My daughter is fourteen and there is something she has always wanted to do. What? Help my wife prepare the Thanksgiving turkey. For some reason, which none of us can remember, she never ended up lending a hand in the kitchen on the big day. We haven’t had many Thanksgiving meals at our house and if memory serves me, the year she expressed interest in cooking the bird was the last year we stayed home for the feast.
After that year we traveled to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, alternating between my parents and my wife’s to celebrate the national day of thanks with our extended family.
Earlier this year, as we were discussing our November travel plans, my daughter expressed that she’s always wanted to help her mom prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving. We’ve already traveled a lot this year so we decided that we would stay home. It’s an opportunity to give my daughter a part of the Thanksgiving tradition for which she has longed.
This little episode reminded me of a truth that I’ve known for years. Kids long for tradition. They long to be brought into the customs they see around them, to participate in the adult dance and move to the rich rhythm that their world offers even before they fully understand what it’s all about.
Why did my daughter want to help prepare the turkey? Because she witnessed her mom go to great lengths for this special meal and learned, without any formal teaching, that it was something of value. It became valuable to her even before she understood how to do it herself. She held onto this value, and this year she’ll finally participate in it.
This is how it is with tradition. This is why as Christians we keep the faithful traditions handed down to us from the apostles, handed down through two millennia of church history (1 Cor. 11:1-2; 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6; Col. 2:8).
Kids long for tradition, they long to participate in what’s happening around them, to share in what they see as important to the adults in their lives. They absorb their traditions and eventually grow up to live according to those traditions, handing them down to their little ones.
Another example of this occurred this past Sunday. After the Divine Service, I was visiting with a young, single mother who has a two-year-old and a two-month-old. As her pastor I know it’s hard for her on Sunday morning. Two-year-olds wiggle, squirm, move, spill, bang, and thump, while two-month-olds require constant attention.
Normally, this family arrives just as the service is beginning and they rush to find a seat in the first available pew. This week, however, they were able to sit up front. It happens occasionally. While I was visiting with them, I told mom that the kiddos did great during the service. She said she noticed that when they sit up front, her two-year-old does a lot better.
“It’s like he’s interested in what’s going on,” She said.
Indeed. He is!
Why? Because he longs to participate in the tradition his mother keeps. In this case, the historic liturgy centered on the Eucharist (Gk. for Thanksgiving). When he’s up front he sees more of it. He gets to watch what the pastor is doing and even try to participate.
In the back of the nave, he’s boxed in by adults, big bodies that block his view. And when those big bodies stand up, which happens often in the historic liturgy, he sees only big butts. What two-year-old wouldn’t turn his attention to something else, something mom doesn’t want him doing, when he only gets to experience the derriere of the Divine Service?
But… give him an actual view of the action, and look out world, he will long for the tradition of his mother, seeing that she values it as part of the good deposit entrusted to her (2 Tim. 1:14).
Kids long for tradition. There’s no doubt about it. The only question is what traditions will we hand down to them. When it comes to church and the Christian faith, Christian parents living out their godly vocation have a responsibility to make sure those traditions are in keeping with the apostolic tradition. That’s the job of parents. We are called to raise our children in the faith, to model our thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us on the cross. Kids long for tradition. Would that their parents longed to teach them faithful ones!
God bless you, and may you have a happy Thanksgiving, giving your children good traditions for which they long. More than that, may you share with them the traditions of God, which have been handed down by the apostles and entrusted to you.