaked faces.  I’m not saying that we should abandon order.  But with three under three–with small children, period, perhaps–there will be chaos sometimes, and sometimes you’ve got to just learn to roll with the punches and keep your eyes on eternity.  God made kids.  Then He gave us these kids.  He didn’t give them grown-up brains or grown-up emotions or grown-up self-cleaning abilities. This is life, and it is good, in a tainted-by-sin-but-still-in-His-image kind of way.

(If I were a more laid-back person naturally, my message to myself might be find the order or something like that, but I’m the sort of person who over-stresses and gets wound up about the little things.  Chaos is not my desired cup of tea, although this is not to be confused with neatness, which is another issue for another post.)

There’s one giant, simple lesson that has come out of this for me: messes usually look bad, but don’t really take long to clean.

789891_red_wine(Or: messes aren’t worth the emotional investment and stress that I attach to them sometimes.)

Let’s say one-year-old grabs the rice off the counter and upends the entire box onto the floor.  It’s a disaster, it’s loud, and if I see it happening and can’t stop it, there’s a lot of despair that passes through my mind as I watch the sea of white scattering over the floor.  A lot of hideous, ungodly, selfish despair.

And guess what? The whole mess can be cleaned up in well under five minutes, and the financial damage is probably less than that candy bar I just ate.  If you stop to think about it, there’s very, very few messes that a watched toddler can make that can’t  be cleaned up in less than five minutes.  The big unearthly messes are pretty flukey, or else I’m not doing the “mommy” job very well.  (Or, perhaps, the house hasn’t been properly outfitted for toddlers.)

I can’t tell you how much energy I waste being stressed out about messes, literal or metaphorical, that are pretty easy to clean back up.  I’m finding that it really helps me to take a millisecond to step back, evaluate how much sacrifice is really required to “fix it,” and base my response on that rather than what the mess looks like itself.

So, when those giant-looking messes unfold before my eyes, I try just to take a deep breath, evaluate the damage, and plod along to clean it up. Hopefully without getting unjustly angry or selfishly snippy towards the offending child in the process. 

It might be a little bit of chaos, but it’s usually going to be okay, and sometimes, it might even be fun.

a solid grip on depravity

One day, quite some months ago now, E  (who is two) responded to one of my reprimands with a violent, “But I don’t want to be good, I want to be BAD! I AM BAD!”

Well, yes, yes you are, little one.  You don’t even know how bad you are.  Mommy’s bad, too.  It’s called sin. It’s called needing Jesus. It’s called deserving hell.

SONY DSCNeedless to say, I agreed with her out loud, and the dialog has been ongoing ever since.  We were driving back from the farm last week, and her little voice calls me from the back of the van, completely out of the blue: “But does R sin, Mommy?”  Her questions are kind of endless and often off-topic, but it’s beginning to be clear that she really, truly understands after all this that she is bad.  And that Mommy is bad.  And that bad people deserve punishment.

That’s all the farther that we’ve gotten. She knows about heaven and Jesus, but clearly isn’t grasping yet that bad people don’t go to heaven except by His grace and His blood.  Still, this is a little piece of the Gospel she’s grabbed a hold of, and it’s so very exciting to witness the pieces begin to fall together, wherever God takes her.  And it’s been a really good reminder to me of the Gospel itself, as I struggle to put it in two-year-old vocabulary.  (The biggest stumper so far: she asked me why Adam and Eve’s sin meant that all their descendants would sin, too. I couldn’t begin to string together an answer that made sense to her.)

Bible books and music

It turns out that it’s really difficult to find good Bibles / Bible books / devotionals for toddlers, especially ones that are reformed!  I just wanted to run through some of the ones we have found and are extremely happy with.  Notably, most of these are by the same author/publisher, which I think is more a sad commentary on what other publishers are up to than anything else.

My 1st Book Of Questions and Answers

This is a catechism book for little ones, based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism but generalized enough on the baptism questions to work for Baptists too.  Endorsed by R.C. Sproul, John and Noel Piper, and some other major people.  It’s not a terribly pretty book, but it’s pocket-sized and in a kid-friendly type.  This is one of a series–the others are books of memory verses, church information, etc.  This one’s a real gem.

God Never Changes (Learn about God)God Is Faithful (Learn about God)God Is Everywhere (Learn about God)
This is a series of board books exploring God’s attributes.  I think these are my favorite little board books–they’re very simple and give concrete examples of how, for instance, God is everywhere.  These are the only books on this list that aren’t strictly Bible stories, but I actually like them better for younger children because they’re very basic and simple to follow.
Missing Sheep, The (Stories Jesus Told) Selfish Servant, The (Stories Jesus Told) Lost Coin, The (Stories Jesus Told)
These are also board books.  Each one very simply retells one of Jesus’s parables.  They do leave out things, obviously for the sake of space (they are board books), but stay accurately to the text otherwise.
These are part of a series called “Biblewise.”  The next three sections feature very similar books–they’re all the same size (which is kind of like a large, full-color booklet–they’re stapled instead of having a perfect-bound spine), all very inexpensive ($3 or less), all well-illustrated, all strictly Bible-based, and all avoid depicting Christ, which I find an interesting choice (and a fairly good one, considering that children tend to believe what they see exactly).  These ones seem to be geared, very slightly, to the oldest audience.  There is quite a bit of text on each page–although certainly not beyond the attention span of, say, a four-year-old.  I expect that with all of these books, we would read them aloud to our children and then when they are older, have them read them by themselves, or even incorporate them into schoolwork.
These are a series called “Bibletime.”  They are VERY similar to the “Biblewise” books, except perhaps geared to a slightly younger audience.  But the difference is minute.  They are very thorough–the “Ruth” book, for instance, pretty much goes through the entire book of Ruth.
Jesus The Teacher (Bible Alive) Jesus The Storyteller (Bible Alive)Jesus The Miracle Worker (Bible Alive)Moses the Leader: Used by God (Bible Alive)David the King: True Repentance (Bible Alive David) Moses the Child: Kept by God (Bible Alive) David the Shepherd: A Man of Courage (Bible Alive: David) David the Soldier: A Man OF Patience(Bible Alive David)
And the last series we have is called “Bible Alive.”  As far as I can tell, this series only covers Jesus, Moses, and David, with quite a few books devoted to each.  I really like this configuration, though, because it breaks each story down into manageable segments that you can actually read in one sitting, but with all the books together they provide a fairly thorough outline of each life.  All three of these Bible series seem to be geared to a similar-aged audience, but these ones seem to be slightly more appropriate for the little ones.  The pictures are still full-color, but don’t stretch to the very edges of the page (less distracting) the way they do in the other two sets, the illustrations are a little more simplified, and there are fewer words to a page.  I believe, though, that this is the only one of the sets that devotes more than one book to each person.
My Bible Story Book
And at last we come to the book that we’ve settled on so far for our family reading time.  This is a hardcover book with stories from all throughout the Bible–a very standard storybook in that respect.  It tells the stories fairly simply and accurately, with an extra kind of “food for thought” question on almost every page (out from the main text).  We’ve really been enjoying it.  The biggest downside, in my opinion, is that the illustrations aren’t terribly good compared to many other Bible storybooks (or, indeed, the books by the same author that I’ve mentioned above).  They’re very cartoony.  One positive, though, is that there’s been a noticeable decrease in “What is that?” questions about the illustrations, because there aren’t very many extraneous, irrelevant things in the pictures.  And that’s a very good thing if you have a two-year-old.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition
Finally, a different author!  😀  This book is also reformed, and its primary emphasis is to show how the entire Bible tells the story of Christ, so each story comes back to Christ whether in looking forward or in looking back.  The illustrations are gorgeous, and the theology is sound.  I think I first heard of this from Al Mohler, but it’s quite popular in general amongst the reformed crowd.  It’s a beautiful, sound book.  It just has way too much text per page to hold the attention of our toddler, and I actually appreciate the simplicity of Carine MacKenzie’s books a little bit more, although I know we’ll be reading this one too as our kids get older.  I will say that E loved it when she was a newborn–the artwork really is amazing.
Seeds of Courage 1Seeds Family Worship: Power of Encouragement, Vol. 5Seeds of Faith 2Seeds of Purpose 4Seeds of Praise 3
These CDs are fantastic. They’re just Bible verses.  Nothing else.  Just Scripture, and references, made into cheery kids music.  Musically, they’re more along the lines of Sovereign Grace kids or Absolute Worship kids than, say, Maranatha Kids–they’re not annoying or embarrassing to listen to.  They repeat a lot, obviously, because the whole point is to learn the verses and repetition goes along with that, but they’re really quite brilliantly done and fun to listen to.  More importantly, though, they WILL change your day if you have them going in the background!  It’s great to listen to worship music at all, but there’s really something significantly different about listening to straight Scripture and having the lyrics of the Word wind their way into your heart.  The only negative thing I can think to say about this wonderful series is that it isn’t free, because I wish everyone could own a copy!
So, as far as Bible learning goes, this is some of what works in our house!  Linked to Works for Me Wednesday.

He who answers.

I stumbled onto a post on Reddit last week where a dad was really struggling with how to teach his four-year-old about death.  She had just really begun to understand the concept, and now was understandably worried that she was going to die, that her parents were going to die, and so on.  Lots of other Redditors chimed in sharing very similar experiences with their own children–and a similar lack of words to say to soothe their children’s fears–and one thoughtful commenter remarked that adults don’t really know how to deal with death, either, and thus we have religion.

And in that moment I felt a whole new level of appreciation for belief in God: we have answers.

Every question mentioned on the thread, every fear the children voiced–we have answers.  God is good: this is a truth that as an adult I have certainly known, but hadn’t appreciated in its fullness.  God is sovereign.  God is involved.  All these things, and so many more that trickle out of these basic premises, mean that as parents, there aren’t many questions that we don’t have the answers to.  If we don’t know, God does; and we surely know that all things are under His control and that all things He does are good.  Romans 8:28 is an awesome verse to take to your children!

I have recently begun doing a catechism with E (more on that in a later post), and it begins by going through the basics of creation: Who made you? (God.)  What else did He make?  (Everything.)  Why did He make you?  (For His glory.)  And, just like that, we teach a toddler why she exists–how many twenty-year-olds, thirty-year-olds, eighty-year-olds still struggle with that question?  Granted, she doesn’t know what “glory” means, but she knows and understands that she was made by God, and that there is a reason He made her, and once her vocabulary grows to encompass such terms, she’ll know what that reason is.  That doesn’t mean that she’ll continue to believe it–that comes only by God’s grace–but the answer will always be the same, whether she believes it or not.

It doesn’t occur to me to prevaricate in talking to our kids.  I have no fear of the death question–E will cheerfully tell you that lions eat zebras for lunch (although she still doesn’t like to actually watch it), and I somewhat purposefully use the word “died” in regular conversation with her, like toys that break have “died,” and we had at least one conversation about people dying (which ended up deviating into a discussion of whether or not people have batteries) and we talk a lot about heaven and Jesus, and she asks a million questions about heaven and Jesus.  She’s very concerned, for some reason, about what things are in heaven, and how to get there, and whether Jesus has a nose and arms and hands.  I’ve learned a new appreciation for the incarnation, to know that Jesus does have those things, because of her questions.  Jesus is so non-abstract and graspable to a two-year-old.

There are plenty of other things besides death, of course.  Fear of the dark.  Thunder.  Why the sun comes up every morning.  There are so many answers and reassurances that we have because of Christ, and it is such a blessing to pass those answers on to our children!

Chores and the Two-Year-Old

One of the major themes of larger-family life definitely seems to be chores.  And, indeed, I want to teach E how to work and contribute to the home as much as she is able.  But sometimes it’s hard to know how to use a two-year-old to actually accomplish anything useful.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I’m still learning to do this!  I do think this is an area where siblings probably make a big difference–I hope that R will observe E and learn how to do things even more quickly than E has.

  • Sometimes her “helping” actually creates more work.  E helps me unload the dishwasher–she pulls everything out and hands it to me to put in the cabinet.  This takes a much longer time than if I did it all by myself, but she’s learning discipline.  She also knows where the soap is (and how to open the childproof catch on the cabinet :-o) and gets it out and puts it in the soap tray.  I think the next step is to have her unload and assemble the items into appropriate piles so I can just move the pile into the cabinet.  Another thing she helps me do is the laundry.  She can drag the bin from its home in the linen closet to the laundry room, and help me empty it into the washer.  Technically, since we have a front-loading washer, she really physically could do all the laundry, but she has trouble distinguishing between dirty and clean clothes.  So I try to help her know which pile of clothes goes where, and monitor closely that the ones in the dirty basket don’t get thrown in the dryer.  One day, maybe, she’ll get the hang of this.  Right now, her favorite part is pushing the start button.
  • She can learn to be kind.  Okay, this isn’t exactly a chore, but with a little toddling sister around, E definitely has to “share” sometimes.  I try mostly to let them sort things out on their own–making sure E doesn’t take advantage of her size, or get too upset when R is being rude (as ten-month-olds are apt to be).  I encourage sharing when I can, rather than forcing it.  “E, I think R wants to play with the doll.”  Nine times out of ten, E will happily hand it over at the mere suggestion, and the other time I figure–well, adults don’t want to share all their toys all the time, either.  I’m trying to impart a pattern of selflessness, generosity, and wise decision-making, rather than a simple obedient slave mentality.  Another, more chore-related way we try to teach kindness to E is by encouraging her to “help” R with her chores.  If R makes a mess, E can help clean it up.  (It helps that E loves to clean and would clean up her parents’ messes if she could!)
  • She can clean up most of the messes she makes.  Sometimes this isn’t time-efficient, like after dinner when the girls head up to their bath, but most of the time, E is required to at least help clean up after herself.  Some of this she enjoys–cleaning up food, for instance–and some of it is definitely a discipline, like cleaning up her toys before she gets new ones out.  I love our toy bins for this, because while things have a general place where they belong, it’s very easy for even a toddler to throw a bunch of Fisher-Price toys into a bin, or slide them onto a shelf.  No complicated packaging or difficult finagling to get things back in their proper place.  It’s like grown-ups having a drawer for all their cooking utensils rather than hanging each one back on its own hook: as long as the drawer is big enough and the contents sufficiently sparse, it’s a much quicker and easier system.
  • She can fix some of her own food.  She can open the fridge and get out her and R’s milk (another opportunity to be kind!).  She also understands that fruits generally need to be washed, and will drag a chair over the sink and wash her own apples and grapes, which she often shares with R after taking them off the stem.  She likes to make her own peanut butter sandwiches, although successful completion of that task requires so much supervision that I usually don’t go there!

E has learned how to undress herself pretty well, and I think learning how to dress herself might be one of the next things on our agenda.  She also really likes to help cook, and has a vague understanding of how to operate the toaster oven (the only cooking appliance really within her reach), but since we have a gas range, that’s one “chore” I’d rather tackle when she’s a little more dependable around an open flame!  In the meantime, she helps stir and mix things… usually only when Daddy’s home.

    It’s really amazing to me how much a two-year-old can accomplish!  Not in a look-how-awesome-my-kid-is way, but it’s just incredible to me how spongey God made humans.  I look back at what I’ve learned in the last two years, and compare it to what E has learned–physically, linguistically, socially–and it is very clear that children really are a miracle and a sign of their Maker!