When You Have the Christmas Grumps

overcoming moodiness at Christmas

Stop touching my stuff!

Five seconds later…

Stop touching me!

Five seconds later…

Stop looking at me! Your EYES are touching me!

Five seconds later…

Stop breathing in the same room as me! 

Happy holidays, right? Fa la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaa! It’s amazing how quickly the beauty of family bonding time can sour into family grump time. And it’s not just the kids who turn into grumps—Grinchiness can attack us all, no matter our age or stage in life. We can get irritated with roommates, spouses, extended family, annoying pets…

Every Christmas, my family relies upon the passage I call Old Faithful, a.k.a. Philippians 2. It has seen us through many a grumpy moment on holidays, vacations, and—well, even on regular old days when we have descended into selfish funks.

If you feel the Christmas Grumps descending upon you or your family, try pulling out Philippians 2:1–16 and having a little chat—first with yourself, then with your family. I’m abbreviating it a bit here, but the whole passage is life-saving:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness . . . .

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. –Philippians 2:1–7, 14–16 

The way of Christ is humility, sacrifice, and selflessness! Putting others’ needs before our own. Forgetting what we want and what would make our holidays great, and putting others’ needs first. Choosing gratitude over discontent, speaking thanks instead of complaint. When we become selfless, a funny thing happens: We get happier! We have more fun! We find joy in the midst of chaos and stress! Isn’t it amazing how wise God’s ways are? Our heavenly Father—our Designer—knows how we function best…and he made us to give! We thrive when we serve.

(Ahem. I hereby interrupt this blog post for a Public Service Announcement addressed to those of you who never stop: Please do not read this and think, “I should run myself ragged serving others this Christmas.” If that is you, please read Have a ‘Mary’ Christmas: More Sitting, Less Stressing! End of PSA announcement.)

Want more ideas for bringing Christ into the chaos of daily life?  Sign up for my newsletter here and you’ll receive a free download: 7 two-minute devotions to do around the breakfast table with your family! 

Kevin and I read Philippians 2 with our family all the time (in fact, we discussed it for the umpteenth time yesterday). With young kids, try reading this passage in the New Living Translation; it’s a little easier to comprehend. After we read, we like to give our kids lots of practical, specific examples to “hang” these scriptures on. We encourage them to think about things like, “How can I make my sister happy today?” and “What game would my brother like to play today?” and “What if I let everyone else choose which cookie they want before me?” (In our house, volunteering to be the last cookie-chooser would be a sacrifice of saint-like proportions.)

Here’s to defeating the spirits of Scrooge and Grinch and Grump, and having a holly-jolly Christmas through the Spirit of Christ!

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Teaching Kids to “Go the Extra Mile”

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Me: “Hey, {insert child’s name}, will you help me {set the table/carry the laundry/vacuum the floor} ?”

Kid, with a dramatic groan: “But that’s not my chore this week!”

**Repeat variations of this conversation a dozen times, with all of my children, over several weeks.**

Me to myself: Time for a family talk.

With this attitude problem in mind, last week the kids and I held a quick devotion time before school. We turned to Matthew 5:41–42: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Kind of a strange passage, right? Not your usual “encourage the kids to help around the house with a good attitude” scripture.

But hang with me.

First I had to explain the context of the passage to the kids. During Jesus’ day, the Romans occupied all Jewish territory. By law, Roman soldiers could force Jewish people to carry their equipment for them—they could just stop them on the side of the road and conscript them into service. No matter what the Jew was doing or where he was going, he had to stop and travel with the Roman as his temporary slave. (Remember Simon, the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus couldn’t carry it himself (Mark 15:21)? That’s an example of this law in action.)

The only redeeming aspect of this law was its built-in limitation: the Roman could only force the Jew into service for one mile. We can imagine how humiliated the Jews must have felt by this practice—how slowly and angrily they must have walked while shouldering their enemy’s burden, how violently they must have dropped the baggage at the end of their mile of service.

To help the kids connect with the story, we acted this scene out using pillows from our couch. I played the part of the Roman soldier, and forced my son to carry my pillows across the room. I piled pillow after pillow into his arms, until he was giggling his head off, and his giggling head had completely disappeared behind a pile of pillows. Then he had to attempt to walk across the room.

Want more creative ideas for bringing God into your family life? Click here to sign up for my monthly parenting newsletter. As a welcome gift, you’ll receive a free download: seven two-minute devotions to do around the breakfast table with kids!

When everybody stopped laughing, we used this story to talk about Jesus’ expectations for his followers. Jesus called his disciples to have a completely different attitude than anyone else. Instead of giving in to anger and resentment, he called us to show the love and grace of God by going the extra mile. (And now you know where that phrase came from! Cool, right?) The disciple of Jesus shouldn’t just count his steps till he reaches the end of his required service, then drop the burden and stomp off in a bitter huff—no, the disciple of Jesus says, “Hey, Roman soldier, I’m enjoying your company so much, why don’t you let me carry this for you for another mile? And while I’m at it, let me tell you about a preacher named Jesus…” Jesus wants his people to exemplify kindness and grace, even in the face of injustice and cruelty. He wants us to do more than expected, and better than expected!

And how does this lesson translate into our daily life today? It means that as people who love Jesus, we always seek to have a great attitude no matter what—even if we are being mistreated. It means that we show the love of God to people who don’t “deserve” it. It means we do more than we have to, and we do it with a great attitude. In Colossians 3: 22–24, Paul has these words of admonition for slaves with their masters (I emphasized some phrases): “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” What a challenging attitude to attain, under painful circumstances—but what a great reward in the end!

We talked about having a “second-mile” attitude in our family life—in everything we do at school, in sports, in friendship, and at home. We talked about always looking for ways to serve and give, above and beyond what we are required to do. I asked the kids to work on having a better attitude about helping around the house—not thinking in terms of what’s on the chore chart, and what they have to do to earn allowance, but always striving to serve as much as they can, and with a generous spirit.

I have to say, the Bible is powerful. Jesus’ ways work. This simple scripture brought immediate change to all of our hearts (the kids’ and mine!), and has made our house a more helpful and Christ-like place to live. If you do this devotion with your family, I hope it inspires you all to give your best and go the extra mile! (And come back and let me know how it goes— either here in the comments, or on Facebook—I love hearing from you!)

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A Fun Family Devotion to Teach Kids Gratitude

how to raise thankful children

As we begin the holiday season, we’re all looking for ways to encourage our kids to be grateful. Here is a family devotion we did last year with our kids to encourage a thankful spirit. We called it…

“Overflowing with thankfulness. Literally.”

How’s that for a creative title?!


This devotion comes with a super silly illustration, but our kids loved it. We started by reading Colossians 2:6–7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Then we gathered around the kitchen table and I asked if they wanted some milk. I put a cup in a bowl, and started pouring…  and pouring… and pouring… until my kids were gasping in horror and the milk was spilling out all over the top of the cup, filling up the bowl. The milk was overflowing! We talked about how our gratitude should be like that—so big that we just can’t hold it in, and it spills out all over everything.

Then we stuck straws into the bowl (germs? what germs?) and let the kids drink the milk from the bowl.

teaching kids to be thankful via @lizzylit

Of course, this turned into a milk-bubble-blowing fest. Who says the Bible can’t be fun?!

raising grateful kids

You could do variations on this devotion with a bowlful of marshmallows or even a basket full of toys.

Here’s to a holiday season that’s overflowing with thankfulness . . . and fun!

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Want more ideas like this? Click here to sign up for my monthly parenting newsletter, and you’ll receive a free download with seven two-minute devotions to do around the breakfast table with your kids! 

You might also enjoy these posts:

Two-Minute Devotions (Scroll through the list for a whole series of devotion ideas.)

When Your Kid Won’t Stop Whining

13 Scriptures to Help Siblings Get Along

5 Foundations in Early Parenting

10 Ways to Get Kids to Open Up

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Teaching Kids to Be Good Listeners

how to teach children listening skills


I recently did a fun devotion time with some children at church, about the importance of listening, and I thought I’d pass it along.

We centered the discussion and activities around James 1:19:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We started by reading the scripture and discussing the question, Why is it important to listen before we speak?

Activity #1: The world is talking . . . are you listening?

I took the kids outside, and we all sat quietly for a few minutes, trying to pick out as many different sounds as possible. We listed all the different sounds we heard—several different kinds of birds, a siren, the wind rustling leaves, a car engine, a motorcycle, laughter, an air conditioner. We talked about how much we miss when we aren’t paying attention, or when we are talking so much that we don’t take the time to listen.

Activity #2: Ready, set, listen!

Next, the kids lined up, and I gave them a list of several specific things to do in order, things like: “Run to the fence, spin around in a circle, then run back and sit down at the picnic table with your hands folded,” or “Pat your stomach three times, touch your toes, and shout your favorite color.” We started with only two actions, and worked our way up to four. (With older kids you could go higher than this.) Then the kids took turns giving each other instructions. (They really enjoyed being in charge of the group!) Kevin and I have tried a similar activity at home with our kids, with a twist: We let each of our kids take turns receiving their own set of instructions. They each got a list of three to five specific actions to perform around the house (most of them were very silly things, like “Grab one of your sister’s T-shirts and wear it on your head”). It was more challenging this way, because they couldn’t follow the group—they had to listen and remember the instructions all by themselves. You can add another fun dimension to the activity by adding a time limit.

Activity #3: Feel the rhythm

Last, we sat at the table with our hands in front of us and created complex rhythms one step at a time, building patterns by slapping and thumping the table with our palms and fists. We might start by bumping our fists once on the table, then adding two hand slaps, then two claps, building the rhythm as long as we could until we were all laughing and confused.

After all the games, we revisited our theme scripture and talked again about reasons why it is important to listen, and to listen well. God gives us important instructions or lessons in the Bible that we need to take the time to hear. If we’re too busy, we might miss his instructions for how to live our lives. Sometimes our parents give us a list of instructions to do at home, to keep us safe or to keep the household running—if we don’t stop to listen, we will miss important details. Sometimes our friends have something important to say about how they are feeling, and we hurt their feelings if we don’t pay attention.

Listening is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most children (or most adults, for that matter!)—it must be taught. And as children mature, they need to learn not just to bite their tongue and wait their turn to speak, but to listen with emotional intelligence—to hear and acknowledge the feelings other people express, to learn to ask sensitive questions that draw out other people’s thoughts and feelings, to adjust their own responses in conversation based on how their words make people feel.

Devotions like this are fun and simple, but they make a big difference in teaching our kids to apply Scripture to their daily life. Times like these bring God’s word to life, making it fun and relevant, and show children all the ways that “the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).

For more devotion ideas, try these: 

Three Devotions to Teach Kids Compassion and Confidence

Two-Minute Devotions

You might also enjoy Deck of Devos, a deck of cards with 52 ideas for fun family devotions.

Fun activities to teach children listening skills @lizzylit

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