I recall myself as a young boy on Thanksgiving Day when getting together with family. When most families get together they have a full house but when my family got together there was little breathing room, still, nobody ever seemed to mind very much. One thing I always remember from those past Thanksgiving days is a glass jar that we would pass around. In this jar we would put one by one three kernels of corn. Each kernel stood for something that we were particularly thankful to God for from the past year. For a family as large as mine, it would sometimes take well over an hour for that glass jar to make it around the room. The amazing thing for me, being a young child who was never really concerned with much else other than running in circles with boundless energy, that hour wasn’t boring or tedious, in fact, I look on every one of those hours with great fondness. Now that I have my own home, and even when I was an RA going through college, I kept up this tradition now with my wife and also with countless others who have joined us both for Thanksgivings in the past years we have been married. We have heard a thousand different things that people have shared with us, from different cultures, countries, and families. Things that they are thankful to God for and some of those students we shared our traditions with have adopted them for their homes too.
You may wonder why I tell you this story. What is so important about that jar, that experience, that tradition and the dozens of other traditions that we march through from year to year? Why are these things so significant? The truth is that traditions serve a very important function in the family. Traditions serve to strengthen our ties to the past, and to connect strongly with belonging and history. If we have been redeemed by faith in Christ, our sense of history and belonging are also redeemed. We have, as Paul writes…
“…received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” -Romans 8:15–17
A great part, and in fact the greatest part, of our history and sense of belonging is not only in the family that God has placed us in, but it is even more in the family of faith. The greatest tradition we can pass on to our children is a tradition of a family that delights in and celebrates with reverence God.
As parents and grandparents, this task proves to be very difficult. How do we raise our families with a strong connection to their heritage of faith? This question becomes even greater in a culture where “family time” seems like a dying trend. The most effective way is through traditions, habits, and the repetition of things that have true familial and theological meaning. Our homes should be, as Noel Piper writes in Treasuring God in Our Traditions… “universities where our children learn about the world and how to live.” Meaningful family traditions are a big part of that theological teaching that can only come from parents. If something is not important to a parent, it will be completely meaningless to the child. On the other hand, if something is celebrated and commemorated in tradition by the parent, it will live on for generations to come and become an inseparable part of that child’s identity as they grow to adulthood. Meaningful traditions that celebrate Christ and our identity in Him will have a lasting impact on our grandchildren long after we are gone. While we all know that we cannot choose who are children become, we can choose to give them a heritage of faith that they can connect with and that they will want to continue on.
These types of meaningful traditions don’t always come naturally to us. We have to be intentional about them. When I say meaningful and theological traditions, I don’t mean watching the football game together on Thanksgiving. Our family did that too and there is nothing wrong with traditions like that, however, the true meaningful traditions are the ones that take our focus off of us and place it first on Christ, and second on people around us. In doing this we train children in one of the greatest traditions of the family of faith; To love God first, to love others second, and to love self last… a message which is unpopular today, and which our children will likely not get from anyone else. I would encourage all of you to sit down and think intently asking yourself the question “What traditions do or can we do as a family that will create a habit of heritage, and draw our family’s focus to Christ?” This is especially pertinent as we approach the holidays. God bless.