This blog is mostly a transcript for a talk I gave recently as a guest preacher. I was asked to talk about “family life in lockdown” and now, as we begin to come out of lockdown as restrictions are eased, I’m thinking about what I said a bit more – for me these are lessons learnt or re-discovered in lockdown and I don’t want to loose them in the rush to return to normal (whatever that is going to be), so I’m writing this up for myself as much as for you the reader!
Let’s kick off with these verses from Psalm 78 . . .
O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and not forget His deeds but would keep his commands.
What Are We Passing On?
If I were to ask you for a moment “What do you think is essential to pass on to the next generation?” What would you say? You and I might have some similar things we’d consider essential (at least I hope we would) – right near the top of that list would be that our children would know how precious they are, that they are loved by God, that we long for them to grow in that love and flourish as God’s friends.
Yet, just a few years ago the European Values Study posed this question,
“Here is a list of qualities children can be encouraged to learn at home. Which, if any, do you consider to be especially important? Please choose up to five : good manners; hard work; independence; imagination; feeling of responsibility; tolerance and respect for others; perseverance; unselfishness; determination; obedience; religious faith.”
94% said good manners; 83% said tolerance and respect for others. Just 11% said religious faith.
You might be thinking, “but that survey could be anyone, they aren’t necessarily Christians!” Well, those stats refer to the 505 people surveyed who identified themselves as Anglicans. Woah!
Here is the thing. Scripture doesn’t make a distinction for us between the different spaces in our lives. If we are friends of God, followers of Jesus – seeking to model our life after His with the help of the Holy Spirit then the home is just as important as our place of work, amongst our peers, with those we connect with on social media, our friends at church . . .
So, I want to ask – Are you being light where you are?
Radiance in Our Homes
In Matthew 5 we have these words of Jesus,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
There appear to be two pictures here of where this light is to shine. In fact, we are so taken with the town on a hill image that we associate it with church. The gathered community – shinning brightly. Being the church is being the light of the world – as we gather we shine more brightly together than we do apart. We might be feeling this particularly keenly at the moment as (at the time of writing) we can’t worship in our church buildings.
But, the often missed picture in these verses is being light in the house. Right where you are now, are you a light in your own home?
If our faith is to have integrity – and integrity literally means completeness or wholeness – then our light is to shine everywhere. We don’t switch on our faith when we leave our homes – those we are with – our partners, close family, children – do they see this light shining from us? We need radiance in our homes.
AND, back to that first picture of a town on a hill. Although we have often taken it as when we are gathered . . . the picture is primarily still about the home. Think about a town at dusk . . . we live just down the road from Clitheroe Castle – when we walk up there we get a panoramic view of our town. There isn’t a big light that tells people – hey, look there is a town – it is the lights together – shining in every individual home.
As we seek to be a light right where we are, especially with our children – think back to that passage we began with in Psalm 78 – we will tell the next generation, and go on telling. On and on, even the children yet to be born! This is our responsibility – your’s and mine – as the household of faith both when we are gathered from our homes and when we are gathered in our homes.
I want to share two thoughts about what has helped me try and do this in my own home, alongside my wife – I say try, because there really isn’t a guide for what works other than just having a go at things and seeing what sticks. Plus, my children don’t stop growing and changing – they are 12 and 15 now, what might have worked a few years ago has become redundant. Yet, a couple of things have stuck – first up, repetition.
Wonder of Repetition
I love this thought from Chesterton,
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. “Do it again” ” and the grown up person does it again until he / she is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite for infancy : for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we.”
If I do something with one of my daughters, I often have to do it with the other one – the cry comes up, “do what you did to Ellie to me” – it could be basketball in the yard; it could be reading a book together; it could be a spontaneous race against each other when we are out for a walk; it might be a piggy back – yep, they are 12 and 15 – but if I give one a piggy back I still have to do it for the other one.
This can go on and on, back and forth – the “do it again” gets repeated. Something that continues to stick is repetition. We pray, every day if we can, together – in fact this has got easier to make a feature of each day. We aim for about 8.15am and we simply take it in turns to share a Bible verse, a quick sentence on why we have chosen it and then we pray for each other and the day ahead. We gone through the Fruit of the Spirit, we’ve explored some promises of God and are currently looking at hope in the Bible.
We need to remember repetition when we think of God’s word. The story bears repeating. We don’t read the Bible once, we don’t pray once. In the daily meditation on God’s word we bring who we are and what is going on before God as we get ready to get stuck in to the day. We are asking God, who was with us yesterday, to “do it again” – be with us today.
Think about the structure of the Lord’s prayer – it is a prayer for everyday. Give us this day our daily bread. We come back for more tomorrow and the day after that.
What can you stick on repeat that might help you grow as a family of faith?
Very loosely, we have a daily rhythm – and that is so important. When our children were younger we structured their time, we especially worked on a pattern and rhythm for bedtime. Bath + Get Changed + Story + Glass of Milk + Prayer.
It might look different now they are older, but that sense of rhythm is reassuring and also it is how we are taught in scripture to share faith with our children.
Deuteronomy 4:10 says this,
“Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”
The syntax of the sentence in Hebrew indicates that the learning of the adults and the teaching of the children are simultaneous actions, not sequential. We – the parents – are always learning to love the Lord by listening to the Lord’s words even as we are teaching our children those words as the way to love and know the Lord.
This can be challenging for us as parents – I’m supposed to know “stuff”, I’m the adult! However, we are all children of God and we are on a shared journey – in exploring this with our children, it is so important that we don’t come across as “gurus” but rather, “guides.”
Possibly the passage in scripture that best illustrates this sense of rhythm through the day is Deuteronomy Chapter 6,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them to your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
There is a togetherness built in to this way of learning. I think that is beautiful and glorious. as we start to shift out of lockdown I want to keep thinking about how in faith, life and work – I am going to continue to work this out with those I live with. The people in my home.
“Talk about them when you sit at home” – It is what we have all been doing, sitting at home. Yet, we can choose to binge watch a new series on Netflix – all on our separate devices in separate rooms of the house – or we could talk about the stories of God together. How, in our family, are we loving God with all our heart?
“Walk along the road” – I have had so many great conversations about life and faith just by walking with my children. We are in a relationship, we know each other – things just rise to the surface unprompted. Sometimes conversations we have been waiting to have – a funny thing we remember, something that worries us – these are often the most precious time I have with my children. I don’t have a script, I don’t have a lesson plan, I don’t have the youth worker on speed dial . . . we just talk.
“Lie down and get up” – How do we “top and tail” the day in our households? What do rhythms and routines look like? Could we invite God in to those spaces – the ebb and flow of daily life – just for a few moments?
Finally, that word “impress” – where it says impress them on your children. It is the only time the word is used like this in the Old Testament. It means to sharpen, or “whet” as you would sharpen a blade.
It is our role, as parents – as households – to sharpen our children.
We need to radiate the love of Christ in our homes. Delight in the wonder of repetition and create rhythms for life and worship that resonate through all our relationships.