Why Do Traditions Matter?
Thinking, Not Just Acting
My husband and I moved into marriage with traditions we inherited from our parents. Having come of age in the ‘60s though, breathing the air of anti-authority, no one was going to tell us we had to do everything just like Mom and Dad! But we did love our parents, and we loved God and wanted our family life to reflect that. So to this day, we’ve kept many “hand-me-downs” from our parents—daily family Bible reading and prayer, for example.
Our first conscious challenge to think seriously about what role traditions would play in our own family came—as it does for many people—with the birth of our first child. The moment we set foot into our apartment with our newborn, panic poured over me. We had walked out this door as two, I realized, and now we were walking in as three—forever there would be one more of us. We were responsible for this life, and I couldn’t even keep a philodendron healthy!
Treasuring God in Our Traditions
Helps Christians understand and pass along biblical traditions to future generations by guiding readers to practically live out Christ-centered traditions and a Bible-saturated legacy.
By God’s grace, our son lived and thrived. My first panic ebbed, replaced by tides of deeper responsibilities. The instant a raindrop falls into the sea, you can’t make it separate again. When God entrusted a child to us, in an instant that baby became so intimately a part of us that we couldn’t picture life without him—ever. I couldn’t imagine what my chubby child would be when he grew up. But what I yearned for had little to do with his adult career. I longed that he be a part of us forever—that he be God’s forever.
That aspiration blew away any contentment we might have had in assumptions that we’d just keep on doing things the way we’d always done. Now we had to think, not just act out of habit.
Why? – The Big Question
In early December, for instance, when Karsten was just over a year old, I thought about our meager Christmas traditions. I tried to see them through the eyes of a curious toddler. I imagined the conversations he and I might have during the month:
Then I mentally supplied the questions he wouldn’t even know yet to ask: “Why candles?”
“Why?” I realized that was a question I was going to have to answer from now on, not just for Christmas traditions that particular year, but for all years and every day. At that moment I knew that “just because” was no answer. Nor was “because that’s the way Grandmother and Granddaddy do it” or “because it’s pretty” or “because it’s convenient” or “because that’s what everybody does.”
In the book of Exodus, Moses displays his understanding of the nature of children and the responsibility of parents: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt’” (12:26–27).
Moses assumed children will ask why. And he instructs parents to give an answer that speaks of reality. This instruction is all in the context of laying out for children ceremonies that will portray the answer. He is giving them the answer, both spoken and displayed. And the answer is God—God saved us, and we honor him, worship him, thank him. We and our children need this kind of yearly repetition to impress us with the weight of what God has done.
Only God Can Bequeath God
There’s a big difference between this inheritance and any other that we might receive: You can’t bequeath God to your children. You can leave them the fur coat from your mother, the forested acres from your father, the carved cane from Uncle Claude, and the clock from your grandmother, but they can’t inherit God from you. God can only be inherited from God.
We and our children need this kind of yearly repetition to impress us with the weight of what God has done.
That’s what my mother was saying one night when I was six. As she kissed me goodnight and tucked me in, she said, “Now that you’re trusting Jesus as your Savior, I’m your mother and your sister.” She was acknowledging the words of Galatians 3:26: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” We only become God’s children through our faith, not through our faith, not through our parent’s faith. I had gained a relationship with God in the same way she had. We both had become his daughters by adoption, though faith. I was not God’s granddaughter who inherited God through my mother’s relationship with him. I was God’s daughter who inherited God directly from God.
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
Now although we cannot bequeath God to our children, we can help them know him and understand him in ways that prepare them to believe in his name. “Everyday” and “especially” traditions in a family are an important part of that teaching, of picturing who God is and what he’s done in our home and in the world. Traditions are a vital way of displaying our greatest treasure, of showing what—Who—is most important to us.
We need to remember, too, that when our traditions are displaying the Treasure of our lives, he is there to be seen by everyone who comes within our circle. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). God wants our family and others to give glory to him because we’ve seen his light through us. Paul says we should be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15–16).
This article is adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noël Piper.
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