How to parent with grace-filled habits: “Habits of the Household” calls parents to everyday spiritual modeling

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How to parent with grace-filled habits: “Habits of the Household” calls parents to everyday spiritual modeling

January 10, 2023 - Mark Legg

© By Nattakorn /stock.adobe.com

Happy parents and daughter all laughing together

© By Nattakorn /stock.adobe.com

While reading Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms by Justin Earley, tears and an accompanying deep spiritual insight blindsided me.

The most powerful, emotional moments occur when two opposite ends of a spectrum—high spiritual truths on one side and the most mundane on the other—somehow miraculously meet.

When a toddler awkwardly repeats a Bible verse back to her mom, when the gospel becomes clear for the first time to a child after they receive grace in response to their temper tantrum, when a father realizes that he is helpless in the hands of God just like his newborn, when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and teaches them about humility, we are struck by the wonderous leap of the spiritual to the mundane.

In these moments, the everyday becomes spiritual, or perhaps the spiritual humbles itself to the everyday. Actually, in an awe-inspiring way, it’s both. The spiritual becomes fully present in the mundane, and the mundane is transformed into something spiritual.

This seems to happen frequently around children. Maybe that’s why Jesus said to them “belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14)

The spiritual in the normalHabits of the household book cover

Justin Earley is a writer, speaker, and lawyer who lives in a bustling house of four boys with his wife, Lauren. He was a missionary in China for four years, graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English literature, and now owns a business law practice.

And parenting is still the hardest thing he’s done.

Habits of the Household shows how the spiritual can invade our daily lives. Earley writes, “I used to think I needed to get the day-to-day stuff done and out of the way to get to the real spiritual work of parenting—some special conversation where the magic would really happen. But now I see that the magic of God’s grace abounds in the places I need it most: in the normal routines.”

He “reimagines household habits as liturgies.” Or, if liturgies make you cringe because of memories of empty, rote droning, consider them as “repeated acts of praise to God” (and maybe revisit the idea of liturgy with fresh eyes.)

As a young married man who does not plan to have children soon, in a world where couples have fewer children, later in life, Habits made me excited to become a parent. Make no mistake: the book impresses repeatedly and forcefully how difficult it is to raise children. I know that fact from firsthand experience as the oldest brother of five.

But Earley shows how, even in the trenches of diapers and late-night fits, we can create the most beautiful, sanctifying moments of spiritual parenting.

Earley’s basic point is that we must cultivate healthy habits, spiritual and otherwise, in our homes (while avoiding legalism). If we don’t develop good habits, habits will form anyway—just bad ones. “Good or bad, a rut is a rut, and our brains love ruts.”

He writes, “There is no escaping habits and formation in the family. We become our habits, and our kids become us. The family, for better or worse, is a habit formation machine.”

How to incorporate the spiritual into the everyday

Earley covers all areas of domestic affairs in a humble, insightful way. He breaks down the book into the flow of an average day, with chapters on waking, mealtimes, discipline, marriage, family devotions, and play. The last chapter before the epilogue is, of course, bedtime.

He also writes with clarity and conviction on that pressing issue that every parent wants to give up on: screentime. He devotes a whole chapter to it.

Doing something rather than nothing is a main theme of the book. Of course, it’s beneficial to get a good family devotional if your kids are the right age for that family activity. But the most important thing is to just do it. Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect (it won’t be) or cheesy (it probably will be). As Earley writes, “When it comes to family spiritual formation, it’s not about perfect practice, it’s about moving from nothing to something.”

Even if the bedtime prayer is three seconds long because your children are so hyper that you can’t catch them as they jump up and down on the bed, pray.

This passage punched me in the gut: “The fact is, in family, if you’re adverse to messy prayers, then you’re adverse to prayer. If you can’t tolerate spills, you’ll avoid eating with kids. If you don’t like conflict in relationship, then you’re not going to like relationship. If you can’t handle a mess in the kitchen, you can’t handle hospitality. If you can’t stomach awkward moments, you won’t much like the conversation that leads to the great moments. And if you have trouble with fights, then you won’t be much good at forgiveness.”

Scattered throughout the book are inserts of summaries and suggestions with “things to try,” “further resources,” and other practical notes.

Why you should read Habits of the Household

Earley’s writing is refreshing. He calls parents to intentionality and offers more than enough grace for inevitable failures. His winsome, painful, hilarious real-life stories help connect the reader to his world: a broken, messy family with four little boys that pursues Christ through formative habits.

You should read Habits of the Household if:

  • You plan on being a parent.
  • Find yourself suffering from a case of imposter syndrome.
  • Didn’t have a healthy family growing up.
  • Want to begin spiritually parenting or deepen already solid habits.
  • Desire some practical tips to run a godly household.
  • Feel uninspired to have children.
  • Or just want a sympathetic book that really gets the chaos of raising children.

Select quotes from Habits of the Household

  • “The most radical truths are really simple ones. God is real. He loves you. Good and evil exist. Good will win. You are made in the image of God. You are also fallen. Jesus died for you. He also rose for you. God’s world is beautiful. We are tasked with caring for it. Men and women exist.”
  • “Catechisms at a young age work like holds in a rock-climbing wall. They are sturdy things a mind can grab hold of and begin to work with.”
  • “I look at Shep and talk to him in my stern voice. ‘Sheppard !’ (I now say his name like it’s two words.) ‘Do not hit.’ He looks at me, and I see the fullness of humanity staring back. I see the excitement, and the confusion. I see the churning development of the brain. I see the angels and the demons of his nature. I see war and peace and love and rage. I see myself. I see us all. I see a real live human being. What I do not see is his left hand, as he hauls off and smacks me again. This time harder. As we say, he has done it now. But the question is, what am I going to do?”
  • “Discipline, when it becomes discipleship, is something worth practicing and crying over, laughing and hugging over, and something worth cheering for too.”
  • “A Christian is no ordinary observer of the world. Our faith asks us to believe that angels and demons exist, that a virgin gave birth, that a man named Jesus rose from the dead, and that a new kingdom is coming where we all get to celebrate and play, happily ever after. Our faith asks us to believe that things are not the way they seem, and that despite what we experience, suffering and evil will not have the final word. This is not easy. In Christianity, you won’t get very far without a healthy imagination.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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