In various places in Deuteronomy, parents are commanded to carefully instruct their children. For example, Deut. 6:7 tells us: “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” (ESV).
Does this mean that we become single-minded school masters, incessantly drilling our children on the 6 chief parts, their meanings, and the supporting scriptures? Surely not. This verse indicates, rather, that these words of God are to be so central to our daily lives that they fit naturally into any part of the day. Not only will we have intentional, direct instruction (“[teaching] them diligently”), but we will also have occasion to consider them as we sit together at the table or around the living room. We will consider them as we drive in our cars, heading to and fro, taking care of the normal business of life. Morning, noon, evening, and night, these most important and holy things are to play a central part of our family conversations.
Teachers call this taking advantage of teachable moments. Although we plan our lessons as carefully and thoroughly as possible, and although we try to time these lessons optimally for students, sometimes a lesson is just not learned completely in that allotted time. For whatever reason, the pupil was not ready or did not fully grasp it. So, we wait and watch for opportunities to revisit a skill or concept. When the student is ready, we are primed to take advantage of that moment to teach and re-teach as the opportunity naturally arises.
As part of a formal, stand-alone lesson, we might teach our children that the Fifth Petition is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We teach them these words and what they mean so that they may recite them back to us when asked. But, then we also watch for teachable moments in which we can see this forgiveness in action and experience it in deed as well as in word. James is upset with his younger brother for breaking a favorite toy. Perhaps this was done on accident. Perhaps it was even done maliciously. In this moment, we can easily return to this petition. “James, your brother has broken your toy. You have every right to be hurt and upset. What did we learn from Jesus about how we treat each other when we are wronged? Do you remember how we were taught to pray? Let’s talk about what it means to be sinned against and still forgive freely … to readily do good even to those who sin against us.” To the younger child, this moment is teachable in multiple ways. What does the 7th commandment have to say to us about negligent treatment of others’ property? What do we learn about making confession and seeking absolution when we do wrong? What do we learn about baptism, a daily life of repentance, and putting to death that Old Adam against which we constantly struggle?
This kind of catechesis – the “as you walk along the way” catechesis – is just as vital as regular, formal instruction. What teachable moments have you recently had in your family? This week, we would love to hear from you about your along-the-way catechesis.