Last Thursday, I posted about Jessica Thompson’s devotional, Exploring Grace Together, which our family has been working through over dessert this spring. This past week, I had an opportunity to correspond with Jessica and ask her some questions about her book and about helping kids be engaged during family devotions.
JK: Can you tell me about your family? How many and how old are your kids?
JT: I have a 15-year-old son named Wesley, a 13-year-old son named Hayden, and a 10-year-old daughter named Alexandria. I have been married for 19 years this coming July to my high-school sweetheart Cody.
JK: What led you to write Exploring Grace Together?
JT: I co-authored a book called Give Them Grace with my mom (Elyse Fitzpatrick). We travel the across the country speaking on the contents of that book. The main premise being that most Christians raise our children in such a way that we have taught them that “being good” is the point of being a Christian. And while that might make for obedient children (at least while they are at home) it doesn’t make for true believers. Without fail every time we spoke on that book someone would come up to us after the conference and ask if there were any good devotionals that talked to children about the good news of God’s love for sinners instead of moralist religion that says you must be like all the good people of the Bible. Was there any good news for our kids? We always recommended the Jesus Storybook Bible but there were no other devotionals that families could do together that emphasizes the free grace of God to sinners. Every time we got that question, my mom would basically say, “No we don’t know of any books because Jess hasn’t written it yet.” I am pretty observant and after about 100 times I finally decided I should write the book.
JK: In the introduction, you talk about looking for Jesus at school, at home, in sports, in music–everywhere as a treasure hunt? What was your inspiration for that image?
JT: I think the treasure hunt idea was a gift to me from God. A treasure isn’t easy to find but when you do you find it you don’t ever want to be apart from it because of it’s great worth. I wanted to be able to engage children at a level that they understand. What child doesn’t dream about finding a hidden treasure? I know I did when I was little, and to be honest I still find myself wondering what would happen if I looked down and saw a diamond ring on the ground. The beautiful paradox of the gospel is that while it is something we have to look for the Holy Spirit reveals it to us in so many different situations. Over and over again He has revealed Himself to our family in the most mundane and the most extraordinary circumstances of our lives. It really is sufficient for all of life. And so while we are on this treasure hunt, and we do need to keep our eyes open, God is big and powerful enough to force us to open our eyes and to show us the gospel in all of life.
JK: Tell me something about how each devotional is laid out. What do you hope the children who hear these devotionals will discover by the time they’ve finished the book?
JT: I started with a situation that either my kids or myself had gone through, and then I took a verse that I thought applied to the situation and tried to make the connection between the hardships we face and the good news the Bible offers us. My prayer for children and parents as they read this book is two fold: First, I would hope that kids would come to see how spectacular the love of God in Christ is and as they see that love it would transform their lives. Secondly, I hope that those reading see that the Bible isn’t some outdated book for their parents that doesn’t offer any help. So I hope to grow an awareness for God’s love and love him in return and I hope to grow a love for the Bible.
JK: Why did you choose 40 days? Was there method behind that choice?
JT: The 40 days was to coincide with a school year. I wrote it when I was homeschooling and thought it would be a helpful tool for those looking to do a devotional with their kids once a week. I actually ended up writing a few more and those were left on the cutting room floor.
JK: What if I feel like my kids are not engaged with these lessons, or they are totally engaged, but I think they’re missing the point? What do I do?
Pray. Relax. Remember that He’s got it. I so often find myself expecting from my kids what I don’t even do. For instance, I am not interested in my quiet time every day. Lots of times my heart is cold and unresponsive, and yet when it comes to family devotions I expect my kids to be totally engaged and into our time together. So I would say remember that your kids are human. Don’t expect too much for them. It is appropriate to ask them to sit quietly but you can’t demand that they respond spiritually. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The good news is you don’t have to panic. God knows your family. He knows your children. He has placed you all together and He will have his way. Pray that God works and then let him. Demanding spiritual insight from children who may or may not be spiritually alive is sure to create either a Pharisee who pretends to be involved to gain your approval or it creates sadness or hardness in a child who knows that in their heart that aren’t really on the same page as you are.