I was sitting behind a young family in church not that long ago, my own children all out in groups, and watched as we all stood to sing. As we worshipped, their young girl, snuggled against her Mum’s hip, arm wrapped around her neck, was singing loudly and watching everyone else do the same. The words were not all the right ones yet, the tune was still a work in progress, but she was fully present taking part alongside us. In the chorus people began lifting hands of praise, and without hesitation she raised her little hand among ours. She was caught up in the community of worshippers. She was learning to worship. She was worshipping. And it made my heart burst to glimpse how God meets with us no matter what age or ability. And it got me thinking about how we go about the adventure of sharing faith with our three children.
I simultaneously take great comfort and am terrified by the fact that my children understand and experience faith more by who I am and how I live than by the particular things I say in those moments when I think I’m ‘teaching’ them about God. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.’ (1 Cor 11:1 NIV), other translations use the phrase ‘imitate me’ or ‘copy me’. It’s exactly the way children learn so many things isn’t it—watching, and copying. Observing and trying it for themselves.
One of my youngest girl’s ‘superpowers’ (she’s an autist!) is copying phrases she hears, or actions she observes. She repeats and repeats them, word for word carefully imitating the accent and sounds of what she has heard. She tries out these phrases from TV or adverts, or people she meets in her own conversations. Sometimes she puts them into conversation and they make perfect sense—other times they come out in completely odd contexts and the meaning clashes. She is exploring communication, exploring relationship.
So I’m comforted that in the same way it is inevitable that she will pick up on phrases and actions of my faith and try them out too exploring communication and relationship with God. The pressure of having to find the right time and moments for family quiet times (which is sometimes near impossible in our chaotic family life) and feeling that even when I do I fail miserably (let’s just say they are not at all like the family devotional times I dreamed of before kids, or read about in other’s blogs!), is not the be all and end all.
What matters more is simply keeping on pressing on in my own life of faith—and living that openly within family life. Letting the kids see and hear when I express thanks to God, or send up my arrow prayers. Letting them be part of the times when I step out in faith with new ventures or ministries. Gathering them into my concern for others and lifting them to God in prayer. Enjoying worship songs together—belting them out on journeys in the car; taking time to say yes to the invitation to dance in the kitchen when we’re listening to worship together (our youngest loves to dance). Being vulnerable enough to be honest about how I don’t meet God’s standards, and about needing forgiveness. Discussing Bible stories, and big questions and doubts of faith out loud. Learning from their insights too. Doing faith alongside each other in the midst of the mess and muddle, joys and challenges of family life. And letting God do the rest.