Sunday, April 26, 2009

Treasuring God in Our Traditions

Book Review: Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper

As we continue more and more on this parenting route, I am becoming a big fan of traditions. If you have been reading for a while, you will know that our family has established traditions for Christmas and Easter in order to ensure that we are actually celebrating Christ in both, rather than being dragged along by the 'traditions' of the world. These include reading bible accounts, doing activities, listening to music and just having fun learning more about Jesus and what he has done for us. Similarly, we also have traditions that have built up around other events: on your birthday you wake up to the family room decorated with streamers and balloons, we have pancakes for breakfast and you get to choose the evening meal.

This book by Noel Piper is a helpful way to think about why to have traditions in your home and what types of things you could consider doing. Noel starts off by talking about traditions and how we need to ensure we can explain why we do them - for 'because we do' is not an answer! She refers to Moses in Ex 12, when he says to parents that they must be able to explain the Passover to their children when they ask why it is celebrated:

Moses assumes children will ask why. And he instructs parents to give an answer that speaks of reality. This instruction is all in the context of laying out for children ceremonies that will portray the answer. He is giving them the answer, both spoken and displayed. And the answer is God - God saved us, and we honour him, worship him, thank him. We and our children need this kind of yearly repetition to impress us with the weight of what God has done. (p17)

What a helpful thing to remember when we think about the events we celebrate throughout the year and the traditions we want to develop. We want to be able to explain things, especially the things of God, in order to show who he is and what he has done for us. This was helpful to us this last Easter, as my 6 and 4-year olds understood that Easter for most people means chocolate. When they stated that they too would get lots of chocolate, I asked them "why?". Of course, they had no answer. I even pressed my 6-year old - "What does chocolate have to do with Easter?" Again, no answer. Now in the end, there was some chocolate around the house, which they enjoyed. But I am pretty confident that by the end of the Easter weekend they knew that this was the weekend that we celebrate that Jesus had died on the cross for their sins and was now alive again in heaven - and they also had a great time learning about it through the traditions we were establishing.

Noel had some definitions of tradition, 2 of which I quite liked:

1. Tradition is a planned habit with significance.

2. For a Christian, tradition is laying up God's words in our own hearts and passing his words on to the next generation.

She makes the helpful point, that "We are always teaching our children, whether we mean to or not. Our children come to believe, probably unconsciously, that whatever is repeated regularly has significance." (p34) & that "we must plan to reflect God and teach about Christ in the repeated events of our lives" (p35). I found this first quote especially helpful and a little challenging. If children come to see repeated behaviour as having significance, what else do they notice us doing and consider important. Is it that Mummy spends more time on her computer than talking to them? Is it that Daddy watches sport on television rather than playing with them himself? Is it that Grandpa always asks what grades they get? Is it that Mum & Dad always talk about money and how much things cost? Not only are traditions the things our children are noticing, but everything we do. They are learning our own values as we live them out. It does us well to remember that little eyes are watching, little ears listening and little minds remembering all the time!

For the remaining chapters of the book, Noel outlines various aspects of life and the traditions that could be associated with them. Here are some:

1. Chapter 5 - 'Everyday' and the Ultimate - talks about traditions which happen (should/could happen...) daily. These include praying at mealtimes, praying as a family and as a couple, reading God's word as a church, & going to church weekly. It's a helpful chapter, but I found myself wondering how to start. We do not all read the bible together as a family, and we have not up to now, because we have always figured that at least one child is still too young. We read the bible with each child individually and pray with them before bedtime each night. I would like to get into the 'family devotion' pattern, but we have not managed to do it yet.

One idea that was very helpful is that each child had their list of things to do each morning (brush teeth, etc) and then each also had 'Bible Time' where they would have 15 mins on their own to either read their bible, look at bible storybook or listen to a tape. I really liked this idea - it sets a pattern early, and as Noel says: "It only takes a few seconds of thought to realise that it is smarter to get a three year-old started with good lifetime habits that to spring a new regime on a teenager." (p46)

2. Ch 7 - 'Especially' traditions - here Noel talks about birthdays, weddings and funerals. And another special day, which I loved the idea of, although not relevant for our family - 'gotcha day' - celebrating the day a child was adopted or perhaps fostered - what a lovely way for a child to know that they are loved.

3. Ch 8 - Especially Christmas - this was a helpful collection of suggestions for how to celebrate Christmas. To be honest, I am reasonably happy with the Christmas traditions our family has, but I will read this chapter again in November to think about it some more. She does give a helpful explanation of why they chose not to have Santa, which are pretty similar to reasons to our reasons, which I have previously talked about.

4. Ch 9 - Especially Easter - I found this chapter very helpful this year. Thinking about Easter was the main reason I read this book ahead of the pile of others on my shelf, and I was glad I did, because she had some good ideas, ranging from how to think about fasting in Lent, to having a resurrection tree (like a Christmas Jesse tree) and how to celebrate Easter week itself. I incorporated a number of these ideas into some of our Easter celebrations this year and plan to do even more of them next year.

Some of my hesitations about this book were:

1. It could seem awfully daunting to one starting from scratch. Like any book on this topic, one can be overwhelmed and feel inadequate by what your family does not do, or what her family does do. I suspect she is summing up decades of traditions in one book, which is certainly worth remembering when life seems a little hard.

2. It seemed very 'Piper-specific' - she has written a book about what her family does, which is a great resource. They are obviously a family that is creative with words, John Piper writes a poem (a good one!) to each of his children for their birthday, he seems to be the more expressive one. I think for myself it would be unhelpful for me to compare their family dynamics with my own, and I could not assume that what works for their family would also work for mine. I just thought if she had included some ideas of what some other families do, there could have been more suggestions which may have covered different types of families. You have to be able to read it with your own family in mind and think about what will work for them. Perhaps you all sing and play music together, or maybe special time centre around family cricket games in the backyard, or maybe movie nights with popcorn...

3. The final appendix (written by John & Noel) sat uneasily with me, although there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. They are of the opinion that all children, from about the age of 4 can learn to sit quietly with their parents throughout a church service and should be doing so. It seems, if I read it correctly, that their children did not go to a children's program, but rather sat in church with them. I may be mis-understanding the way their church runs (perhaps the children's program runs at another time?). When I look at our church though, I cannot imagine not sending the children out to the program - it is a great program, led by wonderful people with good material - why would I not want them to benefit from that? I understand their point about the value of worshipping together as a family, and how it is easier to teach these things to children when they are young than when they are older. And I do wonder if my strong hesitation is purely because I cannot stand the thought of dealing with wiggly, whinging children in every service. Perhaps though, if you don't set the goals high, you never reach them!

I am pretty sure that the Equip Book Club are planning to look at this book later in the year, and I will be interested to read the posts and the comments and see what others think. It could be a great forum for sharing traditions & ideas with each other!

By the way, this book can be downloaded for free at this site.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Hi Wendy,

The stay-in/go-out-of church thoughts are very interesting. I think to be able to do it well you need to have a plan and be prepared- I have heard there is a book called "Parenting in the Pew", and also a part in "The Hidden Art of Homemaking" that is helpful.

Thanks for your thoughts,