Few things are more important in a home than its conversation, yet there are few things to which less deliberate thought is given. We take great pains to have our house well-furnished. We select our carpets and pictures with the utmost care. We educate our children so that they may become intelligent. We strive to bring into our homes the best conditions of happiness. But how often is the speech of the household left untrained and undisciplined?
The good we might do in our homes with our tongues, if we would use them to the limit of their capacity of cheer and helpfulness, is simply impossible to state. It is evident that in most homes, the best possible results from the gift of speech are not attained. Why should so much power for blessing be wasted? And why should we ever pervert these gifts and use our tongues to do evil, to give pain, and to scatter seeds of bitterness? It is a sad thing when a child is born without the ability to speak; but it would be better far to be born without the gift of speech than to have that gift and employ it in speaking only sharp, unloving, or angry words.
In all places and at all times, our words should be well chosen, and they should be full of the pure and gentle spirit of Christ; but there are many reasons why the home conversation, in particular, should be loving. Home is the place for warmth and tenderness; it should be made the brightest and sweetest spot on earth to those who dwell within its walls. We should all carry there our very best moods, tempers, and dispositions. Especially by our speech, we should seek to contribute to the enrichment of the home-life, helping to make it elevating and refining and ennobling in its influence in every way.
Home should inspire every tongue to speak its most loving words; yet in many families, there is a great dearth of kind speech. In some cases, there is no conversation at all worthy of the name; there are no affectionate greetings in the morning, or hearty good-nights at parting when the evening closes; the meals are eaten in silence; there are no bright fireside chats over the events and incidents of the day. Someone from the outside might mistake the home for a hotel where strangers were together only for a passing night. In other cases, it would be even better if silence did reign; for there are words of miserable strife and shameful quarreling heard from day to day! Husband and wife, who vowed at the marriage-altar to cherish each other until death, keep up an incessant petty strife of words. Parents – who are commanded in the Holy Word to not provoke their children to wrath, lest they be discouraged; but to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord – scarcely ever speak to them gently and in tenderness. They seem to imagine that they are not governing their children unless they are perpetually scolding them. They fly into a rage against them at the smallest irritation. They issue their commands to them in words and tones which would better suit the despot of a savage tribe, rather than the head of a Christian household. It is not strange that under such “nurture,” the children – instead of dwelling together in unity and with loving speech – only wrangle and quarrel, and speak only bitter words in their interactions with one another.
There are many homes of just this type. Prayer is offered morning and evening in some of these families, and it only makes the truth the sadder; for it is mockery for the members of a household to rise together from their knees after morning devotion, only to begin another day of strife and bitterness!
Nothing in the home life needs to be more carefully watched and more diligently cultivated than the conversation; it should be filled with the spirit of love. No bitter word should ever be spoken!
The talk of husband and wife, in their companionship together, should always be tender. Anger in word, or even in tone, should never be allowed! Chiding and fault-finding should never be permitted to mar the sacredness of their speech! The warmth and tenderness of their hearts should flow out in every word that they utter to each other. As parents, too, in their interaction with their children, they should never speak except in words of Christ-like gentleness. It is a fatal mistake to suppose that children’s lives can grow up into beauty in the midst of an atmosphere of strife! Harsh, angry words are to their sensitive souls what frosts are to delicate flowers. To bring them up in the nurture of the Lord is to bring them up as Christ Himself would do – and surely that would be with infinite tenderness. It is impossible to estimate the blessed influence of loving speech, day after day and month after month. It is like the falling of warm spring rain and sunshine on the garden. Beauty and sweetness of character will flow out from such a home.
But home conversation needs more than love to give it its best influence; it ought to be enriched by thought. The Savior’s warning against idle words should be remembered. Every wise-hearted parent will seek to train his household to converse on subjects which will yield instruction, or tend toward spiritual and moral refinement. The kitchen table provides an excellent opportunity for this kind of education. Three times each day the family gathers there, and it is a place for cheerfulness. Simply on the grounds of health, meals should never be eaten in silence. Bright, cheerful conversation is an excellent sauce and a prime aid to digestion. If it prolongs the meal, and thus appears to take too much time out of the busy day; it will, in the end, add to the years by increased healthfulness and lengthened life. In any case, however, something is due to spiritual and moral refinement; and still more is due to the culture of one’s home-life.
The kitchen table should be made the center of the social life of the household. All should appear there at their best and brightest, and gloom should be banished. The conversation should be sprightly and sparkling; it should consist of something besides dull and threadbare commonplaces. The idle gossip of the street is not a worthy theme for such holy moments. The conversation of the table should be of interest to all the members of the family, hence it should vary to suit the age and intelligence of those who form the family circle. The events and occurrences of each day may profitably be spoken of and discussed; and now that the daily newspaper contains so full and faithful a summary of the world’s doings and happenings, this is easy. Each one may mention the event which has particularly impressed him in reading or in discussion. Bits of refined humor should always be welcome; and all wearisome, dull, uninteresting discussions should be avoided.
Table-talk may be enriched – and at the same time, the education of all the members of the family may be advanced – by bringing out at least one new fact at each meal, to be added to the common fund of knowledge. Suppose there are two or three children at the table, varying in their ages from 5 to 12. Let the father or the mother have some particular subject to introduce during the meal, which will be both interesting and profitable to the younger members of the family. It may be some historical incident, or some scientific fact, or an event in the life of some distinguished person. The subject should not be above the capacity of the younger people, for whose special benefit it is introduced; nor should the conversation be over-weighted by attempting too much at one time.
One single fact clearly presented and firmly impressed, so as to be remembered, is better than whole chapters of information poured out in a confused jargon upon minds that will not be able to recall any part of it tomorrow. A little thought will show the rich benefits of a system like this, if it is faithfully followed through a series of years. If only one fact is presented at every meal, there will be a thousand things taught to the children in a year! If the subjects are wisely chosen, the fund of knowledge communicated in this way will be of considerable value. A whole system of education lies in this suggestion; for besides the communication of important knowledge, the habit of mental activity is stimulated, interest is awakened in lines of study and research which may afterwards be followed out, tastes are improved, and the effect upon the family life is elevating and refining!
It may be objected that such a system of table-talk could not be conducted without much thought, study, and preparation on the part of parents. But once the habit is formed, and the plan properly introduced, it will be found comparatively easy for parents of ordinary intelligence to maintain it. Books are now prepared in great numbers, giving important facts in small pages. There are also encyclopedias and dictionaries of various kinds. A wise use of scissors and paste will keep scrapbooks well filled with materials which can readily be made available. It will be necessary to think and plan for such a system, to choose the topics in advance, and to become familiar with the facts. But this work might be shared by both parents, and thus be easy for both. And the fact that it will cost time and thought and labor ought not to be an objection, for is it not worth almost any cost to secure the benefits and advantages which would result from such a system of home instruction?
These are only hints of the almost infinite possibilities of good which lie in the home conversation. Unfortunately, so little is enjoyed in most cases, when so much is possible; and this is one of the saddest things about our current life. It may be that these suggestions shall stimulate in some families, at least, an earnest search after something better than they have found so far in their haphazard and aimless conversational habits. Surely there should be no home in which – amidst all the light talk that flies from busy tongues – time is not found every day in which to say at least one word that shall be instructive, suggestive, elevating, or in some way helpful.
In what ways might your family’s daily conversation – especially around the kitchen table – be beautified more with love, tenderness, and the spirit of the Lord Jesus?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this article! Feel free to leave your reflections and ask your questions below.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for our King’s glory,
photo by Brayden Heath | Lightstock.com
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on my website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.