Don Everts: Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, Open Doors
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Don EvertsDon Everts is the senior pastor of First & Calvary Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Missouri, and is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Hopeful Neighborhood Project. Don has spent almost three decades helping people on college campuses and in the local church become good stewards of their God-given gifts. Along the way, his wife, Wendy, has been helping Don do the same. His many books include The Reluctant Witness, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, and The Hopeful Neighborhood, all...more
Author Don Everts loves sharing God-stories with his kids at the table or on a drive. Grab ideas to make home a discipleship lab & grow what matters most.
Don Everts: Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, Open Doors
Don: The research showed us that, if an entire core household is together—so the people who live and sleep under the same roof—if they’re all together, the odds are they are eating, and you’re doing a parallel activity—so it’s not intense, like, “Let’s just sit with chairs facing each other; and all we’re doing is looking in each other’s eyes and talking,”—you’re eating food; you’re passing things; the waiter is interrupting; you’re doing different stuff. There’s something about a meal that facilitates conversations; it’s a catalyst for it.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
When it comes to passing our faith on to our sons/your boys, raising them, what’s your biggest regret?
Dave: Oh, man.
Dave: Well, we wrote our five mistakes in our book.
Dave: But my biggest regret, I think—the first thing that comes to me—is when Cody, our youngest, said in college, “I wish we would have spent more time in the Bible; I don’t know the Bible like I should.” And he wasn’t looking at you; he was looking at me. That’s definitely one of my biggest regrets. You blink and they’re gone; and you think of all those days and weeks, that you could have grabbed the moment and jumped into the Word.
Ann: But as a pastor/his pastor, weren’t you thinking, “Well, if you would have just listened at church.” Did you have that thought?
Dave: Yes; but that’s a regret. If I could do it over again, I would do a better job of that.
Ann: —at home.
Dave: What about you?
Ann: Ohh; I wish I would have not been so angry and mean when they were little. [Laughter] I think I apologized so much to them and repented so much—but I did it too much—like, “Mom, didn’t God hear you the first time when you asked for forgiveness? Why do you keep asking?” I lived in the shame of yelling or making a mistake, as a parent.
Dave: You were mostly mad at me. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, you mean that was my anger—
Dave: Yes, you took it out on the kids; but you were disappointed in me. That’s another whole topic.
I mean, we, as parents, had a dream—yes, our sons are grown and married; and we have grandkids now—but our dream was that they would be warriors for the kingdom. That was part of our mission statement.
Ann: We wrote a letter, even, I remember to our first son, saying: “This is who we are, and this is what we long for you: that you will walk with God all the days of your life, and call upon His name, and tell others about Him.”
Dave: Yes, I think many Christian parents have the same vision.
Ann: —and hope.
Dave: And they’re not sure how to get there. So we have Don Everts back in the studio with us today. Don, welcome back to FamilyLife.
Don: Great to be back with you.
Dave: I know you’re a pastor, a dad, a researcher. I’m guessing you had the same vision and hopes that we had for your kids: three sons?
Don: Two boys and one girl; that’s right.
Dave: Yes, and they’re how old?
Don: Two in college; one in high school.
Dave: Alright; so let me ask you this: “Do you have any regrets?”
Don: They are highlighted by the research. [Laughter] Well, there’s something about—it feels like every research topic or book that I feel called to work on—
Dave: —which has been—what?—20?
Don: Yes; they are small books, but—
Dave: —but they’re all based on research.
Don: These latest ones are. There’s something about steeping in it. With this book, when I wrote the conclusion, and it was all over, I just broke down and cried—
Dave: Did you?
Don: —because I felt like it had done such a work in me: to be in the research, to be forced to be in the Bible and what it says about households. God used it so much in my life—I finished that last/sent it off to my publisher—and I thought, “You had me do all this for me; didn’t You?” I felt spoiled by God—that He needed to work on me—so: “I’ll get your attention by making you write a book about it.” [Laughter]
So yes, regrets about, not just interacting around things of faith—even more—I’m a pastor, too, and I have the same thing: “Listen to the sermons; [Laughter] they’re great!”; right?
Dave: Yes; right!
Don: And yet, to have done more. I was a campus minister, and I didn’t know what to do with little kids. There was part of me that was just waiting for them to become college students so I would know what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with a five-year-old!
So yes, just wishing that I had leaned into my ignorance earlier: “I want to learn: ‘What do you do with a five-year-old?’” We made it up as we went along, and God redeems that; right?
Don: He’s great at taking our scribbles and turning them into beautiful pictures. I’m so thankful for that. But all sorts of conviction in working on this.
Dave: Now, did you feel—because I felt this as a pastor; and Ann expressed this a couple times to me, her frustration—that I was “on” at church/spiritually vibrant outside the home; come in the home—not that I was a deadbeat—but the vibrancy wasn’t as strong in my home.
Ann: It’s because he’d be up on stage—and just praying, passionate/strong—and then I’d say, “Hey, do you want to pray for dinner?” You know, I was like, “Hey, what happened?—that guy that was on the stage?”
Don: You want Pastor Dave. [Laughter]
Don: My kids told me at one point: “You have a preacher voice when you preach; you have a different voice.” “I do not! I’m like myself; I’m the same me!” “Noooo, no, you’re not.” [Laughter]
For me, it was always way harder to just pray alone with my wife than it was to pray with a congregation.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: I read that, and I thought,—
Dave: Don, you are speaking my language.
Ann: —"Dave said the same thing!” Why is that?
Don: It’s more intimate,—
Don: —for probably lots of reasons.
Working on this book—and thinking about: “What is it like to be a spiritual coach in the household?”—like to even name that and say: “The research tells us it helps to have someone in the household, who is initiating things”; right? And who’s saying: “Hey, time out; let’s talk about this,” or “I want to call a play,” or whatever. You don’t have to do it well, but there needs to be someone initiating. I think that would be my regret—would be I wish I had named that earlier—like: “I’m supposed to be a spiritual coach in my household.”
Ann: I thought it was interesting, too, in terms of spiritual coaches, who are the influencers.
Ann: Talk about that a little bit.
Don: There’s some fun stuff and some sobering stuff in the research. We talked a lot, and we did an oversampling of teenagers, also, in terms of: “Who’s your favorite conversation partner?” because the second of the three vibrancy characteristics of a spiritually vibrant household is engaging in spiritual conversations. If you’re talking about your faith, or your doubts, or whatever—if you’re talking about it—your faith grows.
The research tells us some interesting things about people’s preferred conversation partners. The people who rank the highest—in terms of: “Who are teenagers and kids most open to talking about spiritual things with, most regularly and consistently?”—it’s grandparents. If grandparents come into a household—that’s whether they physically walk in, or whether they’re on ZOOM, or whether it’s a phone call, whatever—kids are most open and want influence, spiritually, from grandparents.
Ann: That is so surprising to me.
Dave: Why is that?
Don: I don’t know. [Laughter] The researchers don’t get into causality; they’re not like: “Here’s what causes that…”
Don: All they know is grandparents rank really, really high. It could be because—you know what it’s like—as a grandparent, you’re not having to do the day in, day out discipline.
Don: You’re not having to manage the household, which is another role; so I think maybe you have fewer hats that you’re wearing. That’s just me guessing; right?
Don: So kids are really open to that.
Ann: We were just with our four grandkids a couple weeks ago, and it was so interesting. As we get in the car and travel, I’ll tell stories or whatever. The oldest granddaughter is seven, and then her brother is five. I told this God story/this kind of miraculous God story. Every single time we got in the car for the next three days—
Dave: Oh, that’s right! Yes.
Ann: —they said, “Nonnie, tell us another God story.” It’s exactly what you said; I was amazed that they want to hear.
Don: It’s good news. It’s the people—not just in the core household—but in the extended household that also affect the spiritual vibrancy of a household. It’s the people inside and outside of it. We have empty nesters in my church, who are like, “Well, I’m not in this game; I don’t have kids at home anymore.”
I said, “Actually, the research tells us—and actually, the model of what a household is in the Bible—it’s this extended group of people.” People at my church, when we were handling this research for the first time, the grandparents were so encouraged; because they were like, “Am I consigned to have a boring, lonely, isolated household; and I’m not in the game anymore?”
“Actually, you’re a key player, not just within your own/like you’re literal grandparents—but you know, people move and all that—families need surrogate grandparents, surrogate aunts and uncles from within the church to love on their kids and all that.” So very inspiring for people: “You can be in the game.”
Other research tells us that, for a young child to have their faith/the “sticky faith,”—research—you need five adults for a kid to be influencing them/to be on their team.
Ann: Yes; that’s good.
Don: It is really good news.
Ann: As you said that, I thought of the blended families, where you might feel like—the grandparent—like, “I don’t really know them as well.” But yes, you can still influence.
Don: You can be—even a single—there’s a single woman at our church, who is a part of our extended household. She was over for holidays, and she’d come over to do her laundry and all that. I’ll never forget the day we were studying this in a Sunday school class: we were looking at what the Bible has to say about extended households and what households were like. Cyprus looked up and she went, “Wait a second; wait a second. So I’m a part of your household, Don.” I said, “You are.” She said, “How can I do better at that?”—like: “I have a role in your daughter’s spiritual faith,”—because she was good friends with [my daughter].
So even for people, who are like, “Well, I don’t have a household,”—yes, you do; everyone’s in those. Realizing that/recognizing that: it’s made me take my role more seriously with my friends’ kids.
Ann: That’s cool.
Dave: Yes; all three of our boys, when they were growing up, had mentors that sort of came into our family.
Dave: I look back: they had as much influence as I did.
Don: That’s right.
Dave: But talk about moms and dads—because if it’s grandparents—what about moms and dads?
Don: Yes; when we asked people—so this isn’t like preferred conversation partner—although, moms rate higher there than dads do, also, depending on the topic. If it’s talking about money, they want to talk to dad, interestingly enough. If it’s their faith or other things, they tend to want to talk to mom.
But one of the questions we asked was: “Who has had a faith impact in your life?” Among the teenagers that we asked, 68 percent rated their mom as the number one: “My mom has had a huge faith impact on me.” Only 46 percent said their dad.
Dave: Okay; tell me why. [Laughter] Again, you toss that one—
Don: I mean, “You tell me why”; right? The researchers don’t tell us why. As a dad and as a pastor, I would say probably a few different reasons why dads tend to be less in the game. In some households, they are out of the house, working; so there’s less square footage of time; right? So that could be a contributing factor.
I think some of it is: “Mom’s ‘better at it,’” “She prays better,” which my son told me at one point. And then some of it could just be like: “I’m just going to be lazy,”—there can be a kind of laziness in me that’s—“I’ll just let her do that. It’s easier; I’m pastoring over here.”
Dave: Yes; in some ways, we can get passive; because they’re good at it. The kids are sort of gravitating toward that.
Ann: I remember, Dave, you saying, “You’re better at that than I am with the kids.” Maybe you had the idea—
Dave: Yes, especially when they were little.
Ann: Yes, that’s what I was going to say.
Dave: But at the same time,—
Don: Yes, especially when they’re little.
Dave: —yes—there’s another aspect; it’s like: “Step up, Dave.”
Dave: “Step up. Come on.”
Don: Exactly; exactly.
Dave: You can flip this a little bit: there are times, where I stepped up; and then I get lazy; and I step up again.
Don: That’s right.
Dave: And there’s part of me, thinking, “There’s a dad listening, it’s like: “You know what? Today’s the day. Why don’t you step into this a little bit?”
Don: So many dads that I’ve interacted with, because of the book, who feel like it has shone a light on something that they either have never looked at, or they’ve had a suspicion like, “I’m supposed to be doing something here, and I’m golfing instead.”
Ann: But I think what it is with kids—I felt this with my dad—is I wanted my dad to know me, and I wanted to know my dad. I think, if a guy thinks, “Okay, I’m just going to come in and pray,” I would say, “No; your kids want to know you, and they want you to be asking them questions of who they are and what their thoughts are. It’s that spiritual component, but it’s also that relational component of: ‘Know me.’”
I remember our kids saying, “Dad, know my friends: their names,”—the girls that would hang out at our house.
Ann: Do you remember they said that?
Dave: That’s another regret; yes. [Laughter] I didn’t know them well.
Don: I think some of it, Ann, also, is we parent how we were parented or, at least, we default to that.
Ann: Yes, for sure.
Don: That tends to be a default. I think some of it—I’m taking all the blame on myself, too—but some of it is: if your dad never did what you just described with you, and you don’t have a model—think that that’s a thing that dads should do—it takes reading the Bible, or to go, “Oh, I’m supposed to be a spiritual coach in my household,” and to be doing that.
The research is sobering, but I think in a healthy way; right?
Ann: Me too.
Don: That it shines a light and says—how did you put it?—"Okay, today’s the day. Just do a little more.
Dave: “Step up.”
Don: “Do a little bit more spiritual coaching than you did last year. Just start; lean in. Just lean in a little bit. The research tells us”—and this is the good news—"you don’t have to be great at it.”
Dave: Yes, that’s really good news.
Ann: So you guys, give dads or give men just a starting conversation that you could say with your kids. What would that look like?
Don: Easier things that you could do with a kid would be to say, “Hey,”—because I like leading out of my frailty and my weakness—so to even say, “Hey, I’m wanting to/I should be praying more for you guys, and so I’d love each of you by the end of today, I’d love to know what I can be praying for you,”—and to not ask them on the spot—because they’ll be like: “Whatever—school—whatever,” “We win the game,” “I don’t want to strike out tonight.”
But give them time, because then you’re modeling a spiritual conversation—I’m talking about my faith, and I’m wanting to lean in—so you’re modeling. And then, guess what happens then, at the end of the day or night?—“What are the big things that you want prayer for in your life right now?” All of a sudden, you’re having a spiritual conversation; you’re talking about deep stuff.
Ann: That’s cool.
Don: And then you can kind of go back to it. With my daughter, we have this code language of: “I need to get a Coke®”; and that meant: “I want some one-on-one time with my dad.”
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
Don: We wouldn’t necessarily go and get a Coke, but it was like—rather than saying: “Will you pursue intimacy with me?” and “Engage me in intimacy?”—which feels so big; and “Ahhh, I just pulled into the driveway,”—but to just say, “Hey, can we have a Coke sometime this weekend?”
I’d say for a dad: “Do a little thing like that. ‘Hey, listen to this: FamilyLife Today,” and “So I want to do more,”—just show the elephant in the room; right?—and say, “I want to do a better job at this.”
Ann: Yes; one of our friends, with all girls—but he just has this long commute—so he would pray. He said, “What I would do, after my commute, I’d text all my girls: ‘How can I be praying for you today?’” And he said that meant so much, and these girls all talked about that: “Oh, yeah; Dad’s praying for me. He knows what’s going on in my life.”
Dave: Hardly anybody’s going to turn down that request: “How can I pray for you?” Even a stranger would say, “Really? You want to pray for me?”—so you doing that with your kids.
Don: That’s right.
Dave: So we mentioned these three—we already talked about messy prayers; we’re getting into a little bit of loud tables; we’ll talk about open doors in a second—but what does loud tables mean?
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear his answer in just a minute.
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Alright; now, back to Don Everts on what he means by loud tables and why they’re so important to your family.
Don: The research showed us that, if an entire core household is together—so the people who live and sleep under the same roof—if they’re all together, the odds are they’re eating. That’s what the research tells us.
Dave: Probably eating or watching TV.
Don: Eating or—yes, watching TV was number two,—
Don: —behind eating—and that’s whether it’s eating in the household or eating at a restaurant. One of the things that we found out is: when conversations are happening, it’s often when they’re eating.
Don: So there’s something interesting—because a meal is a period of time, and you know it’s not going to go on forever—right? It’s like a contract, when you’re eating a meal—it’s not like: “We’re going to be here for three hours,”—whatever. It’s like a period of time.
And you’re doing a parallel activity—so it’s not intense, like, “Let’s just sit with chairs, facing each other, and all we’re doing is looking in each other’s eyes and talking,”—you’re eating food; you’re passing things; the waiter’s interrupting; you’re doing different stuff. There’s something about a meal that facilitates conversations—it’s a catalyst for it—that’s what the research tells us.
Now, look at Scripture: “How often is table fellowship, or things happening around tables, is really key?” That’s one of the things that research tells us—so that’s why loud tables is—you have to eat. As you all know, with busy kids’ schedules, eating together is a big deal—right?—to make that happen.
Dave: It’s hard to make it happen.
Don: It’s hard to make it happen, but even someone that you’re with, some people have to say, “Put your phone in the basket during a meal,” to, again, create a circle of time/just to draw a circle around a period of time, and then talk. That’s an easy call to action—because you have to eat anyways—and how do you facilitate it?
When we found this out in the research at Lutheran Hour Ministries, we developed a deck of cards—we call it the “Vibrant Conversation Deck”—so it’s a real deck of cards; you can play games with it. But each card has on it a unique question; it’s just a conversation starter. There are others of these that you can find; you just keep it on your dining room table: “During every dinner, when we’re together, we’re going to do one question; okay?”
And some of them—they’re not all like: “How’s the cross of Jesus made a difference for you today?”—[Laughter]—they’re not. There are spiritual ones, but there are other ones, too, like: “What are your biggest dreams for your life right now?”—whatever, just get people talking. So food and fun are catalysts for conversations.
Ann: We’ve had a lot of great dinners together. We had to be super intentional, when our kids got older, because they’re all in sports/they’re all doing things. We’ve shared this before—that there were times, in football season, that we would have dinner at
9:00 p.m.—[Laughter]—it’s the only time we were all together.
Dave: —after practice; I was coaching.
Ann: They’d have big snacks after school, but we would gather at 9:00 p.m. We grew up with them/asking those questions, like, “Hey, what was your high and low today?” kind of thing—
Don: Yes, that’s right.
Ann: —which was fun—because we were just with one of our sons, and he was doing the same thing with his kids.
Don: That’s so cool.
Ann: The oldest is seven; the youngest is two. But it was fun just to hear their answers.
I was sitting with another one of my friends, and she had a large family/lots of kids. She said, “As our kids got older, what we started doing is: I would pick one person—one of our kids, or my husband, or I—and we would ask a question for the night, like, ‘Hey, tonight’s your night.’” And they would just/she said, sometimes, they would be like, “This is dumb; I don’t want to do it.” “ What’s your favorite color?”—you know what I mean?
Don: That’s right.
Ann: Yes; but sometimes, they were a little deeper; and they went a little deeper. But I just thought that was cool then, to give that to your kids—
Ann: —to participate in but, also, to lead in.
Don: Yes; it’s a small, little thing; but it makes a huge difference. It changes the atmosphere of the home—if you’re talking about other things—talking about your faith seems more normal.
I’ve found, too—and I don’t know why, but/and maybe it goes back to Deuteronomy 6: “Talk about these things when you’re on your way,”—but there’s something about driving places and having conversations. Because you’re not looking each other in the face; you know how long the time is, because you know where you’re going. There’s just something about car conversations too.
Ann: It’s called a captive audience.
Don: There you go; yes, they can’t leave. [Laughter] So those little ways that—in the everyday, domestic, ins-and-outs of doing life—talking about your faith in those can be, in some ways, even more powerful than—I’m saying this as a pastor—time in church—
Don: —or in a “spiritual environment.” The domestic place/the household is this laboratory for discipleship that is messy, that can be loud; but it can be so powerful.
Dave: I know that, as you talk about table time/loud tables, you have bedtime.
Dave: You have drive-time; you have mealtime. Those are all critical moments for parents/for families to say: “I’m going to be intentional here.”
Dave: And I think one of the things we discovered—especially, as the kids got a little older—is it’s okay, in those times, the conversation can be about doubts/can be about struggles.
Dave: I don’t feel like you have to be the perfect parent. You can say to your kids: “Man, I’m struggling right now with what God’s not doing,” or “…doing in my life. Do you ever struggle with that?” Bam!—that opens something up when a dad or a mom is that vulnerable. Doesn’t it seem to open the child up to say,—
Dave: “Really? We can talk about that?”
Don: Absolutely; in fact, we did a whole other year of research—that’d have to be another—on spiritual conversations themselves, just about them. What we found was the gamechanger is: talking about your faith or your lack of faith; talking about your doubts—just talking about those things—grows your faith.
Ann: I remember saying to one of our kids one night, “I feel so spiritually dry—I haven’t been in the Word lately—just feeling this dryness.
Ann: “Well, encourage me: do you have anything that you’ve been learning or that God’s been telling or teaching you?” And even that, I think, is good for them to know: “Oh, okay; so they [parents] struggle, sometimes, too.”
Don: That’s right.
Ann: I like that vulnerability.
Dave: And what I love about this conversation is it inspires parents to have a conversation.
Don: Yes, that’s it.
Dave: The research was not something we couldn’t access; it’s like: “Are you kidding me?—messy prayers?—loud tables?—I can do that.” Well, if you can do it, how about today?
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. Don’s book is called The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Then, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will be joined, again, with Don Everts to chat about how, just opening the doors of your home, can ignite you and your family’s faith.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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