Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. – 2 Cor. 5:17-18
Homeschooling offers many benefits — flexibility of schedule, child-specific curricula, increased family time, and faith-based instruction, to name a few. But it isn’t always easy. Some days are frenetically busy with barely time to eat. Others are slow, where parents and children plod along with more willpower than pleasure. Add life’s inevitable surprises and interruptions, a sometimes challenging mix of personalities, and the presence (or absence) of self-discipline and patience in both our youngsters and ourselves. As wonderful as this lifestyle is, it can also be trying. With my youngest in college now, I look back on our family’s homeschooling years with fresh perspective. One thing that stands out is the incredible value of ending each day right.
What do I mean by “right”? I mean with a return to right relationships. In essence, this time before bed should intentionally focus on reconciliation in our relationships with God and each other. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22: 37-39). Bedtime is the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we lived in light of these commands and to repair any relational damage. Taking the bed-time story, prayer, and tucking-in to a different level, I suggest this simple acronym as a helpful, more intentional alternative: TAP. Talk. Apologize if needed. Pray together.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7
In our family, we started each homeschool day with devotions. As the children grew older, we added Scripture memorization and focused Bible study to each child’s school work. Bedtime, ten or twelve hours later, proved the perfect time to informally revisit what we’d learned from God’s Word that day. How did my son feel his day went? What new subject was my daughter most excited about? What were the challenges of that day, and how would we approach them tomorrow? These unstructured times proved relaxing, informative, even funny on occasion. I still remember questions my son, a talker and thinker, asked from his bed as a 3-year-old: “Mommy, do airplanes take you to heaven?” Or, “Are there Dunkin’ Donuts in heaven?”
My husband worked long hours as the kids were growing up. I often performed the bedtime debrief alone. When possible, we spent this time with the kids as a couple. On other evenings, if I needed to be out, the kids enjoyed this special time with Dad. Dad on his own might not know all of the day’s details if Mom was doing most of the homeschooling, but these times were relationship-building and relationship-healing in a framework of faith. Given the Deuteronomy 6 passage above, this time to talk was a simple act of obedience.
Apologize If Needed
So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. – Acts 24:16
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. – James 5:16a
Our child may have had a terrible day due to a bad attitude, disobedience, or any number of factors. This is the perfect time to gently ask if they pleased God by their thoughts, words, and actions that day. As Paul directs us in the first part of Galatians 6:1, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Our child might need to apologize to us, to a sibling, or to someone else. Repenting of any wrong behavior and confessing our sins to one another is not always easy, but James 5 says we should do so in order to be healed. The full implications of this verse are beyond the scope of this article, but I’d argue that relational healing is part of this.
Our child may have had a terrible day. Maybe we responded with an equally bad attitude and lack of self-control. In other words, we may have sinned in our anger. Scripture offers clear guidance on this topic. “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). This time before bed is an organic opportunity for us to model humility and obedience. We should ask forgiveness for harsh words or actions. We should then reaffirm our love for our children and for God. Our kids know we blow it, so this becomes a beautiful teaching moment about God’s gift of forgiveness. Daily reconciliation is the immediate goal, but establishing life-long habits that are grounded in biblical obedience can result.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. – James 5:16b
A little plaque hung on the kitchen wall when I was growing up. It read: “The family that prays together stays together.” While I always associated that sentiment with praying together before meals, it was a great reminder of the importance of seeking God both as an individual and as a family. We need to model prayer for our children, with the goal being their establishing a regular, personal conversation with the Lord. As they learn from God’s Word, they should grow more comfortable asking for God’s forgiveness, requesting his strength and guidance, and seeking His provision of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22).
Once we are right before God and with one another, we can then lift others in effective prayer. What needs are we aware of in our circle of family and friends? What brothers and sisters in Christ could use prayer? Who do we know that lacks a relationship with Christ? A sweet unity is established when we come before the Lord together on the behalf of others. During this time the Holy Spirit may also impress on us specific actions we should take to minister to those we are lifting in prayer. We end the day acknowledging that, in spite of our sinfulness, God’s mercies “are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). We remember that God’s reconciling us to himself through Jesus enables us to also be reconcilers on His behalf.
As Children Grow
Maintaining this healthy talk-apologize-pray routine is easier to do when our children are young. As they get involved in more activities outside of the home during their teen years, this time of reconciliation may look very different. Occasional late-night conversations on Mom and Dad’s bed might provide this chance to talk, apologize, and pray together. “Date Nights” with the parent of the opposite sex can provide a time to catch up, encourage, and redirect. Extended drives, when eyes are focused ahead, offer another good opportunity to share, ask questions, and encourage our children in their faith.
Looking back, I see my many failings. I often rushed these times if I had a lengthy to-do list for the rest of the evening. I didn’t always ask forgiveness for my impatience or grace-less words. And I wasn’t as intentional as I could have been in this area as my children advanced through their teenage years. But God, in His graciousness, used this bed-time ritual–this talk-apologize-pray model–to establish a solid relational foundation in our family. Today I see this as I interact with my adult children and watch them interact with others. Reconciliation is a noticeable theme. Your children may be young, older, or spanning many years. No matter their age, I pray that your family also may TAP into God’s good plan for reconciliation as you strive to end the day right.