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Why I Make My Daughter Go to Church

Why I Make My Daughter Go to Church

countrychurch“Why do you like going to church?”

The question was an earnest one from my daughter, as opposed to the “WHY DO WE HAVE TO GO TO CHURCH?” battle we sometimes have. I wanted to answer her question with equal honesty but the truth was, I didn’t have an answer. I was dragging myself out the door that day and the idea of “liking” felt pretty foreign.

“Ummmm…I don’t always like going to church,” I said slowly.

“Then why go?” She countered.

Well that was quite logical wasn’t it? I thought about all the things I do that I don’t want to. Like exercise. Or cleaning. Or volunteering. Or writing. It hit me that most of my life appears to be made up of things that I don’t necessarily like to do.  Perhaps I should simply give all of them up and live for the moment. You know, YOLO and whatever else the kids tweet these days.

She looked expectantly at me as I framed my answer, “Well, church is good for me. I feel better afterwards.”

“Do you really feel better?” This question came from my husband. “Or does it just alleviate feelings of guilt? Maybe you would also feel better if you stopped expecting yourself to go.”

Well, that’s a worthwhile question, too, isn’t it? (I swear, I would not have any deep spiritual thoughts without my family to prod me along.) Could I achieve the same level of satisfaction by not going to church as I did from going to church? Was it really just about perceived expectation leading to perceived guilt leading to perceived satisfaction? It’s always a possibility but I didn’t think so. There have been long periods in my life when I didn’t go to church. Most of my childhood and teenage years. Long stints in college. Years in sleep-deprived young motherhood. I didn’t feel particularly guilty during those times and yet something always called me back. Something deeper than guilt but also much harder to explain.

I was still pondering this discussion, still trying to put my finger on the reason for attending church, when this devotion came to me via email. In the wise words of Br. Robert L’Esperance:

“ There is a value of actually going through the motions of something – whether you have your heart and soul in it is actually immaterial to the practice… There is actually a value in ritual. There is actually a value in doing something – that’s immaterial whether you can rationalize it, whether you can understand it, whether you can put your heart and soul in it – there’s actually a value to just going through the motions, through the steps.” He goes on to offer this heart-stopping advice. “it’s in the doing that we are transformed and we are shaped and we are renewed”

It’s in the doing.

We are so self-conscious of our time. We are so aware that it is fleeting, that it is limited, that we have to make every single minute count, that we must achieve something, that we shouldn’t waste time, kill it or let it slip away. We are so conscious of this that we forget that some things aren’t fun but they are good. Some things are worth spending time on not because we can measure their immediate value but because we feel their effects in the days, months and years to come.

So I’ll continue plugging away, hoping that the rituals and words of church will shape me into the person I want to become. I will also invite/coerce/drag my daughter to come with me so that she, too, might be shaped more fully into the person I see in her future.

Now, if anyone knows how to explain all this to a 7 year old, I’m open to advice.

Epiphany: A Prayer and a Storm

Epiphany: A Prayer and a Storm

On the 12th day of Christmas…

Wooden magi figures with tealights

I had a great plan for an Epiphany prayer. I wrote the prayer, I set up candles around the nativity and I waited anxiously for it to get dark.  I designed this week’s pray time to be simple, which is nice because after the holidays we all need simple.  The poet in me also likes ending the official Christmas season (Christmas to Epiphany, otherwise known as the 12 days of Christmas) the same way we started it on Christmas Eve–telling the story with candle light flickering in the dark.

Keeping with ancient tradition that holy days start at sundown on the day before, I’d decided we’d do our Epiphany prayer at sundown on January 5.  We’d talk a little about the magi and the journey they took, then we’d light 12 candles and say a prayer with each candle. In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that part of my reason for deciding we should do this on January 5 was in the interest of keeping on schedule with this blog. I wanted to be able to share with you how it went and perhaps revise anything that was a big fat failure.

Instead, on Epiphany Eve the wind blew. This was literal wind, not figurative wind.  It blew so hard that the windows shook and outdoor furniture went skating across the patio. One small table crashed and broke into a thousand pieces that I will now have to figure out how to get out of my lawn.

More importantly, my 7 year old daughter, who has an aversion to loud noises, reacted to the whoosh of the wind with full fledged panic. I reassured her a gazillion times that she was safe. I explained that the wind was just making noise. I suggested that we make hot cocoa and look out the window so that we could watch the grass wave. I suggested we close all the curtains and not look out the window. I sat and read with her. We turned up music to drown out the noise. She shrieked. This lasted for hours. I became increasingly irritated, finally pouring a glass of wine because now my nerves were shot.

During a brief moment of calm, I told her the story about Jesus calming the storm because it fit and I believe in telling stories when they fit. Otherwise, I mostly tried not to lose it. I worked really hard not to be irritated because clearly my carefully planned Epiphany prayer was not going to happen, which meant that today’s carefully planned blog post with handy tips from experience was also not going to happen.

So here I am, starting off my year of prayer and already failing. I really thought we’d get this project rolling with something that would inspire me and leave my daughter begging for more. (“When can we pray next, mommy?”) Instead, I’m starting with a lesson in grace, humility and a reminder that if we’re going to look for God in everyday life, we’d better be willing to look in the storms. And sometimes, finding God means finding the grace to let go of your plan and just attend to the now.

Epiphany Prayer
The Prayer Project Week 1

Materials:
12 Candles. I used tea lights. You could use pillar candles or tapers if you have 12 candle holders.
A taper candle for lighting the other candles
A nativity or the magi from the nativity, if you have one handy. A picture or a Christmas card featuring the magi would also work.
Copy of the Epiphany prayer

Prepare:
Set up your candles around your nativity, magi or picture. I arranged mine around my nativity scene. You could also put them in a long row down your dining room table, or in a circle on a coffee table or the floor.

Nativity

Gather:
Begin by briefly reminding your children about the role the magi play in the Christmas story. Remind them that the magi were brave and faithful people who traveled a long way to find Jesus.

Read the opening paragraph of the Epiphany prayer. Take turns reading one line at a time and lighting the 12 candles. End with a moment of silence if the kids have it in them. If they’re young, they’ll probably be ready to be done. That’s ok. Don’t stress about perfection here. It’s ok if there are little giggles or a candle doesn’t light or someone stumbles over a word. Gently redirect back to the candle lighting and keep going.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you, especially since I haven’t tried it yet. 😉 Whatever happens…

Be barefoot. You’re on holy ground.

Introducing the Great Prayer Experiment!

Introducing the Great Prayer Experiment!

Do you pray with your family?

I recently did a study on how families practice their faith together. Interestingly, the majority of respondents from all faith backgrounds, don’t pray together as a family. That is, no before-meals prayers, bedtime prayers or other prayers outside of a religious setting.

Now, I’m not here to tell people how awful they are as human beings and parents. For one, I just don’t believe it. It did make me start thinking about prayer, though. How do people learn to pray? How does it become part of everyday life?

Teach us to pray.

We all have our own hang-ups about prayer. For some, it’s too boring. Others don’t have time. Some aren’t sure how to do it. Some aren’t sure why to do it.

For all these reasons, we struggle with prayer. You know what, we’re not alone. It’s a struggle most people have, including the disciples. Remember the story? One day, while Jesus was praying, the disciples saw him. Who knows what went through their minds. Jealousy? Wistfulness? Unease? In any case, they said, “Teach us to pray Lord.” In return, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer. (Some churches call this the “Disciples’ Prayer.” I love that. It’s not just the prayer Jesus prayed, it’s the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.)

Introducing The Great Prayer Experiment

I’ll admit it: I’m not as good about praying as I’d like to be. I’m also not as good about praying with my daughter. We do pray before most meals, so that’s a good start. Other times and occasions are hit and miss.

So I’m launching a challenge for myself to begin praying more as a family. To do that, I’m going to explore different ways of praying.

Are there different ways to pray?

Yes! There are new and ancient ways to pray. Word prayers, walking prayers, coloring prayers, doodling prayers, prayer beads…the list goes on!

We’ll try a new way each week, which I’ll be blogging about here, along with tips and tricks for each way of praying, how it works with kids and any other bits of wisdom I find along the way.

I can’t wait to get started!

Picture reflection

Picture reflection

Pictures are a great way to invite people to think about something “big.” For this simple, simple discussion primer, grab a few pictures. I had about 50, but only because I’d been using them for a retreat. For a family, 10 or 15 will do the trick. Even 5, if it’s just you and a child or two. Do your best to get a variety of types of pictures–nature, abstract art prints, paintings, etc.

Maybe something like this bird:
Bird

Or perhaps this heart shaped tomato piece that my daughter found:
DSCF0012

Works of art, postcards, greeting card fronts all work great for this and you can mix and match. However, I’d suggest avoiding anything that has familiar people in it. You’ll get deeper conversation when kids have to think about it a little bit. So here’s the set up:

Take your pictures and lay them out on a table. Ask kids to pick one that reminds them of love. My daughter chose a butterfly.butterfly-rhododendron_65514_100x75

The next question is both the easiest and hardest: “Why?” For younger kids, you’ll need something like, “What makes you think of love in that picture?” For older kids, “Why are you drawn to that picture?” Use language your kiddos understand.

My little one answered, “I don’t know. I just think butterflies are like love.” I left it there because I know her and I know that after some time, this idea will resurface. If not, I’ll help it resurface by bringing the picture out again. That’s also a perfectly reasonable answer for a 6 year old, even if that’s as far as it goes. If the timing is right, though, you can question a little more. Important! Affirm their answer first, before asking more questions! “That’s a really interesting observation, how are butterflies like love?” “Oh, butterflies remind me of love too (if they do), why do you think they remind us of love?

For older kids, you can connect this to God’s love. “How is God’s love like a butterfly?” For younger kids, keep it simple and trust that you’ve planted seeds that will grow in their heads and hearts and lead to many more discussions in the future.

Blessings!

Books About God

Books About God

Now a full-fledged kindergartner, my daughter is learning how to read.  She’s soaking up every book, letter and environmental print in sight.  While “Read to me” has always been one of her top requests, it’s now approaching a level of obsession.  “Time for lunch!” I say.  “Read to me while I eat.” She replies.  “Time for a bath.” “Read to me first.”  “Time for bed.”  “Let’s read 4 stories tonight!” 

Yesterday we were in the midst of one of these reading marathons when she came down with a book from my children’s minister days, God’s Paintbrush.  It’s kind of a theological exploration of creation for children.  (Wow, that couldn’t sound any more boring, could it?  But really, it’s pretty good.  I do typically recommend taking one or two pages at a time because it’s long and has questions for kids to think about.  However, we read the whole thing–twice.)  After that she went and got Because Nothing Looks Like God.  So we read that a few times. 

Later, N asked me to read them again.  When she did, she said, “I’m asking to read a lot of God books today because I had almost a whole day away from you and I missed you.”  Now that was one of those gratitude inspiring, wow “how did I do that?” moments.  My deepest wish in the whole world would be that N would discover a faith that is comforting to her in times of difficulty.  Whether that difficulty is being away from me for a day or something more grown-up.  I have no idea what made the connection in her little mind but I’m grateful for it.  It is a brief but profound reminder that kids are spiritual too and one of the greatest gifts is being able to walk that journey alongside them.