by Steve Watters
I learned a big chunk of life while riding along in vehicles with my parents. Our blue and brown Pinto station wagon was a rolling classroom of sorts for me and my brothers as our parents drove along the country roads surrounding our hometown in Washington, NC, including the 10 mile stretch into town and the 20 mile trek to church. Whether it was our full-spirited family conversations or the many times that my brothers and I would just listen in on our parents talking, we were a captive audience to observations about life, work, challenges, relationships, and faith.
And then there was the green 1973 Dodge pickup truck that Dad would take us in for various work projects and errands. As a pastor, a small-scale farmer, a hunter, a former Eagle Scout, and a former rock band lead, he had fascinating stories to tell and he always seemed eager to fill my brothers and me in on our family heritage and our developing role in it, especially our spiritual heritage.
Sometimes I think about those rides with my parents when my family is out and about in our Toyota Sienna. And I consider what our kids are learning from our time together in our rolling classroom. This weighs on me increasingly as I think about the Deuteronomy 6 call to teach my children, talking about the Lord’s commands “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise.” Just as it was with my parents, our “walking by the way” happens in a vehicle, and that is a significant setting for which we are accountable for shaping our children’s knowledge of the Lord.
That struck us a couple of years ago when were driving to Arkansas for a family camp. As we rolled down I-40, Churchill, who was 5 at the time, piped up with a question about a word that was new to him from the audiobook we were playing. “Mom, Dad, what’s baptism?” he asked. We weren’t planning a conversation on baptism for that trip, but we realized this was a prime “when you walk by the way” opportunity and so we paused the audiobook and made an effort to explain baptism to a kindergartner.
As we thought about that unexpected conversation, it dawned on me that Churchill’s question could have been quite different. It’s so easy to offer up music, movies and games to our kids in today’s media-packed vehicles in order to buy moments of peace, and also so easy to slide in paying attention to what exactly they are observing in their rolling classroom. “You know,” I said to Candice at the time, “we could have easily drifted in our van-time media options, and Churchill’s question could have been, ‘Mom, Dad, what’s a butthead?'”
It challenged us to think about how we view our time in the vehicle–especially in a day when entertainment options make it possible for families to spend endless miles on the road together with only limited conversation about snacks and bathroom breaks. What’s happening to parents’ ‘along the way’ opportunities as children’s media fills up our minivans?
This challenge has motivated us to be more intentional about making conversation and asking questions that can spark discussions. Even the lightest of questions, such as “What summer activities are you looking forward to?” can keep conversation flowing and can make it more natural to weave in discussions about thanking God for His provisions or trusting Christ in the face of various challenges.
We’ve also found that a little creativity with our media options can give us some stretches of concentrated engagement, and also spark good conversations–especially when we all listen to them together as we typically try to do. Some of our favorites are:
We anticipate at least a thousand or so more hours of driving time with our kids over the next few years. Alongside the thousands of hours we have with them around meals and at bedtime, we have plenty of opportunities to be faithful to Deuteronomy 6:7. We pray we won’t waste those hours, especially the time that can so easily get lost “along the way” in our rolling classroom.
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