Recently I have been contemplating why it is ingrained in me that I must be quiet and respectful and look at the flag when the national anthem is played. It’s as natural for me as standing for the Hallelujah Chorus during Handel’s Messiah or for the Bride when she walks through the back door. Like a Pavlov dog, my instincts go into action, and I do not even think about my somewhat conditioned response.
Why? It was definitely my own father who had the most influence over me regarding the national anthem. I am not a sports enthusiast. However, from a young age I found myself at sports games because my older brother played every sport offered. Our family faithfully attended those games, which normally started with the national anthem. I found a way to enjoy the otherwise agonizing experience of being held prisoner to my brother’s sporting events by gravitating to my friends who were there under duress as well. We made up games of our own; we would laugh and talk throughout the quarters and rarely paid attention to the game. It was fine for me to laugh and talk and play at these games except if such behavior corresponded to the prayer or anthem. In that case my dad, who was normally completely preoccupied by the field or court and my brother, would intensely spotlight all his attention on me. He never missed a beat to speedily correct any disrespect I might have demonstrated—no matter how innocently. He made it clear that he did not want to see me not standing still, quiet and with my hand over my heart when the national anthem was played.
It became a no brainer for me. Unless I wanted to face the impact it would have on my dad, I would stand still and delay my talking, laughing, playing for the few minutes it took for the national anthem to conclude. I admit that my dad did not truly affect heart change in me. At ten years old, I didn’t really connect the standing still as showing respect to the men and women who had put their lives on the line for service to our country. I did it because I was told to do it or face the consequences. It wasn’t that hard to comply to this rule, enforced by my father, because everyone else around me was stopping and standing at attention facing the flag, too. (This reality may have dawned on me eventually had my own father not intervened.)
There came a point in my life experience where I willingly interrupted whatever conversation or experience I was enjoying at the time because the national anthem was announced. I stop and look at the flag and listen or sing the words aloud from my heart. I personally connect to the thought that my standing at attention is in part paying respect not just to my country but especially to those who have fought for my country (something I have never done). It is an honor to pay tribute to my countrymen in this way. It has become a time of prayer and awareness of what freedoms I enjoy because I live in this country. Not all countries are free to pray and worship.
I wonder if my own children have made that connection in their hearts because it is not a lesson I ever thought about teaching in an overt fashion. I don’t recall ever having to repeat the lesson my dad taught to me but that may have been because we did not attend as many sporting events. I read from young Christian fathers that they do not value the importance of respecting our national anthem and our flag in the way that I was taught. What will they teach their children? I was very proud to read that my nephew, who played just about the same amount of sports as his father, is not one of those fathers. Somehow this message has become instinctive to him.
I do consider myself fortunate to have a Christian father who taught me important lessons. I am fortunate to live in a country where disrespecting the flag is a freedom of speech and will not result in arrest but does result in disappointment of those of us who are forced to watch. I would never defend a person who chooses to disrespect our flag to protest about another injustice. My father also taught me that two wrongs do not make a right.
I am concerned from what I read that many Christian parents won’t be teaching their children to honor our nation and our service personnel by standing still and being respectful on the outside, if not the inside, for two and a half minutes any time the national anthem is played. This makes me sad. I believe Paul’s words to his son in the faith, Timothy, give an example of the importance of contributing to peace in your country by respecting cultural customs that communicate respect.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” —1 Timothy 2:1-3.
I believe it is pleasing to God our Savior when we honor cultural customs of standing still, being quiet and hopefully taking this time to pray for our leaders, to express thanksgiving as well as concerns for our country. All of the above is desperately needed in our country today. I will pray more Christian fathers see the importance of this lesson and pass it along to their children.
Coming November 1st
I’m excited to publish previous Advent Tea Time for Your Soul Devotions into a book you can use year-after-year for daily devotions for Advent and even to Epiphany. Celebrating Advent as a family developed spiritual insights and a spiritual focus in the midst of the busy Christmas season when my children were young. I continue to celebrate Advent to keep my soul peaceful at Christmas even though there are no children in my home. I discovered I need Advent for my soul more than my children. I wrote this devotion as a simple way to refocus your mind and spirit during Christmas. I’ll let you know when it is ready for purchase on Amazon. It makes a great pre-Christmas gift for friends, teachers and family! It will only be available through Amazon and the list price is $8. You will want to get your copy (or copies) before the first Sunday of Advent on December 3, 2017.