We had such an interesting conversation on Sunday talking about our mealtime habits and struggles! Here are some things that came up that aren’t really covered in the book.
Tov: A Word Study
Tov is a word I use in our family when I feel like we have parented in a way that is right, pleasing to the Lord. When our children exhibit any sign that the teaching, reading, and habit training we are doing is actually orienting them toward God, it is a TOV moment in our house. Those moments are rare but they are so inspirational and affirming that I need a word to capture them besides, like, awesome or good.
I first read about Tov in Justin Earley’s The Common Rule. I was so interested in the idea that I did a internet deep dive and found this. I am going to include an excerpt from this blog post below. Caution: I “read this on the internet” so it could be totally made up. However, I have decided that it is such a useful way of acknowledging and celebrating our small successes that I am sticking with it.
“What does “good” [tov] mean? The first use of this word is in Genesis chapter one where YaHuWaH calls his handiwork “good” [tov].
Tov is an almost ludicrously small but infinitely expansive Hebrew word. Today’s native English speakers may be vaguely familiar with tov only because of hearing the Jewish/Yiddish saying “Mazel Tov”, but it’s arguably one of the richest words out there. The explosive power in tov can be felt right from the beginning.
Tov first arrives on the scene in the creation story—the first story detailed in scripture. It’s the word YaHuWaH uses to describe what YaHuWaH sees after completing various acts of creation. YaHuWaH’s use of tov in Day 3 of creation does a spectacular job of unveiling for us what tov is.
And Elohim said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the plant that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth.” And it came to be so. And the earth brought forth grass, the plant that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good [tov].” (Genesis 1:11–12)
In these two verses, there is a beautiful progression of movement: YaHuWaH calls forth the seeds he has embedded in creation, creation brings forth those seeds with the seeds of future life in them, and YaHuWaH sees the process as tov.
Metaphorically speaking, if we are trees and we drop seeds but none of them grow…no tov. If we drop seeds and some of them grow and become trees of their own but none of them have seeds of their own…no tov. The reason why the plants and trees must have seeds inside of them is so that in due time those plants and trees will drop their seeds into the earth and further the cycle of creating life and produce life.
So what would YaHuWaH call good? Anything that produces life and contains the potential for more life within it. Think of a seed becoming an orchard. Or, more practically speaking, think of a conversation or story that stirred you to bring forth life from inside of you and offer it in a way that had the potential to call forth life in another.”
My thought here is that the conversations we have over dinner and the stories we read before bed are life giving and faith forming in ways that we don’t really have a word for…..until now. Family dinner is Tov… even when it looks like this.
Earley has this reminder at the end of every chapter in The Habits of the Household.. We talked about how this is really an important caution against legalism. Legalism is the belief that the world hangs on what I do and that God and people love me based on how I preform. This is an important concept because it is the exact opposite of the Gospel. God loves us not because of what we do but, rather, in spite of what we do, in spite of our good deeds and our bad deeds. Legalism takes the unmerited love of God and bends it into something earned; and just like that, the world is about us and not about Him. It is so easy to look to ourselves instead of to God. Earley is reminding us that our habits should be a reflection for God’s love but rightly ordered habits are not a prerequisite for God’s love.
When we were talking about our families and how to encourage change in our homes the topic of marriage and communication came up. Habits of the Household has an entire chapter about marriage coming up. we will get more deeply into these idea then. For now, here are some marriage check in questions used by one of group members. They seems like really solid questions to encourage open communication and gain insights about your spouse’s perceptions.
The Habits of the Household indicates that regular family dinner is virtue training for the family. I am always talking about virtue training in parenting and home education. So I though we should take a minute to review what “virtues” we are talking about.
The first four virtues are categorized as “cardinal” virtues, which means that the other virtues depend on them. The Cardinal virtues originated with Plato and were covered by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics. The Catholic Church teaches that the cardinal virtues are acquired by education, good actions, and perseverance in struggle. I don’t know about the rest of you but dinner time at our house is constant practice at “perseverance in struggle
The last three virtues are known as theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. These virtues were added to the cardinal virtues by Thomas Aquinas. They are called “theological” virtues because they relate directly to God.
The Golden Mean
Based on Aristotle, the golden mean assumes that too much or too little of anything, whether food, sleep, or exercise, hurts the body and the right balance promotes bodily health, so excess or defect in the habits of the soul harms the moral health of the soul because “virtue stands in the middle.” Thus courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness, and generosity between stinginess and prodigality.
Dinner time at the table is a great time for parents to model adult life lived in the golden mean and a great time to gently nudge our kiddos toward the mean. So, recently, I have been trying to encourage the kids to eat rainbow carrots instead of just regular orange carrots. This is a small step toward a more varied and micronutrient rich diet for my kids. They were on the fence about the orange carrots and are really not into the rainbow carrots…at all. So, maybe this is a good time for us to all try to move toward the golden mean and respect the carrots. Maybe Mom doesn’t need to make the rainbow carrots into an idol and maybe the kids don’t need to disregard the carrots.
For advice on how to get everyone to move to the golden mean AND eat all their vegetable, join us next week! I am going to outline The Happy Dinner Table for the group. It is a total game changer.