I’ve been a Sunday school teacher off and on for most of my adult life. It’s a joy to watch children grow spiritually as we share Bible stories, music, prayer and a sense of wonder in worship and lessons. While I hope that I’ve played some role in the faith development of Westminster children, I know that the most important models of spirituality are their parents, grandparents and family — not “professional Christians.”
We often want experts to teach our children. Certainly, experts are needed when we want children to learn special skills like music, sports or academics. But faith is not “taught.” It’s interwoven with our lives and a part of who we are, not a skill to be learned. But it does take some intentionality to share faith with children.
How to do this? It’s unrealistic to ask busy families to add more things to their already overscheduled lives. Family spirituality is not another thing to put on your "to do" list. Instead, the goal is to see God’s presence in the sacred moments that are already part of our lives, and when you see these holy moments, acknowledge them, name them and celebrate them.
Bedtime is a good place to start. This is often a time when families are winding down and sharing a few quiet moments before turning out the lights. Many parents develop bedtime rituals (songs, stories and a goodnight kiss) to help children transition into sleep. This is a perfect time to recognize God’s presence. Traci Smith, in her book "Faithful Families," suggests saying a brief blessing over a baby as he/she is laid in the crib each night. It takes seconds to say something like, “May God fill you with love, joy and peace tonight, tomorrow and all the days of your life. Amen.” Or even a very simple “God bless (child’s name). Amen.” This habit, if said every night, becomes a regular practice for both parent and child, acknowledging God’s presence and power in their lives.
Bedtime is also a good time to share God’s stories. Almost all parents read to their children at night. Add a good Bible storybook to your children’s bookshelves, and read from it on a regular basis. One of my favorites is Desmond Tutu’s "Children of God Storybook Bible" (the book we present to young families in our church). It emphasizes God’s will that people live together in peace, and features illustrations by artists from all over the world, making it inclusive and multicultural in portraying the people of God. An added benefit to reading Bible stories to children is that parents learn these stories as well. Many adults are not familiar with the Bible. A good Bible storybook is a great way for parents to become familiar with the stories that shape our faith.
Look for other children’s books that portray God’s love too, and include them in your children’s libraries. Books like "Global Babies" (Global Fund for Children) or "Whoever You Are" (Mem Fox) show that all children are created in God’s image. Love, compassion and peace are themes of many children’s books.
Children love to look at pictures of their family. When looking through a scrapbook or walking by photos in your homes, point to a photo and say, “God bless Grandma and Grandpa,” or other family members. It’s a lovely way to remember the love of family and the love of God at the same time.
Gratitude is a spiritual practice to be shared with children. Be mindful of those moments throughout your day when you are thankful. Some are obvious — food at mealtimes, for instance. Try making a simple mealtime blessing a practice. Expand the gratitude to talking about how the food got to your table, and say, “Thank you, God,” for farmers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, store employees and whoever prepared your meal. In other moments (car rides, bedtime, doing chores together, taking walks) talk about things for which you are grateful. Be mindful of the daily blessings we take for granted — our homes, our family, our jobs, our health, our friends — and name them out loud.
And, finally, take your children to church. Children learn God is important if God is important to you. Find a church where you feel at home and become a part of it.
Be mindful of the holy moments which are already in your lives. Once you make it a habit to see them, you and your children will find God everywhere.
Jill Fandrich is a ruling elder and clerk of session at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 17 William St., Auburn, where she edits the newsletter, church website (westminsterauburn.org) and Facebook and Twitter pages.