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Ideas to Steal for a Family New Year’s Eve Ritual + 5 Prayers for 2017

Ideas to Steal for a Family New Year’s Eve Ritual + 5 Prayers for 2017

In some churches, a Watch Night service is held on New Year’s Eve. While the service likely originated with the Moravians, it has strong roots in the Methodist tradition. However, it gained new life in Black church communities in 1862 as traditional Watch Night services gave way to a literal waiting and watching for the dawning of 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect. So strong is this association that some have associated the invention of the Watch Night service with this event.

Since we can’t attend a watch night service this year, I’m creating my own ritual for our family at home. It’s brief, because that’s just practical. While Watch Night was traditionally held to coincide with midnight, much like our secular celebrations to ring in the next year, I plan to do it shortly after nightfall. Mainly this is because I’m battling a cold and probably won’t be staying up late myself. (Who am I kidding, I’m not a late night person even when I’m operating at 100%!)

My plan is pretty simple: light a candle, read a Bible verse, do a family reflection/goal setting time and close with a prayer.

For our reading, I plan to use Isaiah 65:17.

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

(Since one of my goals is to help our daughter become more familiar with the actual, physical Bible, I’ll be having her look this up herself instead of printing it out like I usually do for better flow.)

I created this printable for our reflection time but there’s a bunch of great printables out there. Last year, I compiled these. I like the opportunity to think about the things we liked about 2016 as well as looking forward to 2017. It’s a great opportunity to think about what goals we want to let go of as well as what ones we want to keep.

Here are 5 prayers I like for New Year’s Eve.

A Prayer at the End and Beginning of a Year

Lord, give me I pray:
A remembering heart for the things that have happened.
An attentive heart to what I have learned.
A forgiving heart for what has hurt.
A grateful heart for what has blessed.
A brave heart for what may be required.
An open heart to all that may come.
A trusting heart to go forth with You.
A loving heart for You and all your creation.
A longing heart for the reconciliation of all things.
A willing heart to say “Yes” to what You will
– Leighton Ford

 A Prayer for the New Year

God, thank you for a new year. May everyone in our family be willing to begin anew with a clean slate. We know that you are always ready to forgive us. Help us to be willing to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another.

As we begin a new year, remind us of our truest values and our deepest desires. Help us to live in the goodness that comes from doing what you want us to do. Help us to put aside anxiety about the future and the past, so that we might live in peace with you now, one day at a time.

Looking Forward 

In this time we turn our thoughts to how we can
touch and be touched,
love and be loved,
forgive and be forgiven,
heal and be healed,
so that the goodness of our lives is a shared blessing.

-Marta M. Flanagan

For Making All Things New

Lord, You make all things new You bring hope alive in our hearts And cause our Spirits to be born again.

Thank you for this new year For all the potential it holds. Come and kindle in us A mighty flame So that in our time, many will see the wonders of God And live forever to praise Your glorious name.

A Prayer for the New Year from Marianne Williamson

Dear God,
May my life be of use to You this year.
May my talents and intelligence
help heal the world.
May I remember how much I have
by remembering how much I have to give.
May I not be tempted by smaller things
but serve my larger mission of forgiveness and love.
Thus shall I be lifted, God,
and know joy this coming year and beyond.
Bless me and work through me
to bless the entire world.

 

Thanks for reading along in 2016 and cheers to a new year!

 


 

 

Family Prayers in The Mixed Belief Marriage

Family Prayers in The Mixed Belief Marriage

 A few years ago, a fairly typical family scene occurred at our dinner table.  Engaged in a rousing song of her own creation, our 6 year old daughter refused to settle down for our mealtime prayer.  It wasn’t a malicious act, simply a silly one.  You know, like when you’ve got the giggles in church and just can’t stop.

“Let’s finish the song for now then you can sing more after dinner.”  I said.  She quieted—until I began our prayer.  “Thank you Lord…” was interrupted by the sounds of humming and clapping to “if you’re happy and you know it.” 

   “Ok, let’s try again.”  I said, then started over.  This was met with a childish shriek, the fun turned to anger as her comedic talent went unappreciated by her boring parents. 

“That’s enough.”  My husband interjected.  “This is prayer time.”

  “I DON’T WANT TO SAY PRAYERS!!!” She escalated toward a tantrum, fully into her six-year old boundary testing.

 You’ve all been there, right?

The surprising part of this story isn’t that there was a conflict between child and parents, it’s that there wasn’t a conflict between the parents themselves. Since my husband and I navigate a mixed-belief marriage (I’m religious, he’s not) there’s often curiosity about how we handle these day-to-day parenting moments when questions of faith are on the line.

I wish the answers were sexier and something I could market for big money but the reality is simple: we navigate these issues with respect and love. The difficult part of this advice is that “respect” looks different to each individual. Until I started talking to other mixed-belief couples, I thought that our way of handling religious issues was the only way. This wasn’t because other ways were wrong but because it didn’t even cross my mind that other ways existed. We had been doing things our way, and happily, for so long that I truly didn’t know that others had found different solutions—or different struggles.

For Hannah and Toby, the question of prayer is a trouble spot. Toby, who grew up in a conservative religious tradition but left it as an adult, worries about his children being taught to pray. For him, this triggers memories of a faith life that he found oppressive. For Hannah, prayer is a central part of her life.

For much of their marriage, they had an easy solution. Hannah prayed, Toby didn’t. This difference has come to a head as the couple has had children. Toby is uncomfortable with family prayers before meals, even if he doesn’t have to participate. When pushed on the topic, he will quickly become defensive, even antagonistic. For Hannah, thanking God for even the simplest of meals is an important spiritual practice—and one she wants to pass on to their children.

In their case, solving this disagreement with respect looks very different than the way my family has solved the question. For some time, Hannah was the one who gave in, setting aside the idea of blessing the meal in order to preserve family peace. As this decision began to weigh on her, she began to look for other solutions. We brainstormed some possibilities:

  1.  Alternate prayers at meals. This is a classic “sharing” style solution, one that many interfaith couples use. For my Jewish/Christian family friends, on one night a traditional Jewish prayer is said, on the next, a traditional Christian prayer. For a mixed-belief family, it may be as simple as saying family prayers at one dinner and skipping them at the next
  2. Find a non-religious “blessing.” At Thanksgiving, I created a list of non-religious meal blessings. As extended families and friends gather, I think the responsibility falls heavily on Christians to make others feel welcome. This isn’t the time to press our beliefs on others with words, it’s the time to show a deep-seated love and welcome in the spirit of One who ate with all the people.  A mixed belief couple I know uses a similar approach at every meal. They take the time to give thanks but there is no reference to God, Jesus or religion. Still, this simple act of giving thanks centers them both in the realization that even the food we take for granted is cause for gratitude.
  3.  Make prayer a priority in a different way. Use bedtime, bath time or the drive to school as a prayer time with children, leaving the non-religious spouse out of it. Any of these daily times can become imbued with the same significance: giving thanks for the simple necessities of life. This is how we do bedtime prayers. When I put our daughter to bed, there’s prayer. When my husband does the good night duties, there isn’t.
  4. Create a family prayer routine, for example at mealtimes or bedtimes, but let the non-religious spouse participate (or not) as they feel comfortable

  I offer these solutions in part as ideas for those who are wrestling with this and looking for ideas–I get asked a lot about the nuts and bolts of mixed belief families. However, I also offer them with another purpose in mind: to reaffirm that there is no one right answer. In any marriage, the process of resolving conflict is far more important than the resolution itself. In this, as in the myriad of other religious practices families navigate, the route we take is a greater predictor of success than the destination we reach. So if prayer is a sticky subject in your house right now, as it is for some, then by all means, try a few different things. But whatever you decide, do it in a spirit of love and grace and you won’t go wrong.

 

 

Handling Differences in the Mixed Belief Marriage

Handling Differences in the Mixed Belief Marriage

Several weeks ago, I started a series on life in the mixed belief marriage. Then I dropped the ball because of other (paid) writing commitments and a wonderful vacation. Back now, picking up the pieces of the conversation…


 

“I think we should write a family mission statement,” I announced over dinner one night.  This earned me a raised eyebrow from my husband.  My daughter continued with her eating.  I took this lack of enthusiasm as a lack of knowledge on her part.  “Do you know what a mission statement is?” I asked her.  “Nope,” she replied, still not sounding as excited as I hoped.  Abe still looking at me, in sort of a non-plussed way.  Since it was Labor Day and we’d just hauled ourselves to the local Mexican place for dinner because we were too exhausted to cook, I gave him leeway for being tired.

“Look, we don’t have to do it right now,” I said.  “I just want us to be thinking about it so we can do it this weekend.”  Simultaneous relief and dread crossed both of their faces, not unlike when a teacher announces that the big test has been postponed a day.  “Yay, we don’t have to do it right now!” is coupled with, “UGH, we still have that to worry about!”  It’s a deep conflict of emotions.

Desperate to convince them of the excitement of this idea, I went on to explain what a mission statement is.  “A mission statement is just a list of things you think are important.  It’s to help guide you, so you can make sure you’re living the way you want to be living.”  My husband, no doubt from years spent in the corporate world, muttered something like, “don’t worry, sweetie, no one pays attention to them.”

Unlike corporate mission statements, I wanted a statement that people would actually pay attention to.  I wanted it to be a relevant, concise summary of our values.  I wanted it to challenge us to move forward more clearly, as well as to reflect what we already did well.  I wanted a miracle.

 Sometimes in the faith/non-faith life, there’s a tendency to blame every little disagreement on the difference in religious traditions.  I can fall into this trap myself, and the “family mission statement” conversation is one example.  “If we were both religious, he’d be on board with this,” I think. 

 Sometimes this is true.  However, even people of the same faith often find themselves in different places spiritually.  In a recent conversation with some girlfriends, all of whom are married to practicing Christians, someone voiced the longing for her husband to take the spiritual lead.  “I just feel like I’m often the spiritual head of our family.  I’m dragging everyone else along.”  Heads began to nod in agreement.  “Me too!” People chimed in and the conversation went on that way for a few minutes.  Then words of wisdom were spoken.

“Marriage is good.  It’s important to have someone to journey with.  But just because we’re living this life together doesn’t mean that our spiritual paths will always be parallel.”  Again, heads nodded in agreement as people realized the profound and simple truth of this statement.  Marriage can’t be built on the assumption that we’re going to see everything the same way all the time.

 While this is an important realization for the same-religion couple, it’s equally important for the mixed-belief couple.  We may have grown used to the various compromises that we make in day-to-day life as we blend our faith with our partner’s non-faith.  Still, sometimes we may find ourselves idealizing the same-religion marriages of our friends.  “Things must be perfect,” we think.  And while I do think that a same-religion marries brings with it a common foundation on which to build, I also recognize that even within the same religious tradition, people will vary in intensity, depth and degree of belief.  I can think of plenty of religious friends who would find the whole idea of writing a family mission statement ridiculous.  (Cheesy comes to mind.) Likewise, I can think of plenty of non-religious friends who would be all over that—and a couple who already have one. 

 I firmly believe that the biggest danger to a mixed-belief marriage isn’t the question of faith, it’s how we view the difference.  If we view it as a blessing, or at least as an understandable difference, we can succeed in creating a happy, healthy marriage.  On the flip side, if we see every disagreement as a problem, those small cracks will become canyons in our relationship.  We will magnify them over and over, seeing every missed church service and every unwritten mission statement as a sign of failure. 

If God works in community, as Christians claim God does, then our families are the foundation of God’s work in us. This means that every interaction brings with it the possibility for grace. This is no less true for interfaith couples than it is for same-religion couples. Our challenge isn’t so much to hope that God will work in our families as to figure out how God is working.  In my case, that means letting go of my need to codify everything and embrace the fact that we’re all on this journey together, trying our hardest to live our best lives.  

Celebrating Easter in a Mixed Belief Marriage

Celebrating Easter in a Mixed Belief Marriage

The spring sun is streaming through the sliding glass door as I write on my yellow legal pad. Outside, I can hear the prairie dogs giving their early morning squeals of delight. Spring always washes over my soul with a combination of exuberance and relief. This has more to do with the short days of winter than actual cold—our winters have been so mild lately, we barely get to play in the snow, much less become sick of it. But the short days and deep, dark nights wear me out in a way that defies explanation.

It’s no wonder we celebrate Easter at this time. It would be nearly impossible to rush into spring without some celebration of God’s grace complete with all the symbols of new life. I know, we’re all a little confused about what eggs and rabbits have to do with Jesus but you know what, I just don’t care. I’m in love with the whole shebang. Resurrection tinges our whole life with new meaning and if that lets us see an ordinary breakfast food as a riotous celebration of creation then I’m in favor.

My husband, well, that’s a different story. I suspect Easter marks for him the occasion of being dragged to church and forced to sit through a boring service in uncomfortable clothes. Unlike the children, who probably experience it the same way, he doesn’t even have the lure of a post-service Easter egg hunt to get him through. There is no whispering to a grown man, “Sit still, there’s cake after church!”

But there we’ll be on Easter Sunday, me in front corralling the Sunday School children and him in the pew, corralling our child and smiling through it all. This is the dance of our marriage: I’m religious and he’s not. By “I’m religious,” I mean, “I’m actually ordained” so it’s not just that I’m more spiritual than my husband in some amorphous way, my calling requires some real commitment from all of us.

Usually at this point, I’m asked “how does that work!?” with perhaps an incredulous gasp. The short answer is that it works fine. We’re far more likely to argue about my vegetarian cooking tendencies and his need for meat (and lots of it) than our differing theological views. Our faith differences are simply something we exist in.  

Of course, there’s still a part of me that envies the adorable church couples I know, the ones who serve on all the committees together and then go out for Sunday brunch afterwards. But then I also envy the adorable non-church couples I know, the ones who spend Sunday mornings sleeping in and reading the paper on their couch with large mugs of coffee. The grass is always greener on the other side and right now, I’m in the middle of two fields.

Our field is a little muddier, I suppose. We straddle the ditch, soaking up the run-off from both sides. It’s messy, yes. But it’s also fertile ground. Living with someone whose faith (or non-faith) differs from your own makes you both humble and brave. I am stopped daily from assuming that my white-suburban-woman-Christian way of viewing the world is the one and only way of seeing the world. Yet, I am also learning to hold my beliefs proudly, even when not safely ensconced among “the church crowd.” Spend 18 years with an atheist and you’ll discover they’re not all out to get you.

I don’t need to point out to any of you that our world is increasingly polarized. By all appearances, we’ve lost the ability to disagree without demonizing each other. We categorize ourselves into neat little boxes, seeing everyone outside those boxes as “the opposition,” and believe that anything short of getting exactly what we want is losing. We’ve lost the entire art of conversation and inquiry.

At the same time, our world is shrinking. Diversity in America is on the rise as we become a more mobile world. We’re connected to people across the globe through technology—being exposed to their views, needs and hopes virtually if not in person. Clearly, shutting down and refusing to acknowledge “the other” is not a viable option. And, I would argue, neither is fighting tooth and nail for “the other” to become more like us.

This is the gift of mixed-belief marriage. It’s also the gift of interfaith marriage, mixed-political marriages and mixed-race marriages. These are the places where people are given the opportunity to learn what it is to love across boundaries. More than that, the waves of people they touch are given the opportunity to love across boundaries. Given the increase of mixed-belief marriages in recent years, I’d say we’re all standing on the edge of a transformation. We’re witnessing to and creating a changing world, one in which the rules of both love and religion are changing.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about mixed-belief marriage. I’ll be delving into a little bit more of the nitty-gritty. What’s hard? What’s works? How do we navigate holidays, spiritual practices at home, raising a daughter, career issues? And what about that Bible passage about being unequally yoked? For now, though, I’ll leave you with this: I believe in an Easter God. I believe in a God who is working through bunnies, colored eggs and empty tombs. I believe that in the hands of this God, all sorts of mundane and messy things become holy. And I believe that’s equally true of our relationships with one another, whether they fit into a neat box or not.  

6 Non-Religious Thankfulness Poems

6 Non-Religious Thankfulness Poems

Several weeks ago I spoke to a woman who was in a mixed-belief marriage. She’s Christian and her husband is agnostic. (I’m still looking for interviewees, if you know any couples like this! I’d love to talk with them about what works, what doesn’t and what they’ve learned on their journey together.) One of their challenges was saying grace before meals. For her, a blessing was essential but for him, the religious component made him feel squeamish and judged. Since squeamish and judged is never how we want to make people feel, I suggested that they try some non-religious thankfulness traditions before meals. With a growing awareness that gratitude plays a huge part in contentment, the couple agreed that building opportunities to recognize their abundance was important. This gives them a way to do that as a family while showing love and respect for their individual spiritual journeys.
Thankful Blessings
With Thanksgiving tomorrow, many families will be sharing their tables with people from a variety of faiths and philosophies. If religion is a touchy subject around the dinner table, here are some ways to be grateful together:

“For what we are about to receive
let us be truly thankful
…to those who planted the crops
…to those who cultivated the fields
…to those who gathered the harvest.

For what we are about to receive
let us be truly thankful
to those who prepared it and those who served it.
In this festivity let us remember too
those who have no festivity
those who cannot share this plenty
those whose lives are more affected than our own
by war, oppression and exploitation
those who are hungry, sick and cold

In sharing in this meal
let us be truly thankful
for the good things we have
for the warm hospitality
and for this good company.”

“Let us enjoy good food and good drink,
And let us thank all whose efforts have set them before us;
Let us enjoy good companionship,
And let us each one be good company to the others;
Let us enjoy ourselves, without guilt,
But let us not forget that many are less fortunate.”
At secularseasons.org, credited to George Rodger, of Aberdeen, Scotland

My daughter’s preschool, mini college in Glenwood Springs, sang this before snacks and meals:
“There are many things I’m thankful for.
I can see them near and far.
There are many things I’m thankful for, let me tell you what they are!
I’m thankful for the earth, I’m thankful for the sea.
I am thankful for my friends and I’m thankful to be me!”

Another mixed-belief couple I know uses this before meals, sometimes changing the last line to “We thank you God for everything:”
“Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the friends we meet
Thank you for the birds that sing
We give thanks for everything”

“We are blessed today, with enough to eat,
May we be grateful.
We are blessed with clothes to wear,
May we be grateful.
We are blessed with shelter from the elements,
May we be grateful.
We are very well blessed today.
May we remember that there are many people
who do not have these blessings.
May we be grateful enough to help others when we can.”
From Abby Willowroot at spiralgoddess.com, copyright 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! May we find ways to be grateful this week and always.