I was at a school playground with my kids recently when I overheard a conversation between four young teenage girls that made me pause. I’m guessing they were in eighth or ninth grade.
“You went through a Jesus phase in seventh, didn’t you?” one asked another.
Mumbling ensued that I couldn’t discern, and then I heard something like,
“Yeah, that stuff was really important to our parents when we were young, but not now.”
A third girl seemed to start to wonder why that was, but stopped. The conversation paused and then shifted direction.
I can’t claim that these girls had spiritual questions, but I can claim two things from this, both of which made me sad:
First, they had questions about why they were taught about church when they were young and why that teaching stopped.
Second, they didn’t make more of an effort to talk about spiritual things with their friends, perhaps because they weren’t interested, perhaps because they were embarrassed, or perhaps because they just didn’t know how. But the fact that they considered discussing these things at all made me feel like they wanted to talk about these things on some level.
As I reflected on what I heard of their conversation (i.e. righteous indignation stirring) and the accusatory thoughts it stirred in me (akin to Why didn’t their parents keep teaching about faith and the church?!), I was instantly humbled as I recalled my admission to you in last month’s newsletter that I myself had run spiritually dry.
At dinner that night, with my husband and four children, I asked for everyone’s attention. I told the story of the four girls, and I then I said this:
“I want you to know it’s okay to ask questions about God and Jesus and the church. I want you to know that you might not always have the answers, that some answers may take years to figure out, and some answers you may never get.”
My daughter interrupted, saying that she had thought once that the story of Jesus all made sense to her, and that now she wasn’t so sure.
I nodded and affirmed her. “I think that you’ll find that as your brain grows, your questions will change. But I want you to keep asking questions. I want you to be able to keep talking about God and Jesus and the church. There may be times when Daddy and I don’t seem to talk about it as much, but it is still important, and you can always talk to us about those things.”
The authors recommended choosing five or fewer suggestions (out of a hundred) to start, with the emphasis on starting small and trying to be consistent. I knew I wanted to start with the ideas in Chapter 2: Modeling Faith.
Pre-COVID, I used to sit at Starbucks in the mornings, and while I waited for my tea to cool off enough to sip, I wrote in a gratitude journal and read the Bible. I had a pretty consistent “Quiet Time” as some call it. It felt pretty ideal.
But my kids never saw that.
I realized that under these COVID conditions, my kids’ could be listening to me sing worship songs during our church’s services, now streamed over YouTube. So that Sunday, I started to “go to” church again, deciding to dismiss any concerns about whether the kids would be too loud or distracting to really feel involved with it. Regardless of their behavior, if I turned on the TV, they would see how it was important to me.
Besides attending church, I identified a few other things I wanted to try with my family. Small things like adding a question or two to the dinner conversation like, What was your favorite part of the day? Or Did anyone make any mistakes today? I was surprised when all of the kids latched onto that second one, and it brought to light how each of us views mistakes and how we evaluate what makes those mistakes big or small.
In chapter 4, I learned about the power of prayer in building warm family relationships. There were beautiful examples of prayers parents prayed routinely over their children and / or with them. In our family, we say a dinner prayer and a bedtime prayer, but the examples in the book made me want to try out new ones.
Here’s a fourth idea I likely will have to save for post-COVID times: The researchers stressed the impact of intergenerational relationships. I would like to identify five adults who can pour into each of my children’s life and faith. This could be through visits, activities or cards or gifts in the mail.
Lastly, as I read about connections between monitoring teenage cell phone use and maintaining warm family relationships, I realized that while that was a long way off for our family, there were ground rules I could implement now...for myself. I knew that every time I checked a text message or an email on my phone, my children noticed. If I was staring at a screen, I was unavailable to them. I knew this and felt convicted all over again to place boundaries on technology for myself. I decided that for the after school hours, when all of my children are home, I would try to put the phone away until after they go to bed. I also would save my computer time for when they are watching TV. For sure, there are other times when they are so engaged in play or a dance party or reading that they usually don’t seek my attention. During those times I am tempted to focus on my writing or computer-based research (where should my son take karate, for example). But having this boundary for myself has helped me maintain eye contact and be available when they do flit into the room with a question.
Bottom line, I don’t want my children to be left out in the cold when it comes to their questions, spiritual, logistical or otherwise. Five years from now, when they are hanging out on the playground with their friends, I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or hesitant if someone asks about faith. I want them to be curious and supportive of others, and I want them to have people in their lives who can be faith role models, approachable people who will listen and encourage them on their spiritual journeys. And all of that starts at home.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.