Nurturing faith at home
Rev. Cassandra Williams, Ed.D.
May 18, 2020
By the images of the group’s special language, the poetic reiteration of statements and metaphors of fundamental beliefs, reinforced by musical rhythms and charged with the high emotional level induced by cumulative interaction in the meetings, the group’s peculiar “knowledge” grows. With it, attitudes and dispositions take form; the kinds of behavior “worthy of the way you received Christ” are learned.[i]
This description of the early church offered by Wayne Meeks in The First Urban Christians reveals how faith is nurtured through the experience of being in Christian community. While we most commonly think of the local congregation when we say “Christian community,” recent events have served as a reminder that the family is a community with the potential to either nurture or hinder the development of Christian faith. In Postmodern Children’s Ministry, children’s minister Ivy Beckwith underscores the power of family as the most formative force—and therefore the most important faith-nurturing community—in the life of a child.
Family is everything to a child. Family is the first place a child forms and experiences relationships. It is a child’s first experience of community. Family is where she develops her first view and understanding of the world. . . With that in mind I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that family is the most important arena for a child’s spiritual development and soul care.[ii]
With households becoming schools and parents and other primary caregivers managing unprecedented challenges, making family life the primary locus of Christian education can feel like just one more overwhelming task. But it doesn’t need to be. To say that family is where children learn faith most fully is not to say that primary caregivers need to become Sunday school teachers or youth group leaders in their homes. The power of community to form faith lies, not in Bible lessons and memory verses, but in communal experiences that communicate the presence and love of God. Let’s consider two qualities that make communities Christian—grace and gratitude— and how those might be manifested within family life.
Grace is the most characteristic quality of authentically Christian community because it reflects the presence of a God who welcomes us in love. A primary task, then, is to be gracious to yourself. There is no roadmap for these times. Will you do some things that you regret in hindsight? Probably, but hindsight is just that—hindsight. Give yourself some latitude and promise yourself that while you will learn from this experience, you won’t beat yourself up for not doing it perfectly (as if there were such a possibility). Perhaps start your day by looking into the mirror and saying something like this:
Good morning, beloved child of God. Today is going to have some good moments and some hard ones. You’ll do some things well and others not so well, but you’ve got this because you aren’t doing it alone. The God who created you loves you and isn’t judging you. Don’t judge yourself. Be gentle. Honor your feelings. Let some things go. Trust yourself. Forgive yourself.
If you are gracious to yourself, you will be more able to be gracious with your children. As difficult as these days are for adults, they are even more difficult for children. Their routines are gone. They are separated from friends. They sense fear, confusion, and instability around them. So have some latitude, for yourself and for your children. Allow them their feelings without trying to fix them or offering platitudes, such as “Well God’s in charge!” which are never helpful to any of us. We may believe God is the master of the universe, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t confused or afraid.
With households becoming schools and parents and other primary caregivers managing unprecedented challenges, making family life the primary locus of Christian education can feel like just one more overwhelming task. But it doesn’t need to be.
Gratitude is a foundational practice of Christian community. Practicing gratitude reminds us of the goodness of life as a gift from a loving God. Structure and routine are essential for giving children and ourselves a sense of security during this chaotic time. It is very helpful to include in our routines rituals that celebrate family life as a gift from God. Be intentional about setting aside time for fun. Look at family photos to reminisce about good times and dream together about good times to come. End your day with a moment of talking about what you are thankful for and allowing, but not pressuring, children to do the same. Remember that children are often better at expressing themselves through drawing or actions (like a hug) than with words. Marking bedtime with the acknowledgment that your children are a blessing will help them go off to sleep feeling valued and calm.
Traditional spiritual practices have a place in providing security, however, they need to be age-appropriate. Long wordy prayers led by adults are not effective or even kind to children. Sing a simple song together as a prayer before meals. Meditate on that which is unchanging by watching the sunset, birds in the trees, or sunny-faced dandelions. While so much is changing, creation speaks of an unchanging Creator. Some traditional children’s Bible lessons are available online.* Just remember that children think narratively, so read from a good Bible storybook, such as Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018) and resist the temptation to unpack the story or offer a summarizing moral. It is the story itself that holds the power and a child’s mind has a much stronger facility than does the adult mind for making connections between their story and the story. Answering questions with a simple “Hmm, what do you think?” honors children as theological thinkers and give them a sense of agency, which is desperately needed by all of us during such uncertain times.
My best advice to parents and other primary caregivers who are concerned about faith formation during this season of sheltering in place is relax. There are so many stresses right now, don’t make faith another one for you or for your children. It is the overall tenor of your life that will witness to faith for your children. Keep in mind Jesus’ view that simply by virtue of being children, children belong to the kingdom (Matthew 19:14). Mistakes acknowledged and forgiven are powerful lessons in forgiveness. Honesty about feelings speaks to trust in a God who accepts us as we are without pretense. So, again, relax. Now more than ever we need to hear the voice of Jesus reminding us “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34 NIV).
Rev. Cassandra Williams, Ed.D. serves as National Director of Discipleship with The American Baptist Home Mission Societies. She is the author of Learning the Way: Reclaiming Wisdom from the Earliest Christian Communities (Alban, 2019).
Free Christian education lessons and activities for use at home are available from:
The Thoughtful Christian: click the link to sign up for a weekly email that includes a Bible story, corresponding activities, and coloring pages.