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Take a break — Christian education at home

A few weeks ago, my 13-year-old son told me he was too busy and needed some down time.  I have to admit that I was caught off guard by his comment.  On a weekly basis, he has two camps on Zoom that each last an hour and a half and one hour of reading tutoring.  In between, we take care of our animals and plants, do house chores and occasionally head out to pick up grocery orders.  How is this too much?  Then I remembered how tired I feel when I have multiple online meetings and computer work to do in the same day.  Living in the age of COVID-19 is tiring in a way that life before wasn’t.  The amount of time needed for self-care has increased, even for our children.  Jesus understood the need to retreat and regroup in the midst of stressful times.  In this lesson, your children will have the opportunity to reflect on the need to take periodic breaks from the busyness of life to rest in the presence of God.

Begin the time with your children by reading aloud Matthew 14:13-33.  As you read, ask them to notice what parts of the story they find most interesting.  Or, you can have your children pick one part of the story that they think should be kept above all others.  When you finish reading, have them share their reflections.  Likely they will focus in on the feeding of the 5,000 and/or Jesus walking on water.  After all, these are beloved stories often told in Sunday school and worship services.  Plus, these are the high action parts of the reading!  Ask your children to think about why these parts of the story resonate with them.  What do they really like about these elements?

Next, “zoom in” on the few verses that lie between the two main events in the reading: verses 22-23.  Reread these verses aloud and have your children reflect on these two verses.  Are these verses the best part of the reading?  Why or why not?  Why do they think Jesus chose to separate from the crowds of people who loved him to spend time praying alone on the mountain? Note that Jesus recognized how important it is to take a break even from the important work of preaching and teaching.  The quiet alone time on the mountain likely helped him continue his work.

Connect Jesus’ “break” to your children’s lives.  Ask them to share times they have needed to have a bit of alone time to relax and recharge.  Since some children have difficulty identifying when they need to step away from something, you may want to share your own reflections on this.  (“I noticed when you are building with Legos and you are tired, you get really frustrated.  When you leave the Legos for a while and read a book with me or have some rest time in your room, you usually feel better.”)  Note that we even need to take breaks nowadays even though we are not going as many places and doing as many things as we did prior to the pandemic.  It can be even harder to notice when we need to have some downtime.

Create a plan for your family to create moments to recharge like Jesus experiences when he goes to the mountain to pray.  Begin by talking about how each person in the family best recharges.  Some might like to move to a separate space to pray like Jesus does.  Others may enjoy doing a fun activity like playing a game or reading.  Next, discuss how you each know that it is time to take a break.  What do you feel in your body that signals you’re running out of energy?  How do you know when you’ve “hit a wall”?  Again, young children may not be able to identify these things on their own. You may need to share observations of their behavior to help them connect these feelings with the need to redirect.

Finally, come up with a plan for building in these moments of self-care into your family schedule.  Some options you may want to consider:

  • If your children will be schooling online in the fall, schedule a few mini-breaks throughout the day so they are able to get off of the computer and recharge. You can plan to have lunch together each day in a location where there is no technology (like your porch).  Focus conversations during these times on topics other than the business of the day.
  • Many families with young children have daily afternoon “quiet time.” During this time, each child goes into her room where she can read or nap.
  • Set aside a time each day for prayer. This can be done together as a family or individually.  Remind your children that their prayers can be silent because God knows them so well. They can simply sit quietly with God.  They do not need to create a set of prayers to say out loud.
  • Develop a signal for when a family member needs to take an emergency break. This can be used in moments when the person feels overwhelmed.  A physical signal works well because children often become tongue-tied when they are frustrated.  In our family we use the “time out” hand signal sports coaches use.  When someone in the family gives the “time out” signal, he can step away for a few minutes to regroup without explanation.  Later we usually talk about what precipitated the moment.

JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.