God is all about the heart.
He cares about what is going on in your heart.
That is the gist of Psalm 51:6, which addresses God by saying, “You desire truth in the innermost being” (NASB). What the psalmist meant is that God desires for His love and truth to have so formed us, through our relationship with Him, that they are tucked away in the deepest, truest parts of ourselves.
Really following God can never just be a matter of memorizing a list of rules and doing our best to follow them, but must rather be a deep-seated part of our identity. Knowledge of God is of no ultimate good unless it sinks into our heart and changes the way we view and interact with the world.
When discipling our children, we can easily become obsessed with teaching the right things (indoctrination). And teaching is definitely important! But the true difference is made when truth becomes a part of the disciple’s life (conviction). Indoctrination is from the outside in; convictions are from the inside out. We must all reach a point where our knowledge of God goes from intellectual assent to holding a truth in our “innermost being.” That’s when knowledge becomes conviction.
But what does all this have to do with dinnertime discussions?
Convictions aren’t memorized; they are digested.
A sense of individual voice is essential to developing convictions because it is through articulating what we personally believe that we are able to own and live by our convictions. Dinnertime discussions were the time when I hoped to encourage this process in my children, to encourage them to use their voices to develop their own convictions.
By asking their opinions about various topics, I sought to show them that their voices mattered, that they had the ability to think well, and that their convictions would shape the way they lived. Just as God said to Isaiah, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, NASB), I wanted to prepare a table for my children to exercise their conviction capabilities.
Because we always welcomed and encouraged their opinions, our children thought discussing was as natural as breathing in oxygen. We did not seek to indoctrinate them through force, but rather asked questions and listened to their thoughts and opinions, as outlandish as they were at times. Each one was encouraged to make his or her own observations about news and life events, and we did our best to respond thoughtfully to their reflections.
Communities of discussion foster the deepening of convictions. A perfect example of this is the Inklings, the group of writers, artists, and academics who met weekly in the 1930s and 1940s to discuss ideas and projects. Perhaps the best-known members of this weekly discussion and reading group were C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Each week they would bring new writing or an idea they had encountered and discuss it over plate of hot, crispy fish and chips. The creative output of that group is almost mind-boggling, and many people believe the foundation for that prolific output was the friendship they shared. They sharpened each other’s thinking, critiqued each other’s ideas, made each other better.
I wanted my dinner table to be a place to develop my own little Inklings—a place where my children could practice stretching their minds, engaging with new ideas, building each other up—making each other better. And I think this effort was successful. In fact, one of my grown kids recently texted, “Mama, I have started an Inklings group in my apartment every week to discuss books and movies over hummus and chips. So fun to see my community of friends enjoying great discussions.” I know exactly how that feels!
I love to think of the conversations Jesus and His disciples must have had around a meal. (At least two are described in the Gospels, but of course there were many more.) The disciples clearly felt free to ask Jesus deep, sometimes silly, even offensive questions. And Jesus asked His disciples what they thought as well—perhaps because He, too, knew that convictions so often come to us once we’ve articulated our ideas for the first time.
Jesus set the model of dialogue with His disciples and showed us that there is no substitute for personal conviction. And so too should we cultivate spaces where our children can learn to voice their beliefs, question and understand ideas, and articulate their developing convictions.
The ways you learn to respect the learning process of your children, to admire their ability to think, to engage them in great ideas and thoughts will give them a chance to digest great convictions that will shape their faith for a lifetime.
The process will not be neat, controlled or pretty if authentic personalities and levels of maturity are alive. Yet, building the mental and spiritual muscle of your loved ones will build a foundation that will help them to stand firm through the storms of life.
other books mentioned in this podcast:
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