I apologize. This is not a positive post. I really did intend to change my ways, and still do, but this is a necessary exception.
It strikes me that "devotions" is a significantly different word than "devotion". The latter is outright allegiance to something or someone, throwing yourself completely and wholly into something, almost with abandon. It's living, breathing, active, dynamic by nature. You can't be passively devoted to something.
The former, on the other hand, is maybe reading a scripture passage, and definitely reading a usually far-fetched illustration or story that attempts to make the scripture passage things like "cool" or "relevant" or "funny", usually creating characters that are laughably unreal or reprinting stories from Christian humor books. (Example: "Jennifer likes a guy at her school named Ryan. She talks and thinks about him constantly. Her friends think she's psycho because everything is always about Ryan, Ryan, Ryan!") This is usually followed by filling in (or answering orally) the same questions as everyone else and perhaps "discussing" it afterwards. This usually consists of the "group leader" reading the questions out loud, looking around at a bunch of blank stares, perhaps some canned answers that kids remember hearing in Sunday school, and then suggesting the "correct" answers.
I thought maybe I was exaggerating a little bit, but read the Sample Text from Youth Specialties, from this promo text: "You'll love the exciting look and feel of this Bible. The page-by-page bursts of surprising facts, cool graphics, crazy humor, and radical ideas to chew on—and apply." It even has 22 full-color pages!
22 full-color pages? Crazy humor? Cool graphics? Ideas to chew on? THIS is what is going to encourage me to devote my life, radically and completely, to the man whose prophet dressed in camelskin and ate locusts? The man that demanded I give up my wealth, my shiny things, and love people radically? THIS is going to shake up my world, cause me to question everything I find important?
No. This is a spiritual vita-gummy. It gives me my daily dose of scripture, tries to force me to regurgitate the correct answers, and throws in pretty pictures to make it less painful.
I would cite more examples of how ludicrous, and surfacey these "devotionals" are, but that would just cause more frustration. Just check out more examples of these sugar-coated booster pills that think rewriting the Bible to dub Jeremiah "Jer" and give the Isrealites "relevant" phrases like "sooo negative" and "lighten up" is the ticket to fostering devotion.
This post was started because I walked through campus today, and there were all these kids, presumably from some Bible camp thing, scattered about the lawns, all doing their individual devotions and prayer, like good little Bible camp kids. It brought back memories of the many devotions I forged through at Bible camp, and while Bible camp was fun*, we'll just say it wasn't because of the devotionals.
So what do I suggest? I don't have a cure-all, a one-shot solution. But I can suggest a mindset. Children, youth, Christians - they're not a market to target. They're not a demographic to satisfy. Physical age is somewhat related to emotional maturity, but has zero correlation to spiritual maturity. None. I know there are plenty of people younger than me that are significantly more spiritually mature, and there are lots of people way older than me that are still babes in Christ. Jesus can't be packaged. He wasn't meant to be made "cool" or "relevant". He's not your handy phrasebook to help you out of tough situations.
Christianity is a way of life, a frame of mind, not a bunch of right answers. Growth is accomplished by asking hard questions (the ones that aren't in the devotional books), loving people, living out Christ.
Devotions are a lot like the educational system. Both of them give kids the right answers, assume that people at the same age are at the same level, and largely treat children as a large, homogeneous group. Both work very well to equip kids with the right answers, and infuse in them the correct groupthink, make sure they know how to toe the party line. And neither work very well for those kids who think outside the box, who want to learn things, who can never get enough, who are always curious. I can comfortably say that the majority of learning I have done has occurred outside of, or in spite of, the classroom. Not all - classes like math, English, History gave me some tools to work with. But most of my learning took place either outside of those classes, or in homeschool. I am incredibly grateful for my five years of homeschooling. Individual attention, varying education according to a specific child's needs, makes all the difference. Maybe that's what we need - more spiritual homeschooling. I still don't know how I'm going to raise my kids. As I've said before, they screw everything up. And despite all my anger, annoyance, and skepticism, I am very grateful for how I was raised, cheesy devotionals, camps, and all. I ended up where I am, which I'm okay with. But it's been a hard and painful journey. I'm sure I've hurt, and continue to hurt, the people that raised me, primarily my parents. And I apologize, but I don't know how else to do this. And that's what I hope to avoid. I look back at everything in my spiritual past, and realize that it did get me to a point where at 18, when I realized I had no personal faith or devotion whatsoever (despite dozens of devotionals), I had something to work from. But I wonder if it could be better. If I could somehow avoid that breaking point, that pain, that confusion. My parents are anything but failures - they have been supportive, loving, and gave me the equipment I'm working with now. But it's only natural that I want to do better, right? I can at least try, and hope that when my kids grow up, they'll at least have as good of a foundation as my parents gave me.
*Except for AWANA Scholarship Camp. That place was run like a military operation. Patriotic songs played over the PA system for call to Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, no kidding. Eugh. Oddly enough, those are the only devotionals I specifically remember, mostly because I colored in the Apostle Paul with highlighter.