Currently, we are unpacking five methods, or spiritual practices, for discipling our grandchildren.
One of the most satisfying of our role-fulfilling methods is that of remembering, keeping, and documenting family traditions. Perhaps more than anything else family traditions are what keep generations connected and lines of communication open. For, when a tradition comes up on the calendar, every member of the family knows to stop and take heed.
Not only are traditions treasured by people they are treasured by God. James 1:17 tells us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” That means that God not only treasures traditions, but that they were His idea in the first place.
Before we explore tips for observing traditions, it’s important that we are all on the same page with our definition of tradition.
For our purposes, we will adopt the following definition:
Traditions are significant. They have purpose. Much like family heirlooms, they are things of special value (stories, beliefs, customs) that are handed down from one generation to another.
THE PURPOSE OF TRADITION
Tradition, the practice of handing down stories, beliefs, and customs from one generation to another, is one of the most dynamic practices there is for discipling our grandchildren. However, we must understand that the value of this practice does not lie simply in the observance itself.
Rather, purpose, not observation, determines worth. In other words, for a tradition to be effective, we must have a clear understanding of its purpose. Look again with me at our definition of tradition, “The practice of handing down stories, beliefs, and customs from one generation to another in order to establish and reinforce a strong sense of identity.” Purpose is so vitally important that it is even part of our definition.
Good traditions “establish and reinforce a strong sense of identity.” Another way to think about it is that they strengthen our sense of history and belonging, both as a Christian and as a family member.
ESTABLISHING & IMPLEMENTING THE DISCIPLINE OF OBSERVING TRADITIONS
For practical tips on establishing and implementing the discipline of observing traditions, we need look no further than Deuteronomy 6. In this chapter of the Bible, we find both the nature of tradition and some of its prominent features.
Before we get to the tips, a little context is helpful. As this chapter opens, the years of wilderness wandering have ended, and the Israelites stand ready to enter Canaan. The people are gathered to hear Moses’ words of instruction.
First, notice Moses’ opening words, “Now this is the commandment… that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you” (Deuteronomy 6:1). The instructions the people received that day were not from Moses. He was simply the mouthpiece. The message was from God.
This is an important detail for both the Israelites and for us. What we find here is not merely suggestion. It’s not the insightful words of another person. No, the instructions recorded here are a message to us, from God. And within them we glean several tips that are helpful to anyone desiring to establish and observe traditions of value.
Tip #1 – Tune Your Heart
Our efforts at establishing new family traditions or observing the ones we already have must come from a heart tuned to God (Deuteronomy 6:6). In the same passage, we read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
The condition of our heart is crucial. We must be intentional to make time to care for our own relationship with God.
Tip #2 – Form a Plan
It is a fact that we will influence our grandchildren. Research shows that the influence grandparents have on their grandchildren is second only to that of the parents. One way or another, whether intentionally or not, we have influence.
It is our responsibility to help our grandchildren learn who God is and to help them come to the place of trusting and following Him. This requires planning. We must think through what we will say; consider where, how, and when to say it; and how we will incorporate these things into our family traditions.
Tip #3 – Share the Wealth
The commands of God are to be handed down (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Generational language appears throughout the Deuteronomy 6 passage – you, your son, your son’s son, children – making it clear that we are not to hoard God’s precious instructions for ourselves. They are meant to be delivered – to generation after generation.
Tip #4 – Speak Up
When it comes to observing traditions, a verbal element is essential (Deuteronomy 6:7). While family traditions may certainly include silence or re-enactments, they run the rise of becoming unfocused without the verbal piece. If we want our grandchildren to know God, it is not enough just to be doing. We must remember to be talking about God and His works.
Tip #5 – Embrace the Everyday
Traditions are not something reserved for holidays and special occasions. Sitting, walking, lying down, and rising (Deuteronomy 6:7) are all ordinary, everyday life moments. Ordinary, but important in the eyes of God. Even in the mundane moments of daily life, He wants us to talk and observe – together.
Tip #6 – Incorporate Writing
For Tip #5, check out verse 9 of Deuteronomy 6, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” This verse tells us that some of our traditions need to contain a written component.
As you review your existing traditions and consider how you might institute new ones, be sure that some of your observances include this valuable element.
Tip #7 – Tell Your Story
Tradition is not just for children. These words spoken by Moses in verses one and two of chapter six, were addressed to the adults – the ones who have a history with God. Adults are the ones with the stories to tell – stories of God’s care and mighty works, His help and His discipline, His greatness, mercy, and salvation.
Stories convey our culture, history, and values. Through story, connections are made, and bonds are strengthened. It simply cannot be overstated, find ways to tell your story. Then tell it again.
Our grandchildren’s experience is just beginning. They don’t have history with God, yet. Neither do they know their family history. They need the adults in their lives to share.
Tip #8 – Integrate the Power of Repetition
Repetition is an essential learning aid. Through it, conscious knowledge and skills are transferred into the subconscious. Because of the teaching power of repetition, it is one of the greatest strengths of tradition.
As you stop to reflect on your own memories, I have no doubt that you will find that most of them stem from words or events that were repeated frequently and regularly. For you, maybe it was a bedtime blessing spoken over you every time you visited your grandparents or baking resurrection rolls with your family every Easter weekend.
How might you integrate the power of repetition into your own observances of tradition?
Tip #9 – Strive for Consistency
Repetition and consistency go hand in hand. Where repetition is the act of saying or doing something regularly and frequently, consistency is the act of sticking with it or adhering to the practice over the long haul.
Consistency compels us not to quit. This is not the season to step aside or kick back and take it easy. What we have learned in our youth, what we have declared of God through our midlife season, we are to continue to share and to teach. We have work to do. As long as we have breath and clarity of mind, we are to glorify God and disciple the rising generations.
Being consistent with our purpose and observance of traditions over the days, months, years, and seasons of our lives helps us to teach the next generations to know, love, and serve God.
Tip #10 – Take Time to Evaluate
Evaluation of our family traditions is important. Regular assessment and reassessment are required. If your tradition is helping those in your family to establish or reinforce a strong sense of Christian or familial identity, keep it. If it is not, don’t be afraid to set it aside to make room for something new. None of us needs to hang on to things that stress us out and have no value.
It is good practice to set aside time for evaluating your traditions. For example, you might review them each year on New Year’s Day or bi- annually when your family is gathered for family vacation. Even then, especially in the early years of developing this new habit, one or two of your family traditions might be overlooked during the evaluation time so always be alert.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR EVALUATION:
- Does this tradition fit the definition?
- Is this tradition God-focused?
- Does this tradition give glory to God for what He has done?
- Is this tradition one that increases stress and decreases holiness in our family?
- Does this tradition increase our joy in God and the relationships we have with those around us?
- Is this tradition helping my children/grandchildren better know God?
- Do my children/grandchildren value this tradition? Why?
- Is this tradition something we just do?
When it comes to establishing and implementing the practice of observing traditions, Deuteronomy 6 is a wonderful passage to sit with. In these few verses the essence of tradition is found. Tradition, we find, is for our own hearts and souls. As well, it is shaped by our own heart’s condition and includes the collection of things we do regularly that help all the generations of our family know, love, and serve God.
Traditions keep us together and identify us as belonging.