The Challies family is not what it used to be. It is not what it used to be because we have experienced some profound changes over the past few years. Most of these changes have been normal and good—children going to college, children getting engaged, children moving out—, while one has been unexpected and grievous—a child going to heaven. Between them, these changes have left life and family very different than it was before.
I don’t know what aging parents tend to think of when they ponder the halcyon days of yore. I don’t know what period of life they remember, what memories come to their minds, as they consider “the good old days.” Do they remember the times when their children were tiny? Do they remember the times when their children had children of their own? What memory brings them the greatest joy, the sweetest delight? Whatever it is, I am certain it must be a memory in which the entire family is intact, all gathered and present together.
My family has by no means finished making memories. I have every confidence that we will continue to make good memories well into the future. I have every confidence I will soon have many new memories to recount and enjoy. Yet I also know the only memories of the whole family are ones set in the past, ones from before November 2020.
I often find my mind drifting back to grab hold of some of these memories, and have found a number of candidates for the best of them all. I love some we made during family vacations, when we explored other provinces and traveled through foreign countries—walking the red-sand beaches of Prince Edward Island, ascending the towering mountains of British Columbia, navigating the cobbled streets of Edinburgh. I love some we made during holidays, when we sat around the Christmas tree and watched the kids laugh and squeal with excitement. I love some we made on quiet winter evenings, gathered around the fire to read wonderful books—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Anne of Green Gables, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, Little House on the Prairie.
But there is one I love more than any other. It’s one I navigate almost like a 3-D rendering, zooming closer and farther, approaching from this angle and that, watching every movement and listening to every word. We are seated around the table, each of us in our usual place. Aileen is beside me and the three kids across from me—Michaela to the left, Abby in the middle, Nick to the right. We have just finished dinner and the table is cluttered with plates, glasses, and cutlery. I have cleared a space where I have opened our big leather-bound ESV Study Bible. And together we are doing the simplest and normalest of things—we are reading and praying.
Many of my best memories are of events that happened one time or perhaps a few times. But my favorite of all is an event that happened day after day and year after year. A skilled artist can take a thousand photographs and collate them to make a single image, and in much that way, I see a single memory that is probably a collage of a thousand. I have no sweeter memory than the family gathered before the Lord, the family gathered to hear from him and speak to him together. I have no sweeter memory than of our family devotions.
In my memory I read a few verses of one of those narrative passages of the Bible that were our focus over the years and that we came back to again and again. Then I pause to ask a couple of questions and offer some brief commentary that helps apply what we’ve heard. I ask the kids how I can pray for them, and then pray briefly but sincerely. And then we are done—done for another day, done for another iteration.
I think this must be my favorite memory because it represents our most established family tradition and most repeated family ritual. We committed to it when the children were young and stuck with it all the way through raising them. We continue to emphasize it to this day. It’s a symbol of our shared commitment to the Lord, of what we count as the highest priority.
But I think it’s also my favorite because I am certain the Lord used our family devotions as one of the means through which he drew our children to himself. I can think of no single evening that was particularly significant in this regard or one that stands far above the others. The significance was in the repetition, in the commitment, in the way it demonstrated that the deepest way we could be bound together was not through a common surname or through common DNA, but through a common Savior.
And God, by his grace, called each of our kids to himself. He opened their eyes to see him, he opened their minds to know him, he opened their hearts to love him. He may not have done this precisely through family devotions, but I’m certain he didn’t do it apart from it, either. And in that way, this memory points forward—forward to the day when we will be reunited and whole, forward to the day when we will begin to make new memories, forward to the day when we will once again gather to worship the God who saved us, the God who made us not only part of our family, but part of his.