In these days of hurry and rush, I’ve heard many a news report reminding people to make family dinner a priority. The benefits are many: Shared meals let us connect with our kids, share what’s going on in our lives, and appreciate each other’s company.
Or so we’re told. My weekday reality isn’t always quite so quaint. Is yours?
I recently saw a Facebook post from a tired mama, soliciting advice on how to tame the craziness of mealtimes with her three kids. While a few of the comments offered practical ideas, most of the responses fell in the category of “Let me know if you figure this out, because I’m desperate too!”
That post got me thinking about family mealtimes—and this intrinsic desire we all seem to share to “make them count.” And for those of us who follow Jesus, there’s an added layer to all of this: Because we know family dinners can be a precious opportunity to share Jesus with our kids.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” We want this for our families, don’t we? To point them toward God’s truth day by day.
But instead of that idyllic hour of faith and family connection we crave, most of us squeeze quick meals into busy schedules—and hope no one kills each other in the process! On any given night, we might be subjected to food complaints, incessant bickering, or ridiculous antics that almost make us wish for the bickering. (Let’s not even get started on the three-part strategies we’ve had to implement in order to get a toddler to eat meat.)
So how in the world can you share Jesus in the middles of all that chaos?!
It might sound like a pie-in-the-sky dream, something you don’t feel equipped to carry out—but it really is possible to use your dinner table as a place of discipleship! And it doesn’t require a seminary degree or days of planning. Mostly, it just requires you to be you—to be honest about your faith and open up a space for your family to share about theirs, too.
So how do you actually do that?
Today, I’m sharing a few of the ideas that have helped me bring Jesus to my own family table over the years. They haven’t made every moment perfect—we’ve had our share of tears, fights, and disasters over the years, to be sure. But God has showed up in some precious moments around our table, and these are a few of the ideas that made it happen.
Take a look and pick one to try at your next meal: I’m praying they help you transform your own family dinners from chaos into connection.
1. Plan Ahead
How does your mind and body usually feels at suppertime? If you’re anything like me, you’re physically and emotionally exhausted by the time you finally get the last meal of the day on the table. It’s no wonder we struggle to connect during dinner: We can barely think straight by that time of day!
Meaningful meals don’t happen by accident: They happen by design. But these designs don’t have to be complicated! It doesn’t take an 18-point process and coler-coded binder in order to teach kids about Jesus. “Planning ahead” can be as simple as jotting an idea on a sticky note or printing off a blog post (like this one!) to keep by the table. Or maybe it’s picking up a devotional book, prayer prompts, or Bible study guide that’s ready to go at mealtime. (I’ve got a few great options in the shop right here!)
And guess what? Just by reading this blog post, you’re already putting this strategy to work for your family!
2. Pray Ahead
Here’s the thing that gives me the most hope about sharing Jesus with our kids: I know God wants that for us too!
I think we all feel ill-equipped or under qualified to disciple our kids at times. But we aren’t in this parenting process alone. We can ask God to prompt our hearts with ideas that will work for our family—to fill us with an extra dose of patience so we can listen better to our kids and wisdom that helps us ask good questions while we eat. Next time you’re stirring up dinner on the stove, take a minute to stir up a little prayer too. Invite God to show up at your dinner table: And then relax in knowing that He’s right there with you as you parent your kids.
3. Highs and Lows
A fun way to help your family connect is to have each person share a “high” and a “low” from their day. This practice curbs the extra chattiness of talkative kids and ensures that quieter family members also get a chance to share. And as you listen to each person’s report, you will naturally gather up ideas you can pray about: Thank God for the “highs” in your family and ask for his help in dealing with the “lows.”
The highs and lows tradition also teaches kids a valuable perspective about life: It’s good to name both the accomplishments/blessings we experienceand the challenges or mistakes that we face. Naming “lows” is a way to practice vulnerability as a family—and it can open up great space to learn from failures and offer each other encouragement in your struggles.
4. God Moments
This practice is similar to “highs and lows” but with a slightly different twist: Ask family members to share a “God moment” from their day—something that showed God at work in the world. It might be a special kindness someone received, something beautiful they noticed in creation, a lesson they learned or an encouragement they received. God is at work in the everyday events of our days—we just need to take the time to pause and look for them.
Kids may struggle with recognizing “God moments” at first. But if you make this question a regular part of your family mealtimes, it will begin to frame the way you think about your days. It’s so easy to fly through life without giving much thought to God’s presence in us: Teach your kids to pause and look for back on the “God sightings” in their day.
5. Read Devotions First
So you’ve bought a great family devotional. And you’re ready to spark great conversations with your family. So after everyone’s done eating, you pull out the deco, quiet the chatter, read the inspiring words, and . . . your son immediately asks “Can I go now?”
Friends, this has happened more times than I can count! When I wait to do family devotions until the end of dinner, my family tends to be “all talked out” and anxious to move on to other things. So here’s a simple idea to try: Read your devotions first. That way, you can process the ideas together while you eat.
Many devotionals offer great discussion questions that will help you teach the Bible to your kids (You can check out one great option here.) But one great question to ask after any kind of devotions is this : “Do you see how this connects to anything that happened to you lately?” And that’s a great question to chat about while you continue to eat.
6. Ask About Others
All too often, family conversations turn inward and we get caught up in our own dramas. (This is where the aforementioned sibling bickering often kicks in!) It’s great to share about the events of your own lives. But we can also teach our kids how to keep others in mind too. Try asking them what’s going on in the lives of people they know: Do they know anyone who’s celebrating today? Anyone who’s sick or dealing with something difficult?
As you gather up stories and information about the lives of neighbors, friends, and acquaintances, you can turn them into prayer requests. This is a great way to deepen family prayers and help your kids build compassionate hearts. (If you’d like a resource to give your family more meaningful prayer prompts, check out these PB & J Prayer Cards!)
7. Read the Bible Together
This may seem like an obvious way to share faith over supper, but many parents feel intimidated to turn to the Bible as a stand-alone tool to use with their kids. Devotionals can be a great suppertime tool, but we don’t want to only read about the Bible–we also want to help our kids learn how to study the Bible itself!
Try putting the devotional book aside on some nights, and reading a few Bible verses together. Psalms, Proverbs, or the Gospels are great places to start. And here are two simple questions that can help you discuss any Bible passage you read: “What does that passage reveal about humans?” and “What does that Bible passage reveal about God?”
*If you’d like a simple Bible study acronym that could help you study Bible passages together, you can also check out my free FRUIT Bible study printable. And for more suggested Bible passages to read, you might enjoy this “Choose Your Own Adventure” Bible reading plan.
8. Family Question Jar
My daughter came home from school with a Christmas present she’d made for the whole family: It was a decorated Pringles can, and inside (along with a little residual Pringles dust) were slips of paper with fun questions printed on them: Questions such as “If you could change something about today, what would it be?” and “What was the funniest thing that happened today?”
These family questions have been a great way for us to connect and share little tidbits from our day around the table. Kids just love the joy and mystery of getting to pull a question out of the jar and reveal what it says to the family. Thankfully, you don’t need to take hours to come up with questions and type them up ahead of time: There are some great resources that have already done it for you! Check out these family question jar options from Beauty and Bedlam and Momastery and you can make one of your own in no time.
9. Pray the Headlines
Here’s a simple mealtime practice that can build compassion and awareness in your kids: Grab a cell phone, flip to your favorite news site or app, and read the first two or three headlines. Then pray about those situations as a family.
This short practice will help your kids stay attuned to what’s going on in our country and world. You’ll be prompted to remember other countries, natural disasters, and political concerns in prayer. It’s a beautiful way to raise great citizens of God’s kingdom—who care about what he’s doing all around the world.
10. Be Goofy
Laughter is a beautiful gift we can give to our children, especially as they grow older and experience more of the “hard” in our world. Taking time to share a funny story, tell a joke, or play a silly game can bring a bright spot of joy to an otherwise difficult day.
As adults, we usually long for quiet and calm at the end of our busy days. But we give our kids a special gift when we set aside our desires for a few extra minutes and join them in a bit of silly fun. It’s so easy to feel annoyed by the silliness and noise—but these can be sweet, God-given opportunities to connect with our kids at their own level.
It feels good to laugh. And it feels good to make someone else laugh, too. So invite God to bring joy into your family’s day and share a goofy moment together.
11. Encouragement Notes
Dinnertime gives us an opportunity to feed our family more than just food—we can also take time to feed them encouragement. Here’s a fun little encouragement practice you can try: Just go around the table and have each person say one encouraging comment to the person sitting on their right.
Or here’s an alternative you can use over a longer period of time: Once a week, pick a person of the family to be “it”—and everyone says one thing they noticed and appreciated about that person this week. Take turns being “it” from week to week. (You could do this for a special “Encouragement Month” or just turn it into a repeating, ongoing practice.)
12. Practice Gratitude
As parents, we want our kids to learn how to look at life through a lens of gratitude—So why save questions about what we’re thankful for until Thanksgiving? Try introducing a “Grati-Tuesday” or “Thankful-Thursday” into your family routine: A day when each person shares something they feel thankful for during dinnertime. (If you do this practice, every week, you might give categories to focus your discussion: Something in nature you’re thankful for, a kind of technology you’re thankful for, a person you’re thankful for, a memory you’re thankful for, etc.)
Ask the artist in your family to decorate a special “Thanksgiving Notebook” or “Blessing Bin” where you can keep track of your responses. Or create a “Thanksgiving Tree” like this one together. And after your family finishes sharing thanksgivings each week, don’t forget to thank God for putting all these wonderful blessings into your life!
(And if you’d like a little help with steering your prayer time toward gratitude, you might try these Prayer Prompt cards that include ways to offer praise/thanksgiving to God.)