What’s the first thing that you do with your family when you sit down to eat a meal? For us, it’s to say grace, which simply means that we attempt to give thanks for the meal and our fellowship in that moment. I say attempt, because usually it’s just as hurried as any other part of our day. We call it grace, but it’s usually anything graceful. Sometimes I’ll ask one of the girls to say grace, but by the time I do, they’ve already begun to cram bites of food into their mouths. I’m not much better of a model, usually my grace is a short, terse, thank you for this food amen. Not much mindfulness to that moment. How do you transfer traditions to the next generation when you fail to respect them?
The best types of traditions, or rituals if you will, are the ones you choose. Sure, most traditions precede us. But as we mature and become adults, we have both an opportunity and I would argue a responsibility to decide. What does this tradition mean to me and do I want to continue it? You might learn to appreciate it more for what it’s worth. There’s a reason why many traditions stand the test of time, they have purpose. When a tradition or ritual or even a routine becomes disconnected from its purpose, that’s when you should begin questioning its utility.
Over the past 2 weeks, we started this activity of writing down something that we’re thankful for on a small index card, and then putting it in a box. We’re storing up these thank-you notes to open up together on Thanksgiving day to share with each other. It’s an idea that came from our church, which is always creating good activities for families to do together over a meal. Maybe it’ll become a new tradition for us. It’s just as hard to start a tradition as it is to keep one going.
As the person in my household who is usually thinking more about the future and how to create structures and habits around the things that matter, it’s tough sledding sometimes to get my family to buy in. But, to their credit, they usually go along (if even begrudgingly at first). It’s the reason why we now have routines such as weekly planning meetings, family dinner nights, family movie nights, journal time, book club, our morning mantra…etc. At some point we cared enough to ask ourselves: what kind of family do we want to have, what kind of people do we want to be? These values then determined how we would regularly spend our time and energies. I know how to take the spirit of a thing and put some form around it to keep it going. The thing is though, great traditions, habits, and rituals are like butterflies: you have to hold them gently in order to appreciate it. Anything more and you actually crush its essence. The tradition isn’t the point, it’s the meaning behind the tradition that is.
Admittedly, sometimes I forget that. I did earlier this week when I got frustrated with the girls for not waiting to be seated before their mother sat down at the table (a new ritual I’ve been trying to ingrain in them, one that apparently even my wife is ambivalent about). That’s not a good sign. Traditions, rituals, and routines may start from a good place, but they exist to serve people, not the other way around. That’s me preaching to myself.
So take it from me, the next time you sit down to the table with your family, whatever your tradition may be, hold it lightly. Say grace, if you choose to do so, but with intentionality. And if the kids are already eating at that point, or spilling their drink or tossing their food already (remember I have 4 daughters under the age of 10 currently)…just learn to appreciate the moment for what it is. Some traditions take a while to pick up. You have your reasons for doing them, allow that to be your guide. One day in the future, who knows, it may be them leading the tradition.