Our table is like most. Three boys fidget. Their fingers dart toward their plates before prayers. Sitting still and waiting are two expectations that seem torturous to minds filled with Nerf wars and the next silly face. So we all laugh and we wait. I pray. Or my wife prays. Or we all pray. One prayer or five depending on how things are going. We eat and talk and giggle and correct and are corrected and giggle and share.
After everyone except the slowpoke has finished their meal, with dirty plates still in front of them, we’ll take a few moments to return our thoughts toward the living God. I will read a passage of Scripture, or we will work on some Bible memory. If we are learning a new passage, sometimes I will have one of the older boys read it for us. Then I will ask questions about the passage.
“What does ‘grace’ mean?” I’ll ask.
One will respond and say something like, ‘I know what it means but I just don’t know how to describe it”.
So I always back up. “Is it a good thing or a bad thing?”
Kids always have good instincts on this. Even if they don’t understand a concept they can have great antennae for picking up positive or negative signals in words. From there we will talk about what ‘grace’ looks like in our family relationships (‘picking up your brother’s dirty plate, as well as your own when he left his behind’), and then on to some classic little definitions from our relationship with God (‘undeserved favour’).
In just a few minutes of back and forth questioning we have done just a little bit of what might be called catechesis. It’s not Cyril of Jerusalem, but its something. And even as I consider what others do in the church today, what we do isn’t what could be done, and certainly not what many others do so well, but it is a small bit that may contribute to a lot in our children’s lives over the weeks, months and years.
In the course of things, our youngest didn’t have a bible memory verse assigned from school, so we would work on the Nicene Creed with him. He’s five now and attempting to fit in with the order and discipline of kindergarten two days per week. Fidgeting, chatting, lounging and generally being a boy—that’s his learning style these days. But he is learning the Nicene Creed.
All that I do is make him recite the lines. The syntax of the Creed lends itself to short, structured phrases of immense importance. He’ll repeat after me, “begotten, not made.” After which I’ll ask him what does ‘begotten’ mean. Talk about diving into the deep end of the theological pool! At the very least I’ll tell him about the relationship between a father and a son, and how there is a picture in that of being begotten, yet “begotten, not made” is a great mystery. He is content to confess the Creed, to understand it in ways that he can, and to leave speculating in ways that he can’t. He knows enough to answer without heresy when asked, “Is Jesus created?”. Most of the time he can say, “No. He’s begotten, not made”.
We’ve used other resources like the New City Catechism. With its friendly app, the shortened version for children is included within the text of the longer version for adults. Our kids delight in reciting the shortened version and challenging us to recite the longer one. As my memory stumbles it’s a good time for some dessert of humble pie.
Added to the table talk is using a great bed time book. For the Nicene Creed, I am grateful for my friend Ian Clary who gave us, I Believe: The Nicene Creed. Published by Eerdmans the main benefit of this small blue board book is the illustrations from Pauline Baynes. She is best known for her work illustrating the Narnia books from CS Lewis and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The book itself is filled with imagery that looks like it comes from a medieval manuscript complete with creatures of fantasy beside gothic church architecture. Our ‘Creed book’ is on its third child and bound by layers of Scotch tape.
Is this table talk of the Word of God and the theology of the Church a great model for others? Probably not. There are those who are able to have ‘family worship’ that is more complete or robust than what we do. But we pray and we try and we trust God to use this little table talk for his glory in the lives of our children.
photo credit: By Frederick George Cotman (1850 – 1920) (British) Born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England. Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons