The car didn’t start after going through the car wash on Friday afternoon.
We had just arrived in Huntsville, Alabama, after driving about 20 hours, a little more than 1,100 miles, from South Lancaster, Massachusetts. We were in Huntsville to attend a relative’s graduation from Oakwood University. Of course, I (Elaine) needed to stop at the mall to pick up a few things before Sabbath. And I (Willie) needed to get the car washed before Sabbath. Jessica and Julian, our children, were 6 and 3 years of age, respectively, and decided to stay with me (Willie) as we made our way to the closest car wash.
It was one of those car wash places where one drives in, turns off the engine, and gets out of the car, which then moves automatically through the wash. Jessica, Julian, and I watched our car through the big glass window as the suds and pressurized water performed a remarkable transformation. Once our automobile had gone through the wash and the dryers, we got back in it, ready to pick up Mom from the mall.
I turned the key in the ignition, but the engine did not fire. After trying three times unsuccessfully, Jessica spoke up from the back seat: “Daddy, the car isn’t starting.”
Spirituality is more often caught than taught.
“Yes, Jessica,” I said.
“Daddy,” Jessica said again.
“Yes, Jessica,” I answered.
“Can we pray?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said. “Would you like to pray?”
“OK, Daddy.” Then she prayed one of the most beautiful prayers: “Dear Jesus, please help Daddy to start the car, so we can get Mommy from the mall so she won’t be afraid. Amen.”
“Amen,” Julian and I reprised.
I turned the key in the ignition, and the car engine roared to life.
Listen to Moses as he shares this vibrant, distinct, unequivocal, and clear command from God with the children of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your srength. 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9).
This passage of Scripture, known as the Shema since Old Testament times, was the prayer every observant Hebrew knew by memory and recited twice a day, morning and evening, as part of their daily family worship. It was considered the essence of the revealed will of God.
These were, however, more than just words. They described the reality of God and helped children of God understand what God expected them to do to be in right relationship with Him. Most important, beyond the clear commands related to seeking God was the urgent reminder to impart such learning with one’s children.
Intentional repetition of God’s love and our response to that love was part of the divine strategy. The text is descriptive to a fault. The activity of sharing faith with one’s children was to take place over and over: when talking casually with them, when walking with them, when getting ready for the night’s rest, and when rising up in the morning. Passing on the values of God’s love, care, and provision to one’s children was essentially to be a full-time activity, an all-encompassing obsession.
Referencing the responsibility of parents to share their faith with their children, Ellen White offers this insight: “Our work for Christ is to begin with the family, in the home. . . . There is no missionary field more important than this.”*
Our family has not been perfect. The truth is, there are no perfect families because there are no perfect people. However, before our children were born, we committed to share God’s love with them. And since spirituality is more often caught than taught, it’s the way we live each day that will most influence our children’s lives.
That Friday afternoon at the car wash in Huntsville, dramatized as only God can, the values we had shared with our children in the course of everyday living were coming back to bless us when we least expected it.
Our hope is that parents, guardians, and others who are significant in the lives of children will purpose in their hearts to be intentional about passing on a faith in God that is vibrant and relevant. More than hope, however, we pray so.
* Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 35.
Elaine and Willie Oliver team-lead the Family Ministries Department at the General Conference and live in Maryland.