It’s important to take time explain the faith to your kids…but how do you find the time? Take a cue from Jesus himself, and try a little “table catechesis.”
by Jerry Windley-Daoust
Here at Peanut Butter & Grace, we’re big advocates of practicing the faith with your kids, because that shared living of the faith is the best way to help them form a living friendship with God.
More formal catechesis—that is, talking about and explaining what we as a Church believe—is the next important step. If you’re like our busy family, though, finding time to make that happen is a challenge.
Typically, my wife and I set aside between half an hour and an hour to do formal catechesis with each set of kids every Sunday. (We have separate sessions for the older kids and the younger kids.) But even on a supposedly restful Sunday, it can be a challenge to clear an hour or two. Plus, it’s difficult to cover everything we want to talk about in just 30 to 60 minutes a week. Is there another way to make time for some “family catechesis”?
Why, yes! Yes, there is!
Table Catechesis: Feeding Body and Soul
In a recent article, Tracy Smith shared with us her family’s “couch catechism” strategy, which inspired me to wonder: Why not “table catechesis”—talking about faith over food? After all, this was one of Jesus’ favorite settings for teaching. If it worked for Jesus, could it work for us?
Now, this approach assumes that your family is sitting down to eat together at least once a week, which is a challenge for many families these days. As you’ve probably heard, a ton of research points to the importance of shared family meals, so it’s a good goal to strive for…but if it’s not in the cards for your family, think about how you might adapt this approach to other settings.
The basic idea of table catechesis is to have a simple conversation with your kids about a single concept from the faith. “Simple conversation about a single concept” means:
- Parents aren’t lecturing or holding forth…we’re having a back-and-forth conversation in which kids get to ask questions, share ideas, and probably run off on some wild tangent that’s more interesting to them.
- We’re not trying to cover an entire chapter of the catechism, nor are we trying to exhaust an entire truth of the faith in one sitting. The point of making this a regular dinner table habit is that these conversations unfold over years…you’ll get back to the most important concepts again and again.
- We’re not too terribly attached to how the conversation goes. Sometimes family meals are a disaster; other times, they’re great. If we’re too anxious about achieving our own agenda, this practice will be too stressful—and stressful faith practices never become family habits. Instead, think of these conversations as proposing a question or a very short (less than a minute) teaching about the faith, and then sitting back to see what happens. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to take you to unexpected places!
One last general suggestion: Dinnertime is often the worst time of day for little kids. They’re tired, and tired little kids just don’t have the resources to regulate their behavior. If you have littles, you might have more success with table catechesis at breakfast or lunch…or have your family dinner together, then do a little table catechesis with your older kids afterward, over a (secret) desert or treat.
With those basic principles in mind, here’s a step-by-step outline of how to do table catechesis. Obviously, adapt this to your own family situation as needed:
1. Start your meal with thirty seconds of silence and a prayer
I can’t recommend thirty seconds of silence enough as a transition into a saner mealtime. It’s amazing how much this intentional period of silence de-escalates the chaos and noise in our house (and our hearts).
Looking for a new mealtime prayer? Xavier University has a variety of cool mealtime prayers on its website.
2. Pass the food
Jesus always made sure people were fed—which is smart, because people whose bodies are hungry aren’t going to be very receptive to having their souls fed. Rather than jumping right in, leave the first few minutes for passing food and taking the edge off everyone’s hunger.
3. Propose a basic faith question or topic
Throw out a basic faith question or topic. I’m using the word “basic” intentionally here for two reasons. First, the basic concepts of the faith tend to be more concrete and relatable to kids’ everyday lives, and younger kids especially do better with concrete concepts. And second, focusing on the basics of the faith ensures that our kids, by the time they grow up, understand the faith well enough to practice it, and continue growing in it.
Depending on your own understanding of the topic, you may need to do a little advance research. Or, if your kids raise questions you can’t readily answer, you might do a little research after your meal, and follow up at the next meal.
If you think your kids already know (or should know) something about the topic, throw out a question: “Who knows what sin is?” “What did Jesus say is the most important commandment?” “What’s grace?”
If you’re introducing a concept for the first time, propose the topic in a very brief way—and then see where the conversation goes. Rather than using the language of the Catechism to frame the topic, try proposing it in a novel or intriguing way: “Did you know that everyone sins? Even moms and dads…even the pope! … Sin is when you say ‘no’ to God in what you do or what you say or think….” “Hey guys, I want to share this good news with you! It’s about grace. Grace means that God still loves us, even when we sin, and helps us turn away from sin…”
4. See where the conversation goes
This is a casual dinner table conversation, not a graduate-level theology seminar. After you’ve asked your question or proposed an idea about the faith, see where your kids take it…and be open to going with the flow. It might just be the Holy Spirit at work.
For example, our youngest child is particularly good at diverting our faith discussions into side topics—a discussion about the role of the pope might get interrupted by a question about why he wears that funny hat. In our more formal Sunday catechesis, we might steer him back on track more quickly. But during table catechesis, we feel more free to answer that question and see where it leads. Sometimes we’re surprised at how the conversation ends up producing significant insights from our kids.
What can you talk about during table catechesis? Here are some starter suggestions, framed as questions that your kids should be able to answer fairly well by their teenage years:
- What is sin?
- What is grace?
- Why were the Israelites special to God?
- Who is Jesus?
- Who is the Holy Spirit?
- Who are the angels?
- What happens to us after we die?
- What is heaven?
- What is hell?
- What is the Church?
- Why do we have sacraments?
You get the idea.
Over the coming months here at Peanut Butter & Grace, we’ll be proposing some topics for table catechesis, including kid-friendly talking points. In the meantime, if you try table catechesis in your home, drop us a line to let us know how it’s going, or leave a comment so that others can learn from your experience.