As a mom, my primary goal in raising my children is that they know and love the Lord—not superficially, but with all of their hearts, minds, and souls. I pray that they each of my kids will grow up to love and serve Him, and while much of their faith journeys will be their own, I want their years under my care to form a solid foundation for their lifelong walks with God.

I know from personal experience that simple habits are the bedrock of healthy daily rhythms that inform every corner of my life. And what is true for me will also be true for my family: to quote Ruth and Troy Simons, “discipling happens in the context of the habits we form and the rhythms we keep.” To accomplish my goal of raising my children to be disciples of Christ begins, we must start with healthy spiritual habits and rhythms for our family.

I recognize habits as critical to my children’s discipleship, but it can be difficult to know what that really looks like beyond simply taking them to church, reading the Bible with them, and praying at bedtime. Enter Justin Whitmel Early’s book on spiritual formation for families: Habits of the Household offers parents the structure and inspiration we need to start implementing actionable and effective family habits that have the potential to transform our homes and our families’ futures.

Justin Whitmel Earley is no stranger to discipling children in the thick of life’s chaos: as a father of four young sons, an author and speaker, and a full-time lawyer, he understands the challenges of creating intentional and spiritually formative moments for the family. But he also knows the value of every moment with our kids. In his introduction he writes, “One of the most significant things about any household is what is considered to be normal. Moments aggregate, and they become memories and tradition. Our routines become who we are, become the story and culture of our families.” If we want to create memories and traditions that point our kids to Christ, we need to capitalize on those normal moments!

Earley shows us how to steward the hearts of our family by stewarding our family habits, which are a kind of liturgies (little routines of worship) that shape our families in the love of God. The habits are broken into ten categories: waking, mealtimes, discipline, screentime, family devotions, marriage, work, play, conversation, and bedtime. Each category is given a chapter in which Earley explains its practical and spiritual significance (largely using relatable stories from his own family), then offers habit suggestions to adopt (all with an emphasis on forming parents, children, and/or families—because we become our habits, and our kids become us!). Each chapter ends with a helpful summary, tips for getting started, suggested resources for further study, notes on adapting (for single-parent families or parents of kids with special needs), and a crucial reminder of how grace plays a role in all of this.

As each chapter’s Reminder of Grace emphasizes, these habits are NOT practiced out of a sense of legalism, but stem from a desire to align our head and hearts in the solitary pursuit of Christ. We do not practice these family habits in an effort to earn God’s love because He already loves us! And it is that love that inspires our action and transforms our family habits. Earley explains that “the most Christian way to think about our households is that they are little ‘schools of love,’ places where we have one vocation, one calling: to form all who live here into lovers of God and neighbor.” Our household habits, then, are the building blocks for the thriving little schools of love that are our homes. And in this pursuit, we remember that “our habits won’t change God’s love for us, but God’s love for us can and should change our habits.”

It’s been a while since I’ve dedicated a full post to the review of one book, but I decided to do so with Habits of the Household for a couple of reasons:

1) This is the best book on parenting and spiritual formation that I have ever read and I want to give this book as much attention as possible—every Christian family should get their hands on a copy of this book! Earley is an engaging writer with an obvious passion for the Lord and for his family, and his ideas are powerful but also saturated with humility and an eye towards practicality.

2) This book left a strong impression on me and I wanted to absorb as much of its content as possible. For me, writing a full blog post about a book is the most effective method for letting new ideas sink into my bones.

To that end, I would love to share some of my favorite takeaways, including a few of the habits we have adopted (or will be adopting) thanks to Habits of the Household. Many of the suggested habits were ones we’d already been practicing but there were so many new ideas that we’ve been eager to welcome into our home. In the remainder of this post, I’ll share some favorite quotes, habits, and general takeaways from each chapter. I hope this highlight reel will inspire you as you begin welcoming new habits into your own family rhythms.


Key Quote: “If the light of morning is what wakes us to the day, then the light of Christ must be what wakes us to reality. It is the light of Christ that pulls back the curtains of the heart. . . . We must find ways in the morning to pull back the curtains of our tired hearts and let the light in.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Practicing a short moment of gathering and sending the family using this prayer: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for this day. Bless us as we work, study, and play. Be present with us, and in all we do, may we bring glory and honor to you.”


Key Quotes: “Family dinner is not in any sense practical. It’s far more efficient for us to each have a microwave dinner on our own varied schedules. But the tributaries of planning that lead to this moment of family dinner signal something—that communing, not consuming, is the household’s center of gravity.”

“We need to be comfortable with the mess if we’re going to be serious about spiritual formation.”

Habits We’re Trying Out: Sharing highs and lows at the dinner table. Beginning the meal with a ritual of lighting a candle and saying “Christ is Light” as the candle is lit.


Key Quote: “Moments of discipline are so hard because there is such a wide gap between what I want and what they need. What I want is control. What they need is loving, engaged discipline. And discipline is not a tool for controlling behavior. It is a process of discipling a child’s heart toward the right loves.”

“God’s response to our misbehavior is to love us back into relationship, no matter the personal cost to Him. . . . The plotline of the story of God is entirely shaped by the discipline of God, and that is a good thing, because that means it takes the shape of his love.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Embracing the Pyramid of Discipline in disciplining the kids (see image below). THIS WAS THE MOST CONVICTING AND ALSO THE MOST HELPFUL SECTION OF THE BOOK FOR ME!


Key Quotes: “Screens are incredibly formative because they convey stories and images that captivate our imaginations. This doesn’t make them bad; it makes them powerful, and power can be for good or bad. But the fact is, for both us parents and our children, we will either form our screen habits or our screen habits will form us. There is no alternative. This is a fight over who forms who.”

“If we spent half the time we spend worrying over ‘appropriateness’ on watching with our kids and processing and engaging with the content they watched, we would take a big step in the right direction.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Picking media that expands the imagination or educates the mind, not media that simply stimulates.


Key Quotes: “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.”

“Children are hungry for patterns and will pick up on them. Which is why it’s worth picking the right patterns and not settling for the default ones. Thankfully, those patterns don’t have to be complicated. Because the most powerful truths are the simplest ones, the most enduring prayers are the shortest ones, the places where these patterns unfold are the messy ones, and God loves messy things.”

Habits We’re (Planning) to Try Out: Reading or memorizing some lines of a catechism together. Creating family mottos based on passages of Scripture.


Key Quotes: “It is a terrible fiction to imagine we can be good mothers and fathers without being good husbands and wives.”

“When we practice covenant love [marriage], we teach our kids that love is not something you stop practicing just because you stop feeling like it. No, love is something you finally feel because you keep practicing it. It’s by acting like people in love that we become people in love. Not vice versa.”

“Marriage is radical because Christianity is radical, and that is a beautiful thing to display to our children. It’s a nod to the God who has loved us into loving. When we rehearse the covenant of marriage in front of them, we rehearse the promise of our own salvation in front of them: God is a God who never gives up on love, so neither will we.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Keeping ongoing lists of questions to ask each other on date nights.


Key Quote: “We are invited into the work of the God who loves us. We were meant for this. Which is why our work inevitably becomes one of our greatest blessings, or one of our greatest burdens. That’s how spiritually important work is.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Elevating the way we talk about work (including household work and chores) with phrases like, “I get to go to work today—which I’m actually really thankful for. Because God made us all to work. Some people don’t have a job they like, and some don’t have a job at all. Work is a blessing.”


Key Quote: “Play is a way to reenchant a disenchanted world. . . . A world without play is a world without magic. And a world without magic is a world without resurrection. And in a world without resurrection, nothing good can come true. Which means every fairy tale is a lie. Play, then, is a rebellion against the greatest lie. It is an act of war in allegiance to the greatest truth—that Christ is risen and fairy tales really do come true—namely, the one we’re living in. Hallelujah! Let’s pause the tasks, then, and play ourselves into Easter people.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Accepting the kids’ invitations into imaginative play.


Key Quotes: “There is a fundamental similarity between prayer with God and conversation with friends because in each, we are reaching toward the divine paradigm we were made for—to commune in conversation, to know and be known through words and presence. To sense a shared ownership of each other.”

“Through the work of conversation, the story of trauma had been made a story of triumph. Conversation heals trauma. This is true for children in the back yard, teenagers in the difficulties of high school, and adults who carry their dark stories. Trauma—whether physical or emotional—affects us deeply, body and soul. Moments of trauma reorganize our patterns of thinking. Sometimes, these are the awful moments we typically associate with trauma. But it’s important to know that traumatic moments can also happen at much more ordinary moments of hurt, loneliness, fear, or anger. It’s important to remember that the most important role of a parent is not protecting them from these moments but identifying them and repairing them after they happen. This is where conversation comes in.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Practicing conversation as a way to heal trauma. (This was HUGELY beneficial for me as I helped Charleston process his recent car accident and trip to the emergency room.)


Key Quotes: “Parenting shows us that we, like our children, are people whose greatest need is to be saved from ourselves.1 Just like our children, our greatest danger is to be left to our own devices.”

“The tension between our failure and God’s grace is foundational to the Bible, so it needs to be foundational to our parenting.”

Habit We’re Trying Out: Giving the kids whole-body blessings at night: “Jesus, bless their feet, may they bring good news. Bless their legs, may they carry on in times of suffering. Bless their backs, may they be strong enough to bear the burdens of others. Bless their arms to hold the lonely, and their hands to do good work. Bless their necks, may they turn their heads toward the poor. Bless their ears to discern truth, their eyes to see beauty, and their mouths to speak encouragement. Bless their minds, may they grow wise. And finally, bless their hearts, may they grow to love you—and all that you have made—in the right order. Amen.”

Another Bedtime Takeaway: In the book’s introduction, Earley shares this quote that has haunted me I’ve thought about every bedtime since: “I was thinking about how this was a normal night, which means their last image of me most days is of this wild taskmaster raging about how if they don’t get pj’s on this instant there will be dramatic physical consequences. I wondered if they sensed the irony when, before turning out the lights, I gave them a short bedtime prayer and told them that God loves them and I do too. I wondered what they think love means.”

In his epilogue, Earley reminds us that spiritual formation is a long game and that “it is the call of Christian parents to lift our eyes above the fog of the now and let the promise of the not yet inform our parenting today.” We remember that our motivation for practicing these difficult habits is not what we can accomplish through them now, but what God will accomplish in them in a time to come. We also can rest in the knowledge that, “neither us nor our habits that form our children, it’s Jesus’ grace. He is the one who walks with them through their best and their worst days. Just like he has done for us. That’s a big relief for us parents. And yet, Jesus uses us. And he uses our habits too. He uses who we are to form who our children will be. And that’s not a burden, that’s a blessing, because it means our actions matter.”

I am truly so very thankful for the blessing of being used by God to help my children become who God has made them to be. And I’m grateful for this book that has reminded me of that wonderful blessing.

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