Deuteronomy 6:7 - Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road…
In the beautiful relevancy of God's Word, this phrase from the Shema covers the twin tensions most families feel these days: at home and along the road. Your family may spend most evenings at home. Then again, maybe you're an on-the-road-on-the-go family. Scripture does not say one is better than the other. What it does indicate is that regardless of whether you're coming or going, at home or on the road, the command is still the same: TALK.
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road…
A conversational relationship with our children is vital to their spiritual formation. You may hear that and be pleased; you talk often with your children about spiritual things. However, spiritual conversation with your children may be about as frequent as leap years or the appearance of a comet. If that aspect is present in your relationship, then there's always room for improvement. If that aspect is missing, then it's never too late to begin; it may be harder, but never too late.
A good friend of mine says, "In all things natural, be as spiritual as possible. In all things spiritual, be as natural as possible." I love those words for they portray the needed consistency in the conversations we have with our children. Putting on our "spiritual voice" may lead to monologues, but it does not lead to conversations. And conversations are the goal.
The Early Years (0-3):
I'm not sure that at this stage it eternally matters whether you're reading portions of the Gospels to them or talking through the op/ed page in that lilting voice as you weave through traffic. The important thing is that you're talking/reading to your children. What you are doing in these years is building a voice-recognition container they come to know and trust. In the following years, you fill the container.
The Discovery Years (4-7):
Here's where you really start filling the container. As I write this, I'm simultaneously having a conversation with my five-year-old daughter about her heart. She's worried about something poking in and hurting her heart. The conversation ensues that God thought about that and created us with layers of protection (skin, ribcage) to protect those vital organs. She responds with, "Wow, that's cool! Can I have a goldfish?" Short and sweet, huh? Remember, you're placing small, brief deposits in the container. But over time, little things mean a lot. They discover things gradually.
The Tweens (8-12):
Let me make a suggestion. Be confessional in your conversation with tweeners. My tweeners love to hear about mistakes I made at their age. Now obviously, discretion is called for here, but for some reason, hearing about my blunders and the fact that the world didn't end is a surefire way to have a conversation with them, at home or on the road. If we'll but confess our sins, He will forgive us. Our tweeners will listen and hear and learn of the God who is faithful and just. And when they make that mistake that they're sure will stop the world from turning, they might just seek us out and ask us to help them approach the throne of grace.
The Teens (13-18):
If you didn't build the container in the Early Years and naturally, confessionally, fill it through the Discovery and Tweens, this may be a hard season for conversation. Hard, but not impossible. There are times when conversation is best achieved shoulder to shoulder as opposed to face to face and the teen years may be just such a time. I could talk to my dad about almost anything as long as we were changing the oil in my pickup or on the way to a ballgame. But sit me down in front of him at the kitchen table? I'd clam up faster than white on rice. Sometimes, the gaze of the father or mother is too much; it must be mediated by something. Do the hard work of parenting and find that "something" and utilize it. Whatever it takes, don’t let the conversation run dry in these years. It's never too late to talk. Never.