Our son once had a girl from his Grade 11 class ask if she could eat supper at our house. She’d heard him talk about how we guarded the supper hour and sat around–sometimes for hours–talking about life and the day’s events; telling jokes and stories; discussing the Bible and theological ideas and even, as the children got older, talking about sex. That evening, while she was with us, she mentioned that she couldn’t remember ever, in her 17 years, eating a meal with her entire family. We were dumbfounded.
The table was one of the classrooms in our school of life. (I’m convinced this is why Christians are commanded to be lovers of hospitality.) Our campus was expansive and included the car; every room in the house; the yard; the seashores and forests of Nova Scotia; our church building; even the canoe. And there were lots of field trips.
In the Shema, Israel’s theological and domestic manifesto, we read the following:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deu 6.4-9, ESV)
We didn’t always get it right. We missed many opportunities, I’m sure. But we learned early on in our family’s journey together that to beat ourselves up for missing an evening’s “family altar” was both unfair and a violation of what this passage teaches. Moses is not establishing specific times of the day in which to teach our children the Word of God. Instead, he is providing a sampling of times and situations which can be used as teaching moments in the school of life. He is not requiring Israel to hang Scripture plaques in their homes or wear Bible verses on their persons, as North American religious trinketeers would have us think. He is telling us to make the Bible our priority–the foundation for whatever we build; the lens through which we see the world; the grid through which we sift all the information that is dumped into our spinning heads.
The other important principle in this passage is that instruction is based on two things: truth and relationship. Spewing information outside the context of a relationship has little value. Likewise, a great relationship with our children that has no foundation in truth isn’t all that great.
Any moment can be a teaching moment, and any space can be a classroom.