We are spending a week in a cottage on a farm in Scotland. It is beautiful! We have watched incredible sunrises each morning, and ended the days with the sun setting across the plain, light dancing through an old oak tree near the farmhouse, shadows falling across distant mountains. Each morning we have read a Psalm together, and contemplated the incredible intricacy and beauty of God’s creation. Walking through fields of recently harvested oats, we have spent time talking about crops, harvest, food and provision, and also about the parables Jesus spoke which described seeds, crops and harvest. It becomes so visual and tangible for the children as they see these illustrations surrounding them. As we watch the fields of sheep close to the cottage, we discuss all the references in the Bible to Jesus being the Good Shepherd, and the comparisons between flocks of sheep and us, as humans. These are just some of the wonderful lessons which come through as we try to live according to Deuteronomy chapter 6 (especially verses 5-7): ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’.
In contrast to this, there have been some quite alarming adverts we have seen on television. (We don’t own a television, so it is bit of a novelty to us, but also quite an eye-opener). Two adverts have really stunned us. The first challenges parents to make sure their children spend an hour per day being physically active because of the long-term health benefits. The second talked about how regularly communicating and interacting with ones’ child will boost their vocabulary and give them a good start in life. What has stunned us is the need to put such adverts on television. I understand that it is health campaigning, health education, public health, preventative health care, whatever that you might like to call it. But these adverts really are akin to the basic messages of health and hygiene that one might try to assimilate to reach underdeveloped, illiterate rural populations in parts of the developing world. I feel as though this is a recurring theme at the moment as I reflect upon some of the broader issues relating to parenting and education (physical activity and children, long hours of childcare). Another news article relating to these issues is that discussing the potential need to limit the amount of television that children are exposed to. Apparently, the average child aged five has access to ten different screens (such as televisions, computers, computer games etc) around their home, and the average teenager watches six hours of television per day. As interesting as the article itself are the hundreds of reader comments that follow, ranging from those who agree totally on the need to restrict viewing hours, to those who consider this to be fully unrealistic because the television is so much part of their lives and their childrens’ lives.
Why do I comment on this? I suppose it is simply the paradox of a society which views itself as increasingly advanced, developing in all areas, and yet is losing touch with the very basics of family life. On the one hand, parents are encouraged back into work, we strive for low rates of unemployment, stay-at-home parents are perhaps considered quaint, and increasing numbers of educational activities (including television programmes and computer games) are promoted. Yet on the other hand, it is necessary to put adverts on those same screens reminding parents that children need exercise and communication. The Bible calls gives us simple, practical instructions on what is right and best as a model of family life, and these values still hold today. Thinking again about those verses in Deuteronomy, some of this relates to shared activities and shared lives. Walk together (working together, and also enjoying physical activity and exercise), eat together, talk together, discuss things together. Simple, relational activities which our society seems to have rejected, and which now it seems, is realizing are essential. Let’s seek to raise our children in simplicity and instill in them those things which have lasting value. Let’s seek God’s wisdom above all the voices of this world as we prioritise in our family lives. Let’s pray that we can hold fast to what is true, and shine like stars in this world, giving Him great honour.