Family Worship & the Day I Made My Daughter Cry

My daughter, Laurelen, graduated from a small, classical Christian high school. The school enjoys a commencement tradition in which the parents hand the diploma to their child, but only after speaking a few words of encouragement (usually accompanied with some nostalgia) to him or her. The graduate responds with some brief, prepared remarks of his or her own.

A surprise for me

 From her response to us, here’s the section Laurelen specifically addressed to me:

Dad, I can’t think of learning to read, reading, or books without thinking about you. I remember how encouraging you were when I first learned to read. I would finish those little books, so proud of myself, and you would encourage me to start another one right away. I remember you reading to me when I was little and telling me how exciting it would be when I learned to read and could read to you. For as long as I can remember, you’ve been bringing home books from used bookstores for me to read and enjoy. By the time we moved from Kansas City, I had 4 or 5 bookcases full of books that you had lovingly brought home for me.

Reading has always been such an important part of us as a family. Dad, the way you have so consistently led us in family worship every single night of the week for every night of my life [Note: her memory certainly failed her here] is so meaningful and inspirational for me. I’m going to cherish those moments together for as long as I live. You have been a wonderful, loving, spiritual leader for my entire life. Not only our time reading the Bible or Christian books together, but also our time reading classic books will be something I’ll remember forever. Thank you so much, Dad, for making that such a huge part of our time as a family.

As meaningful to me as they obviously were, Laurelen never finished reading these two precious paragraphs (which, with her permission, I copied from her manuscript). When she started talking about how much family worship had meant to her, Laurelen began to cry. And when I say cry, I mean I cannot remember her weeping that hard since she was a preschooler. She came and sobbed on my shoulder, and the photo of that moment is my all-time favorite of the two of us together.

Perhaps a surprise for you

Now before you imagine something that isn’t true, I want you to know that I cannot recall once in the thousands of nights before Laurelen wrote these words when we concluded family worship and I had some atmospheric sense of the presence of God. Not one time did we finish family worship where I would have said afterward, “The Lord evidently moved in great power among us tonight.”

On the contrary, most nights our family gathering was more like, “Will y’all pay attention; I’m reading the Bible here. . . . Please put down your phone. . . . Are you listening?”

Was anything accomplished tonight?

Many times after family worship I wondered if anything good had been accomplished. Almost nightly I had to remind myself to trust in the Lord to do His work through His Word, and not in my perceptions or feelings about what had or had not occurred.

Often came the nights when I perceived no enthusiasm to gather for family worship, and frankly, many times I had very little myself. In many such cases you know you need to proceed with at least a brief time of family worship out of sheer discipline and a resolve that refuses to cave in to plausible excuses of everyone’s fatigue or busyness. Sometimes you’ll sense that for you to mandate family worship on that occasion would be received as harsh and legalistic, so you simply for a quick circle and sing the Doxology or offer a brief prayer. And you’ll second-guess yourself just about every time you have to make such a call.

It will be worth it

Strive for faithfulness in family worship, not immediate results. I fully understand that what you may see night-after-night, week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year in family worship may be uneventful. Just realize that the effects are rarely immediate; usually they’re cumulative.

Oaks aren’t grown by the effects of an occasional spectacular day of weather, but by long-term, consistent exposure to the elements that encourage their growth. The same patient persistence is true for growing “oaks of righteousness” (Isa. 61:3).

Give your family years of faithful, if unspectacular, leadership in family worship, and you’ll agree it’s worth it all when someday, perhaps far from now, unexpectedly, you get a response like this:Laurelen and DW at DSCS graduation 3


Don’s book on Family Worship (Crossway, 2016) can be ordered here.

To receive the free, five-day video course on practical tips for family worship that Don developed with Crossway, click here.



8 replies
  1. Nick Jensen
    Nick Jensen says:

    I want to thank you for your 5 day training on family worship and especially this blog post. I was greatly encouraged by your own experiences in family worship. I have been married now for about 4 and a half years to a godly and beautiful wife to the praise of God. I have tried numerous times to lead in a daily spiritual activity together (apart from separate times with the Lord) as a family, however I usually meet with lack of enthusiasm (sometimes from myself) or a sense of wasting my time.
    A few months ago while reading the Christian Directory by Richard Baxter I was reenergized to make an attempt at daily family worship. I have been trying for about 3 weeks now to have a daily time of Scripture reading and prayer together with my wife and I have been struggling. This post encouraged me to think long term rather than merely daily. This post encouraged me that I’m not alone in meeting with difficulty. So I just want to thank you for your openness; the Lord has used it to bless me.

    • Don Whitney
      Don Whitney says:

      Thanks for the comment, Nick. I appreciate your candor, and want to encourage you to persevere. If your experience is like mine, you’ll rarely “feel successful” in family worship, but that’s not the measurement. Measure yourself by long-term consistency instead of your perception of the spiritual atmosphere on a given evening.

  2. Susie Spurgeon Cochrane
    Susie Spurgeon Cochrane says:

    Thank you so much Don for such an honest article on family worship. It is such an encouragement for those of us who are struggling with this at the moment. It’s good to know that our efforts are not a waste of time😊 Thank you,

    • Don Whitney
      Don Whitney says:

      Thank you so much for these kind words. So good to hear from you! Next week I’ll begin a three-week study in one of my seminary classes of CHS via Dallimore’s biography.

    • Don Whitney
      Don Whitney says:

      Thank you, Lavada, both for reading and replying. I wish I had written this post before I published my Family Worship book. I would have included it near the end. Nowadays when I teach on the subject, I include that story and picture.


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