Getting into the happy habit of teaching our kids the Bible
Like an open-faced double-Whopper with cheese on a small bun, the two king-sized mattresses flopped over the roof of the blue Prius in front of us. Its emergency flashers blinked brightly, and a small hand reached out from the passenger window just enough to grab the bottom mattress in what, I assumed, was an attempt to steady it.
John and I were heading back home from small group at Rich’s house. Although it was mid-January, it was still warm enough to leave the windows down and our arms swayed out in the breeze. The streetlights were sparse on this stretch of Camp Wisdom Road and the sloth speed of the Prius forced us to contemplate this comical scene as we slowly crept our way toward home.
“Why are both of their blinkers flashing at the same time?” John asked.
While there are many things that one could say about this text and about teaching “on the way,” one obvious idea in this text is that teaching your kids God’s word should be like how sugar diffuses in tea. It is to be a constant activity…
“Those are called emergency flashers. If they’re on when the car is moving it sort of lets everybody around you know that there’s something very different about the way you’re driving—that somehow, you’re going to be breaking the normal rules—and warns everyone to pay attention. Here they’re driving slower and have the mattress that could slide off and land in front of us. So, they’re saying with their blinkers, ‘Watch out, we’re going slower!’”
“Why do you need ‘em? If the drivers around the car are paying attention, then they’d know that, right?” John replied.
I chuckled a bit. John is our oldest and has split his childhood evenly between rural Africa and the U.S., and each of those places has its own driving culture. Although he is just eleven, he has seen some literally wooly situations on the road.
I explained: “African driving culture is more context-oriented. In other words, there aren’t as many formal rules to the road, or least some of them are different, and everyone basically understands that the way that you’re supposed to drive depends more on the current situation going on around you than on formal rules.
“American driving culture is more rule-oriented. The way you’re supposed to drive is determined less by the current context of the road and more by the many rules and laws that you’re to obey even if no one’s around.”
Conveniently we pulled up to an empty intersection where we had a red-light.
“This is a great example; this is a completely empty intersection. Are there any cars coming that I could get in an accident with? Is it technically safe right now in this context to run this red light?”
“Yeah, you could do it.”
“But I’m not going to. Why?”
“Because it’s breaking the law.”
“Yeah, even though the whole point of the law is just to keep me out of an accident. The law really isn’t needed right now, is it?
I then smiled and asked, “Now, if we were in CAR or Cameroon, and in this same situation, would the driver stop?”
John gave his mischievous grin and said, “The taximan probably wouldn’t even slow down.”
We both chuckled.
Apart from simply relating a touching father-son anthropology moment, the concepts of context and rule are analogous to how we should look at teaching our kids the Bible.
Or in proverb form:
On the way and every day.
“On the way” referring to the occasional in-the-moment contextual teaching.
And “every day” referring to the rule of planned, regular, systematic teaching of the Bible. (Another article will appear to talk about that.)
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is a great passage where God instructed his people how to teach the Word to children, but it is helpful also in guiding how we interact with those around us in general.
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Quality time with kids can’t be scheduled. Quality time only flows out of quantity of time.
While there are many things that one could say about this text and about teaching “on the way,” one obvious idea in this text is that teaching your kids God’s word should be like how sugar diffuses in tea. It is to be a constant activity, diffused in the hours, days, weeks, months, and years we (Lord willing) have left with our children. Teaching should be more of an hourly slow-drip overflowing from our hearts rather than a sporadic cup of water thrown in the face once a month.
How do we get that way?
How do we get to be the kind of person who teaches in the moment?
Here are four paths:
- Structure time to allow for spontaneous times. Quality time with kids can’t be scheduled. Quality time only flows out of quantity of time. One must joyfully listen to your kids talk about the world’s most deadly snakes before you have a serious Biblical discussion about racism.
Ruth is a lot better at this than I am. Over the years, she’s found times where quality conversations most often happen. For example, one of our sons is particularly chatty and philosophical at bedtime. Another will open up only over coffee one-on-one. Find those times for each of your kids. Some of us need to clear their schedule to make time, and others need to be more present in the time you have (where I need to improve).
- Be careful what you love. Ever been to a memorial service and heard the children talk about their beloved deceased parent? Almost always children remember what their parents truly loved. Unexpected things like, “Daddy just loved Hank Williams!” and all of the other children smile and chuckle through their tears. It is enough to say that your children already know and will deeply remember what you truly love. And what is truly the love of your life will unavoidably spill out of your heart through your lips. One of the reasons we don’t instruct our kids about God is because our delight is not in Him.
It is not syrupy-Pollyanna piety to say that we can truly find our deepest delights in God. Afterall, he is the source of all the things we love already. He made sex, spouses, friends, family, galloping horses, quiet lakes and prairies, babies, and a world where people make ice cream, pontoon boats, woodworking lathes, jazz chord progressions, and racing cars. He also gave us bodies and minds to enjoy them.
Surely the Creator of all pleasures is greater than all of His created pleasures. Find your genuine delight in this God who also delights in you.
- Appreciate (read “love”) the world around you with open (read “observant”) eyes. Truly see the world around you. Life is fascinating. Insects, trees, galaxies, wars, warts, unmown lawns, trilobites, your funny neighbor, platypus babies, maybe your neighbor who looks like a platypus, you and your children’s sin, etc. All these things are windows and metaphors for teaching your kids and your neighbors God’s truth. A redeemed imagination is no weak thing. Solomon did it all the time in his proverbs and you are united as a brother to the One who is greater than Solomon.
- Love your Bible. One of the songs we sang in a college Bible study was a prayer to God that said,
“Thy glory over creation shines, but in Thy sacred word, I read in fairer, brighter lines, my bleeding dying Lord.”
All the cool observations in creation that you use as metaphors and springboards are finding their end in explaining amazing Biblical truth. It still blows my mind that God wrote a book. The same one who made Saturn’s rings, dancing galaxies, double eyelids for frogs, blue whales, and you… wrote. a. book.
All humans are full walking sponges that leak what they love. The big question is, “What are we leaking?”
He is a consummate poet, a riveting page-turner novelist, a sage giver of proverbs, an erudite professor of philosophy. This book is multi-genre that ultimately tells a bigger story (itself being a romantic fantasy comedy) where all the plot lines are resolved in His given Son and a New Heavens and a New Earth.
Read it! Love it! Let it pour over your lips the way those who love taking evening walks praise the sun set. Like a basketball fan who laughs in awe at highlight reels of Michael Jordan (who is the goat, by the way). Or like the way Jerod talks about languages, the way Rich talks about the Steelers and leather, the way Luke talks about music phrasing and Shelby.
God has called us all to be gospel-soaked folk. If full sponges could walk, they would leak as they squish about. All humans are full walking sponges that leak what they love. The big question is, “What are we leaking?” Let us fill ourselves with God, His world, and His word for the eternal good of our kids and those around us.