Bob: Do you hate small talk as much as I do? Barbara Rainey has come up with some questions that you can ask one another, this year at the Thanksgiving table—that may raise the level of the conversation around the dinner table.
Barbara: All of us have a story—a life story. Yet, to sit down and say, “Tell me your life story,” well, that’s overwhelming. We’re not going to do that with people, but these questions invite those, who are seated around your table, to share a piece of their story. You get to know one another. I think that’s what we all long for in this crazy, fast-paced culture. We want to have deep, meaningful relationships.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today forTuesday, October 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how to stamp out small talk and have some deeper conversations this year during the holidays. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve had conversations with our kids over the years. They’re a little anxious sometimes about having friends come over and have a meal at our house. Part of the reason why is because our dinner table conversation—[Laughter] it can get—when the whole family is together—dinner table conversation can get kind of fast and furious. It’s almost—I don’t know what it is.
Dennis: Does it get weighty?—because you like a little intellectual stimulation.
Bob: Sometimes, it gets weighty. Let me just tell this story; okay? When our daughter, Amy—she had met a young man, while they were both working overseas. It turns out, a year later—he’s at our house for dinner. There is some interest on Amy’s part.
We are having our first meal together, around the table. I turned to him; and I said, “So Jack, share with us just, maybe, what has been a spiritual highlight in your life—just something you’d look back on and say, ‘This has been….‘” Well, the kids were all going to put their heads on the table and just roll their eyes.
Barbara: Did they groan?
Bob: Oh, even today, this is kind of a family joke. Whenever we’re at a meal, they’ll say, “So, Dad, do you want to ask anybody about a spiritual highlight in their life?” They will just not let me go, [Laughter] but I was trying, in this moment—
Dennis: Yes. Of course, you were trying to make conversation.
Bob: —I was trying to make the conversation about something more important than just, “What kind of car do you drive?”
Dennis: Yes. I get it. I’ve asked some of those questions.
Bob: And do your kids roll their eyes, too?
Barbara: Do you want to tell your story about the question that you ask that gets the eye-roll now?
Dennis: Maybe, you need to refresh my memory.
Barbara: Well, it was when our daughter was dating someone. We met him and went out to lunch or something. You said,
“So,”—whatever his name was—“tell me—what’s your worldview?” [Laughter]
Barbara: “Tell me about your worldview.” Our daughter just went, “O-h-h-h gosh!” She just died. She acted like she’d been stabbed.
Dennis: So, your question is a much safer question.
Bob: Spiritual highlight—
Dennis: Worldview—I mean—
Barbara: Oh, our kids would have rolled their eyes at spiritual highlight, too.
Dennis: They would have rolled their eyes at that, too; but mine was much tougher because any of these young men didn’t know what a worldview was. [Laughter]
Bob: Maybe, they didn’t have one yet.
Dennis: Well, “Are you talking about where I’m looking at the world from right now?” “What are you speaking of?” I was just trying to get to know, “Where are you coming at life from?”
Bob: I just want to publicly thank you, Barbara, for creating something that may bail me out from my dinner table conversation because we’ve been talking this week about some of the resources you have been developing for families—here at FamilyLife. One of them is a resource that’s called Untie Your Story; right?
Bob: Explain to listeners exactly what this is.
Barbara: Untie Your Story is a spool of ribbon—which people will go, “So, tell me about that.” Dennis has it in his hand. You can hear the paper crinkling. It’s a large spool, and it is wrapped with ribbon; but it’s a muslin ribbon. On that ribbon are printed 12 questions. It will help a parent like you, Bob, who wants to be intentional at your dinner conversation without you having to be the bad guy and ask the questions.
The idea is—these are designed for Thanksgiving Day, or Thanksgiving week, or whenever you might want to use them—but you open the package, unroll the ribbon off of the spool, and cut as many questions as you need. If you have only four people at your table, you cut four lengths of ribbon—tie it around your napkin—one at each place.
Then, as you begin to have your meal together, you, as the hostess or the host, would say: “I would like for all of us to read the question on your ribbon. Let’s talk about what the questions are.” They are basically questions that are all focused on gratitude, but they are personal. Most of them are pretty easy to answer; but it’s like: “Tell a story of one time when you were grateful and why,” “Name five things, that you can see from where you’re sitting right now, that you’re grateful for.”
They’re the kinds of things that a five-year-old can answer, or a ten-year-old can answer, or Grandma Peterson, who’s 85. She could answer the question, too.
Dennis: It’s a lot better than a spiritual highlight question. [Laughter]
Bob: Or a worldview. You’re not going to nail me on this—I’ve got you on the same thing.
Dennis: And here’s the thing—you can use these questions to start your meal, while the meal’s being prepared, or you could use it at the end of the meal, as kind of a preparation for dessert.
The idea is—it really gives a group of family members a chance to kind of know what people are thinking around, really, one of the great holidays that Americans have the privilege of celebrating.
Bob: I was at your house for a dinner, where you decided you’d test this out. At the end of dinner, we all got to pull our napkin holder out and read our question. No matter what the question was, I think everybody felt comfortable answering it. It made for some meaningful conversation.
Barbara: Yes. It’s not just meaningful conversation—which is why I like the title—because it really is a way for us to get to know something about somebody else’s story. All of us have a story—a life story. Yet, to sit down and say, “Tell me your life story”—well, that’s overwhelming. We’re not going to do that with people; but these questions invite, those who are seated around your table—and again, it doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving because we did this in June—the dinner you’re referring to. It invites people to share a piece of their story, and so you get to know one another.
I think that’s what we all long for in this crazy, fast-paced culture. We want to have deep meaningful relationships. The easiest time to think about that is during holidays, or a birthday dinner, or some kind of memorable event. We want so much to connect. We want so much for it to be meaningful—for it to be memorable—but we don’t know how to get there unless you try to ask a question about your spiritual highlight—
Bob: —or your worldview.
Barbara: --which blows up in your face! [Laughter]
Bob: I’m curious about that, as well, because I’m imagining—if we were doing this with a room full of young children and teenagers—I can still imagine some eye-rolling at the question—just the fact that, “You’re making me answer a question.” Kids don’t like that.
Barbara: Sure, you’re going to get that.
Bob: You just persevere through that?
Barbara: Yes; because, you know, as a parent, that this is going to be valuable. You know, as a parent, that, in the end, they are going to be glad they did it.
They won’t say, “Thank you.” They’ll never say, “I’m glad we did this;” but they will be glad.
Bob: They may razz you about it for years to come.
Barbara: Exactly, but they’ll be glad they did it because you made an effort to do something meaningful. Kids recognize that. They won’t be able to articulate it, but they’ll recognize that you made an effort for everyone to connect at a deeper level. I think it’s just intuitive that they’re going to appreciate that.
Dennis: I think there are a lot of listeners, right now, that are going: “Yes, you guys are talking about getting together with teenagers or younger kids and doing this; but for our Thanksgiving, we have extended family members who come. We don’t talk about anything of any depth—of any kind of transparency—at our table.”
Dennis: That really leads me to a story about a friend of mine who began to describe, really, a civil war that was occurring in his family between him and his dad.
His dad was—I don’t know—in his late 70s / maybe, early 80s. It had been going on for years. All the holidays represented, for him, was another chapter in the civil war. It was not going to be pleasant.
He shared with me that his father and mom were coming over to this guy’s house for Father’s Day. He was expecting this war to continue. I said: “I have an idea for you. Barbara has created these questions, called Untie Your Story—that you can use for Father’s Day. Why don’t you go around the table and answer these questions? Then, at the end of that, talk about what you really like best about your dad. Have everybody, after they’ve gone through these questions one time around, to then go around the table a second time, and just talk about him, and what they appreciate about him.”
I left the idea with him. I had no idea whether it had actually been executed or not.
I called him up. He said: “We just had the best Father’s Day dinner we’ve ever had with my dad. He loved the questions that Barbara had in Untie Your Story. He really loved it when everybody went around the table and said what they appreciated about him.”
Families are families. We irritate each other all the way from the start to the finish. Here’s a way you can take some of the edge off of a Thanksgiving holiday celebration and really allow your family to come together in a meaningful way—in a transparent way—talking about what you are most grateful for.
Bob: One of the awkward things at holiday meals is often having family members come in—be a part of the meal—who don’t share your values.
Bob: They are coming from a different place, spiritually. So, you don’t want to talk about things that are too meaningful because pretty soon there will be a war breaking out because you don’t believe the same things.
These questions in Untie Your Story allow a family to focus on things that aren’t going to create disagreement but are still going to take you beneath the surface; right?
Barbara: Yes, I agree. I think that gratitude is a pretty safe topic because everybody knows that we have a lot to be grateful for. It’s a pretty inviting—it’s a pretty safe topic to talk about gratitude and what we’re thankful for. I think that’s why it works. I think that’s why it works beyond Thanksgiving, too, because gratitude isn’t just for November and Thanksgiving. It’s something that we should practice every day, throughout the year. It’s good for us to focus on what we have.
Bob: How did you decide what 12 questions because I know you came up with more than 12 questions?
Barbara: We actually had 25. [Laughter] We couldn’t afford to print that much ribbon and put it on the spool. So, we cut it to 12. We’re hoping that we’ll have Volume Two next year because we have more—
Bob: But how did you pick the ones—I mean, what makes a good question?
Barbara: The kinds of questions that we asked are ones that people have to think about a little bit. So, it’s not an easy-answer question. It requires a little bit of thinking—like the question that I mentioned earlier, “Name five things, that you can see from where you’re sitting, that you’re thankful for.” Well, that takes a little bit of thought. So, when you have to process it a little, I think you get to know somebody a little bit more.
What one person picks—that they can see from where they’re sitting—will be completely different. If you use that one question, all the way around the table, you’d get that many different answers.
Bob: If somebody wants the easy way out and says: “I just see my five family members. I’m thankful for all of you,” and they’re done. Do you force a little more out of them, or do you just let it be?”
Barbara: I think it depends on who it is! [Laughter] I think it depends on who it is. Probably, you just let it be. Everybody sees, and everybody knows. You go on to the next person.
Bob: But some of these questions are designed to probe into stories to—as you—it’s called Untie Your Story—
you’re asking people to share occasions when they felt particularly grateful or share aspects of their lives that—you could be brothers, or sisters, or husbands and wives—and go, “I’ve never known that about you.”
Barbara: And not know—exactly. One of the questions reads something like this—and I don’t have it right in front of me—but it reads something like: “Name something that you pray for that you didn’t get an answer for—for a long time. Now, years later, you know why God said, ‘No.’” That’s not an easy question to answer. There are different complexities in some of the questions; but they’re intended to be revealing about your life, and what’s important in your heart, and who you are as a person.
Dennis: I think that’s something about Thanksgiving, that is unique to that holiday—that we can move on by—is Thanksgiving really forces us, if we’ll use it constructively, to express appreciation to people, and admiration, and encouragement to them for being a part of our family.
I know there was one Thanksgiving that Barbara and I went through together where, by the time we came to Thanksgiving, she was in need of saying something to our family that was very unique.
Barbara: Well, that particular Thanksgiving was the culmination, for me, of some soul-searching, and some heart-searching, and some work that God had done in my life. As a parent, one of the things that I struggled with a lot, especially when our kids were junior-high and early high school years, was I really struggled with being angry over things that they didn’t—particularly, over when they didn’t obey.
I had realized that—not only was it not good for the kids—and I knew all along, it wasn’t good for the kids—to get angry. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to—that was a given——but I also realized, I think at a level that I hadn’t before, that it was really hurtful to the heart of God, and that God really wasn’t pleased, and that He was able to give me victory over that.
There just didn’t seem to be an appropriate, “Oh, by the way, let me talk to you about what God is teaching me,” kind of a moment in the normal course of family life. So, I decided that on that Thanksgiving, before we did dinner together—and this is just our immediate nuclear family—that I wanted to sit them down and talk to them about what God had been teaching me—that my heart was repentant, that my heart was broken, and that I was truly sorry for the ways that I had failed them, as a parent.
I had written out what I wanted to say because I was afraid I wouldn’t say everything I wanted to say without writing it out. I read them what I had written. I don’t think they really got it. I don’t think—especially the younger ones—I think they couldn’t figure out what was going on, actually. But it didn’t really matter. I just wanted them to hear their mom say that: “I’m sorry,” and, “My desire is to please God.
My desire is not to hurt you or offend you.” I wanted them to hear some of what I had learned. It was an intentional thing to do.
I think that’s why I’m creating a lot of the things that I’m creating for families because I think it’s so easy to blow by those moments—when you need to be real with your kids, and when you need to tell them what you’re learning, or what’s on your heart, or when you need to genuinely repent, or when you need to really celebrate that your child has made a great decision, or when your parents come over, or your extended family—and you really want to make a meaningful memory together.
Untie Your Story is a great way to intentionally help people be real. I think that’s a part of the reason why I want to help families do that, and do it better, and do it easier.
Dennis: [Emotion in voice] I hate to disagree with my wife, but I think our kids got it. It was a powerful, emotional moment. You were down on your knees, asking them to forgive you. I was really proud of Barbara for taking a besetting sin—something that she’d been struggling with for many of the years as we raised our kids—and to look at those she had sinned against and really attempt to square things away. It was a milestone. It really was a milestone in our family because things did change after that. It’s not that she became perfectly patient—
Dennis: --and never had another problem with anger; but it’s interesting how God used the Thanksgiving holiday to strip away the veneer—to get to the issue.
Barbara: It reminds me of the verse in James, Chapter 5—I think it’s 16—where he encourages us to confess your sins to one another that you may be healed.
I really do agree with you—that I think that is a part of what took place. I think there was a measure of healing. As you say, it wasn’t perfect after that. It’s not like I never got angry again because I did; but it was much less, and there really was a difference.
I think it’s something that families need to do more—we need to have those intentional moments—whether it’s to celebrate, or whether it’s to repent. Whatever it is—it’s what we long for in our families—is to connect on a meaningful level. We have to be intentional for that to happen. It won’t happen naturally.
Dennis: No. You have to ask a question like Bob asked his family.
Barbara: Even if they roll their eyes.
Dennis: Even if they roll their eyes.
Bob: None of your dozen questions on Untie Your Story are: “Do you have any sin you need to confess to the rest of the family?”
Barbara: No. No, no, no, no, no.
Dennis: No, none of it is necessarily going to be used to take you in that direction; but I think it’s interesting how this holiday of giving thanks—because it is said that praise is the language of heaven—
that is what the angels are doing, right now, in heaven. They are praising God. They’re giving thanks to Him. It’s one of the most difficult things, I think, we have to do is to express a heart of gratitude on an ongoing basis.
Personally, for a family, I don’t think there’s a better day on the calendar to be able to grab hold of this thing called gratefulness and lay aside the bickering, and complaining, and griping, and to appreciate one another, and to express your gratitude to God.
Bob: I can imagine a frugal mom, who would say: “Well, just send me the list of 12 questions. I’ll cut them into pieces of paper and put them on the plate. We’ll handle it that way.”
Barbara: Well, you can do that.
Bob: Why did you do it this way?
Barbara: Because I think this is a way to kind of bump up the feel—there’s a little bit of elegance there. It’s just muslin, and it’s frayed. They can be washed and reused. You can hand wash them, and iron them, and reuse them over and over again.
But I think we’ve gotten so casual. There’s something about something that’s tangible—that feels good. You wrap it around a napkin—even if it’s a paper napkin.
It just elevates the feel. It just adds a little touch of class—a little touch of elegance to a holiday. It’s designed for a holiday.
Bob: Again, if folks are interested in seeing what you put together—not just this resource—but all of the resources you’ve been working on for the Thanksgiving holiday, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link there for Ever Thine Home™. There is information there about the Gathered Roundmetal wreath, about the Untie Your Story, about something we’re going to talk about, later this week, that you call Written and Remembered.
Again, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com. This is something you really need to see to better understand. FamilyLifeToday.com is our website. Click the link for Ever Thine Home resources;
or call1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Quickly, let me say a word of thanks to those folks who make FamilyLife Today possible. I was just out, recently, with some FamilyLife Today listeners who were telling me all about how God has been using this program in their marriage and in their family, and how it’s making a difference in keeping them focused on eternal issues rather than the swirl of the culture that’s all around us.
I just want to say, “Thanks,” to those of you who help make this possible. You are partners with us as you support this ministry, financially. We appreciate that partnership. We thought that this week we could say, “Thank you for your partnership,” by sending you a copy of the audio book that Barbara has put together: Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember.
Our team took the Thanksgiving story that Barbara included in her book and had it dramatized. In fact, I want to play another clip for you this week from the audio book just so you can hear what it sounds like as you and the family would listen to this together.
Announcer: On November the ninth, [Children’s excited voices] several children squealed with delight when they saw a seagull dive above the ship.
Child 1: Hey, look at that!
Child 2: A seagull!
Announcer: Not long afterward, a sailor cried, “Land ho!”
Sailor: Land ho!
Announcer: After 65 days at sea from Plymouth, a total of 97 days from the first launch at Southampton, the pilgrims caught a glimpse of their destination—the new land where God could be worshipped freely; and in time, where freedom would flourish. Shouting for joy and falling to their knees to pray, they celebrated by reading Psalm 100:
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the Lord himself is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name, for the Lord is good. His loving-kindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations.
Bob: Well, again, that is a clip from the audio book, Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember. We’d like to send it to you as a way of saying, “Thank you for your support of the ministry,” this week. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, and leave an online donation. We’ll send you the audio book, or request the audio book when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone.
You can also request the audio book when you mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today.
Our mailing address is P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. And thanks, in advance, for whatever you are able to do. Again, we appreciate your partnership with us, here in this ministry.
And I hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Barbara Rainey will be here with us again. We’re going to talk about how you can cultivate a spirit of gratitude in some very tangible ways in your family. That’s coming up tomorrow. Hope you can join us.
I want to say, “Thank you,” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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