One of our (Hubby & I) biggest priorities in raising Man Cub is that we pass on our Christian Faith to him (and any siblings he someday has). I believe that this is so important. We have to be intentional about it. So many families send their kids to Sunday School and expect that to be enough. But think about it: you wouldn’t teach anything else that’s a priority for you that way. If you want your kids to be good readers, you wouldn’t send them to the library once a week for 30 minutes and think that would work. You would read aloud with them, teach them the alphabet, and then go to the library too. We don’t require only 30 minutes a week of math (much as that would have sounded like heaven when I was going through Algebra). Going to church is a part of the equation, but it is only a part. The good news is, there are a lot of things we can do at home that will help us to pass on our faith. Ready? Here we go!
- PRAY. Okay, we all knew this one was coming. Prayer is so important! We like to punctuate our day with prayers and kisses. Hubby and I pray (and kiss) in the morning before he goes to work, then he prays on the way to work and I (unless Man Cub gets up early) pray before Man Cub gets up. Man Cub and I are starting to say prayers in the mornings together. Okay, I pray while he runs in circles or plays, but it still counts. We do bedtime prayers together as a family and a couple, and pray before meals (when mommy remembers). Sometimes around 5pm I pray that Hubby will get home soon! That may sound like a lot, but each time is just 1-5 minutes. It doesn’t take that much time, but you get huge benefits. It’s important to pray both together and on your own. Pray for strength and patience as a mom (you need it). For a few weeks, I wasn’t praying on my own. I was cranky, irritable, and sluggish. Now, I’m not saying that prayer will make you Wonder Mom or anything, but it shifts our attitude. When I take the time to pray, I still have laundry and dishes to do, but I have more joy and peace, which makes them easier to deal with. I love using prayers that others have written because they are beautiful and often just what I need. One of my favorites is the prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow:
Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.
Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.
In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.
Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
Teach me to treat all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.
In unforeseen events let me not forget that all things are under Your care.
Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.
Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray Yourself in me. Amen.
You can read more Orthodox prayers here or just pray through the Psalms.
- ATTEND SERVICES. In our church, children stay in the service for most of liturgy. Yes, the littles usually get the wiggles, so we hang out in the Narthex (lobby), but I love that when he is older Man Cub will know exactly what church is like. He will have adult friends in church; be familiar with the sights, smells, and sounds; know the hymns by heart. When he is older, he will go to Sunday School at the end of service. I believe one reason kids walk away from church in college is because they are used to youth group where everything is fun and kid-oriented but haven’t spent time in an actual church service. It’s important to give kids exposure to church and connect them with people in church. Growing up, church set the rhythm of my week and it’s still that way. If we miss a service because of illness or travel, it doesn’t feel like a complete week to me.
- READ TOGETHER. When your child is little, this may be something small. When I was pregnant with Man Cub, we started reciting Psalm 23 before bed. Some nights (when we have time), we’ll read a passage from a gospel at dinner. When we get into homeschooling, Bible will be a regular subject. Read good books together, too. I still remember reading Hind’s Feet on High Places with my Grandma and What Would Jesus Do? with my mom.
- SET AN EXAMPLE. This is perhaps the simplest and hardest method in one. Think about the character you display to your kids every day. Do you want them to imitate you? Honestly, sometimes for me the answer is “yes”, but often it is not. When you catch yourself acting in an ungodly manner, own up and apologize. This is something my dad did really well. When I am impatient with Man Cub, I get down to his level and say “Mommy was rude to you, and that wasn’t right. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”. Now, it takes a good deal of humility to apologize to a one-year-old, but three important things are happening when I do. First, I am admitting to him and myself that I am not perfect. This helps keep me humble and show him that everyone makes mistakes. Second, it sets an example of how our family responds when we do make mistakes or sin. This is how I want him to respond. Third, I usually get a hug and smile out of it. It restores our relationship and hits the “reset” button on our day.
- TALK ABOUT IT. As you go through your day, keep an eye out for teachable moments. One caution I would have is to not use this as an excuse for gossip. For example, if someone you know cheats, don’t automatically use that to explain what the Bible says about lying (remember, both judging your brother and gossip are sins, too). Try to use examples from your own life (if you’re anything like me, you’ll find plenty of material). If your child does notice a friend cheating on a test, tell them what you expect from them (including telling the teacher) without being harsh toward their friend. We are instructed in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 to talk about our faith all the time:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
- PRACTICE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES TOGETHER. Spiritual disciplines are tools to develop your spiritual health, just like exercise develops your physical health. They include prayer, fasting, philanthropy (giving- both money and time), study, silence, and confession. Choose a discipline to do together as a family. You can even do this with littles. Every year for Lent we go through our possessions and donate 40 things in 40 days. This year, I took Man Cub into his room and he helped me choose things he wanted to give away. Here’s an activity that explains spiritual disciplines (it is Orthodox, so if you are Protestant you may want to edit it).
- FOCUS ON CHARACTER. There are so many little things that we deal with in our day. I sometimes struggle with keeping perspective. If Man Cub makes a mess getting into the kitchen cabinets, that is an annoyance. If I see him going for the cabinets and tell him “no touch”, and he responds by looking at me, laughing at me, and then getting into them? That is disobedience. You can usually tell the difference between playfulness and rebellion by paying attention. I try to come down hard on character issues and let little things go or deal with them more lightly. This focus on character also applies when your older child is questioning what to do with their life. Man Cub is very intelligent, and I look forward to seeing what he ends up doing in life. But I am far more concerned with who he becomes as a man. Direct your child to (maybe have them memorize) verses like these and try to keep your focus on them, too:
Micah 6:8: “He has shown thee oh man what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18: in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
So there you go. I hope this list helps you. Please know that I present it not as an expert, but as someone in the trenches with you. I’d love to hear what you do to pass on your faith!