“How was school today?”
“What did you do?”
Students are back in school. My kids are at the ages that such conversations are normal.
They are adolescents. One syllable replies are developmentally appropriate.
But as a parent I hanker for more. And as someone who spends my professional life thinking about meaning and spirituality, I want to help them reflect on life.
So this fall I’m reverting back to a method I used when my kids were preschoolers.
When they were little, at the end of the day, my wife and I would snuggle with them in their beds.
We would ask, “What was the most exciting thing did you do today?” Or, “What made you happy today?”
“You’ll never guess what Eli and I did at the water table today,” might have been the answer, followed by detailed descriptions of a preschool playground engineering adventure.
The next question was, “Did anything make you feel sad?”
“I feel sorry for G,” was one day’s answer. G was my daughter’s friend. Her mother committed suicide when the girls were in kindergarten.
The third question was, “What exciting things are going to happen tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is Pirate Day.” Or, “We’re going on a field trip to the zoo.” Or, “We’re painting sunflowers tomorrow.”
And then we would follow those questions with long lists of thanks. Sometimes the thank yous were addressed to God. Sometimes they were just named and tossed out to the universe.
As years zipped by, those bedtime questions fell by the wayside.
As this school year starts, I’m trying to revive them.
Granted, the teenagers who’ve replaced the preschoolers in our house aren’t looking to be tucked in to bed. So the locations for the conversations have changed. Maybe they’re in car on the way to soccer practice. Maybe over a hurried meal before debate practice for a kid and an evening church meeting for me. Maybe the conversations happen in the bleachers between events at a track meet. But the questions are basically the same:
- What made you happy today?
- Did anything make you sad?
- What exciting things are going to happen tomorrow?
These questions are not mine. This formula is a modified version of the Daily Examen, the 16th century prayer discipline crafted by Ignatius of Loyola. In helping the other members of his religious order (the Society of Jesus or Jesuits) develop their spiritual lives, Ignatius suggested that they explore the following outline:
- Where did you see God this day?
- For what are you grateful?
- How did you feel during the day?
- Consider one feature of the day and pray from it.
- What do you anticipate for tomorrow?
My back-to-school conversation starters are a simplified version of Ignatius’ spiritual guidance tools. Hopefully they will help us remember that school – and all of life – is more than over-stuffed backpacks and over-busy days.
Timothy Tutt is a wanderer, wonderer, husband, father, laugher, liberal, Texan-by-birth, Washingtonian-by-choice (yep, DC). He is the senior minister at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda. Take a look at his blog ZenTexas.blogspot.com