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Last week I had the opportunity to help console my daughter as she faced her first bedtime fears. I had expected her to have fears at some point, but I didn’t expect the fear to be frogs. She didn’t want me to leave the room because she was scared of the “pretend froggies” on the floor and the real froggies that might start coming in the window. Even after I pretend vanquished all the pretend frogs and sealed off any potential entrances through which a deadly Amazonian poison dart tree frog could access her second story room, it seemed there was nothing left to do – in my mind at least. But Elin wouldn’t let me leave the room.
When we were on our itinerating road trip this summer, we had struggled with Elin. We knew we wanted to keep her in church with us, and we knew she had to learn how to last through church when we went to Romania. There is no nursery there. But she just seemed too young. She couldn’t do it. And we were right. But the reason she couldn’t do it is because we weren’t training her. We were walked through the idea of meal time traditions by one of the wise families with whom we stayed. They affirmed the difficulty, agony, and draining nature of upholding expectations, but they also shared from experience their successes. While Elin certainly struggles many weeks in church (especially with the new folding seats, ugh!), and while she will continue to struggle for a long time, she has sat through a good number of church services perfectly…as a 2 year old!
In all of this, we have learned a number of important lessons. First we have learned that our kids are capable of so much more, so long as we’re willing to put the hard work in. We are learning the importance of consistent expectation. Second, we are learning how important it is to convey the right messages to our kids. Elin knows that prayer is important, that we read the Bible, that we go to church on Sunday, and that we don’t distract others during church. Whether or not she gets all of these things and whether or not she does them or obeys, we are teaching her what is valuable by what we value and protect. Finally, these things are not important because they’re tradition, they’re tradition because they’re important. Tradition houses truths and values. When Elin was scared of froggies, I didn’t have to pull out God like a magic wand. I drew from God just like I did at breakfast, lunch, dinner, in the songs we sang throughout the day, in car ride conversations, in discussing the Bible lesson at her pre-k, at night time prayer and scripture reading, and at Sunday church. And Elin has a repertoire from which to draw on too as she thinks about both her experiences and the creeds and facts she knows. I seek to find that common ground with her so she can learn not only to trust God, but why she should trust him.
Tradition is so important for us as Christians, and it is vital for those of us who are training little ones. Tradition is the rain that pours down from the great cloud of witnesses. It is our encouragement to hold fast, our evidence that others have held fast, and our teaching as to how we can hold fast. Our children need to be connected to something bigger than themselves and their own interpretation of the Bible. They need to be connected to the true meaning of the Bible, which is not only found in facts, but in the living body of tradition. If you can’t bring yourself to read the Westminster Confession, the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, or find significant meaning in communion, Ash Wednesday, or Lent – then you may well be caught up, like I often am, in the church of self. Our Western notion of “church” is a building I enter where my spiritual needs are met. But the church is supposed to be a community where we lay our lives down for others, and are propelled out as one in love. Tradition is only stale to those who – when they eat bread and wine – taste bread and wine. Fleshly means can become corrupted and staled. But to those who taste of the goodness of the living God through all ages, and the power of God to transform a self-centered heart to one that loves and sacrifices – then the spiritual bread and wine of tradition is the living testimony of the power of Christ and scripture to change lives.