If you are anything like me, daily life in your household generally conforms to a pattern, a liturgy, a modus operandi. Every day certain things happen, and other things happen every few days. Some patterns, however, are weekly, monthly, or annually. Some things are necessary on a daily basis, like eating and drinking, and as long as we’re alive, these will continue unabated. Some events are weekly, like Sunday worship, other events occur annually, like birthdays and Christmas.
Finding Time for Family Worship
One pattern that I have clumsily endeavored to establish for decades now is a time of daily worship together in the home as a family. We’ve tried, failed, repented, and tried again hundreds of times over the years. But a couple of months ago, with a little help from a friend, we began again with hopes for a better outcome, a perpetual outcome.
Last summer, my wife attended a talk at the 2015 CiRCE Institute Annual Conference by Cindy Rollins about family liturgy and then related to me what she had learned. She gleaned that the overarching principle in planning a family liturgy for the long haul is to keep the time together short, simple, and therefore, sustainable. The pattern can then become a thread weaving each successive day to the memory of yesterday, as well as a foretaste of what can be expected tomorrow.
Our Family Liturgy
My wife and I considered what could be included and came up with the following liturgy:
- “The Lord Be With You” – mutual greeting and blessing
- Sing the Doxology (which has been learned by heart)
- Prayer – Morning prayer by St. Macarius the Great (which has been learned by heart)
- Sing a psalm (generally at this point, we sing one we all know)
- Recite the Pater Noster (which has been learned by heart)
- Sing the Lord’s Prayer (which has been learned by heart)
- Recite the Nicene Creed (which has been learned by heart)
- Scripture reading: Right now we are reading through John’s Gospel, sometimes only half a chapter (with no commentary unless the children ask questions)
- Review prayer requests (especially for people outside our immediate family)
- Extemporaneous Prayer (each member of the family prays for one person—can be as brief as one, short sentence. Recently we’ve added one sentence of gratefulness in addition to the one supplication.)
- Sing closing hymn: Nunc Dimittis (which has been learned by heart)
Note: Many of these components had already been memorized by the family due to the shape of our church’s Sunday morning liturgy.
Altogether, this takes 15- 20 minutes. The eleven components look long and laborious, but each step of the liturgy only requires from between 30 seconds to 3 minutes to complete, so the pace is quick, without rushing through anything. Scripture reading may take a little longer, but even at that, the goal is to keep it brief—not rushed, and not a sermon either. We simply read the text with occasional comments to explain historical/cultural context.
A Blessing Not a Curse
I believe the fact that the liturgy is brief and varied lends itself to all the children finding it acceptable. Not that I ask them if they find it acceptable, but it is important that this time be a blessing to them and not a curse. Proverbs 27:14 says, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” A corollary to it might read, “The dad who blesses his children with an hour long lecture, rising early in the morning, will be counted as a cursing.” A blessing is not a blessing if it is not received as such. We need to consider out children’s frame, even as the Lord remembers ours.
One fruit of daily prayer together in the morning is that when I pray with each of the children at bedtime, the prayer list from the morning liturgy, from which they only asked one petition that morning, is remembered in the evening. At evening prayers, there is no constraint on how many requests they offer, and several times now, the children have decided to pray through the entire list from that morning.
It’s Not a Check List
Of course, I am not looking for a checklist to be checked off, so I can feel better about myself or have more confidence about my children’s eternal dwelling place. God’s mercy, through his Son, has already conquered death, and my children have been baptized for the remission of sins. My goals are more proximate, without being any less eternal. I want to see my family walk with God together. I want to see them happy to walk with God.
To have a liturgy is part-and-parcel with being human; to have an intentional liturgy that cultivates love for God and neighbor is a constituent part of becoming more fully human, more like the Son of Man himself, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
The Lord bless you and keep you.