Singing with Your Kids
“Are you going Roman on me, boy?” This was my reply upon hearing my son sing “By invocation of the saints,” not “the same” as the song nicknamed St. Patrick’s Breastplate (I Bind unto Myself Today, Cantus Christi 581) actually goes.
The real verse reads
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
We don’t call upon the saints but trust in the name of the Triune God. I corrected my son’s error and in all kindness.
It’s our habit to sing St. Patrick’s on the way to school each day. We want the Lord’s blessing upon us as we interact with His creation. When we encounter bad ideas and bad people, we want Christ’s protection from all that assaults us body and soul. St. Patrick’s helps us spiritually center our day and its rich words and jaunty tune help focus the mind for learning and the body for discipline.
Our culture is a musical one without actually doing much of the music making itself. We have songs that captivate and define us; songs that are cultural reference points in our conversation. There are songs that are part of the cultural milieu, to cite a fancy word. And with iTunes and Spotify at the ready, we are as wealthy as an ancient king who could call up singers at will if he wanted tunes. Doug Wilson has occasionally asked, which Roman emperor would not have considered it the height of luxury to have a band of musicians right there in your chariot? And yet, isn’t that exactly what we have? Favorite tunes on the go.
The problem with so great a blessing is that we tend to leave the music making to others, to those who do it better than we. We don’t practice music amongst ourselves. But our musical passivity condemns us when faced with the command to come before the Lord with singing (Psalm 100:2). In a sense we’re supposed to enter church with a song already on our lips (verse 4). How ready are we to praise the Lord on Sunday?
All this is intended as an exhortation to sing more, and especially to sing with our kids. We ought to come to church with a readiness to praise, ready to do the work ourselves, not leaving it to others. We want our kids to be mighty worshippers, but to do this takes practice.
Here are some practical ideas to help families practice for worship and singing.
- Identify your family’s spiritual goals and consider how songs fit within them. We use catechisms as a simple, point upon point way of teaching doctrine. The Church’s song repertoire is like a musical catechism in which the truths of the Faith coalesce summarily in song form. Most songs are short, being only a few verses long. Start developing a “musical catechesis” with songs you already know pretty well. Sing them often enough that the least among you can know and recognize them. If they are babies, sing particular songs enough so that their eyes brighten, they coo, and bob up and down to the song.
- Consider singing as way of teaching the commands of God to your kids through the back door. Deuteronomy 6:7 prescribes an ongoing, daily discussion of God’s commands both in and out of the home. Use song to form religious affections in your kids. Invoke God’s blessing on the day by singing on your way to school. Prepare the kids for sleep by singing about God’s protection in the night. Instead of saying grace in prayer form, thank God for the food with a song.
- Do not fear singing songs incorrectly or off key. Singing gets better with practice. If you started Amazing Grace too high or too low, start again and adjust it. If your wife or a child has a better ear than you, have her or him start the song.
- Complement your family devotions with a little singing. Think of Bible-reading time as a mini, informal worship service. Read, expound, discuss, pray together and sing a song. I you don’t have hymnal, find songs online or just sing from memory. Reuse/re-sing the songs you sang Sunday morning at church.
- Practice new songs as a family. If you encounter a new song at church, practice that song at home. Our church has a hymn of the month. Practice these at home. If your community works on learning new songs, add them to your mix of family songs.
Worship is the pinnacle of our week and we ought to consider ways in which we can be all the more ready to gather together. If your kids are little, they’re not able to interact with the elements of the service very much. Look for ways to equip them to meet with God meaningfully. A habit of singing hymns at home helps them engage better in worship. Rejoicing before the Lord in song facilitates joyful and thankful kids that turn quickly to God both in adversity and in times of blessing.