Recent data in both Australia and overseas suggests that the greatest spiritual influence for most Christians is actually their parents. But what does this look like in everyday Uniting Church Christian homes?
I did not grow up in a family of faith and as an Australian white woman who is part of the individualistic western world, there are a great long list of what I need to do as a mum already to be a good parent before I even get to think more deeply about spirituality (you might not agree with how I experience things but this is my reality!). So when I first heard a couple of years ago that my kids growing in faith is all about me and my husband, it was just another task I am likely to fail at! As time has gone on I have started to see that this is going to happen whether I mean it to or not.
For me and my husband not growing up in a traditional faith practicing family, things that other families did felt weird and not really us, but over the years we have found our own way. So for example we don’t say grace at dinner, I saw my Gran do the habit over the years and it was a bunch of words that meant nothing to us, but when we have special friends over, we will pray for them and give thanks for them and the opportunity to be together. Having a bible study does not work for us, but every morning in the car we listen to the Christian radio station and we talk about the things that are on the radio, we talk about the devotions and what makes sense and what doesn’t for us. My husband and I are really active in our Church and we have always shown the importance of being part of the community and doing our share however little or big, we have made sure that the kids were a vital and valuable part of this as well. We love Sci Fi and have a large collection of TV shows we like and we would always talk about how we see the Jesus values at work in them.
This is how we work as a family, but I wanted you to hear some others experience.
My colleague Joyce is part of a Tongan family, when I asked how her family had influenced who she was as a faithful person this is what she said.. “My parents have always been really active leaders in the church and we learnt from a young age that we needed to be part of it and help out, I have been a youth leader for years, my brother plays keyboard, and we have helped out with Sunday school. The other thing they did was talk about how faith meant we had to treat each other with respect and care and compassion. They gave us great role models my mum was a strong woman and my dad gentle and kind, they were the kind of people we wanted to grow up to be like.”
An interesting thing I did notice of some of my Tongan friends is their ability to hold sport and Church as significant parts of their lives. I spoke to a friend about this, and they said for their family the children’s ability was a gift from God and so in all of it they needed to thank and honour God for it. I thought this was a really helpful insight as we help our kids pursue what they are good at.
Anthony, a lecturer at our college, talked about encouraging the curiosity and deep thinking of his kids, by listening deeply to them and exploring questions together, rather than giving answers. These questions help them explore more deeply around what they think, developing their own theology and help them to connect more personally with God. These conversations happen around the dinner table around the nature of death, heaven and God, coming out of things that are going on around them.
Molk has High School kids, they are all part of a bible study group together as a family with friends online from across the country. They are encouraged to not only attend Church but to be active participants in it, not just on a local level but also with the wider church. (KCO and PULSE events have benefitted greatly from their leadership!)
Jules is a PK (preacher’s kid). Her parents said grace, did bible studies and prayed for their children. In talking to Jules about what about her family influenced her spiritual growth she commented on their faithfulness, compassion and generosity to others, but it wasn’t all good. For Jules she had to take those foundations and find her own way. Things that helped – mountaintop experiences and finding her own Christian community to belong to.
I think this is a really good note to end on.. You can be the most diligent and faithful parents ever but at the end of the day God does not have grandchildren only children. Young people need to find their own way to connect with God in a way that makes sense to them. We can only introduce them, in the end, they need to discover the amazing gift that being loved by God is. That is between them and God. It is also really interesting to see the difference between what parents think are important and what people have actually valued from their parents.
So what does this look like for you? How has your family influenced your spiritual growth? How do you intentionally help your kids to explore faith. There is no one way, I think the power of authentic, honest faithfulness wins everytime! I hope this article has given you a minute to think about your own engagement with your kids and grandkids may you remember the vessel of light and faith you are to them even when you least expect it!
May you be blessed as you go this journey!
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.