”The family is a proclamation of faith in that it is the natural place in which faith can be lived in a simple and spontaneous manner… It is, indeed, a Christian education more witnessed to than taught, more occasional than systematic, more ongoing and daily than structured into periods.”
I loved reading Rosina Hendrickson’s “Moments of Meaning Fuel an Infectious Faith” posted in early September. The four-step practice she shares (from Leif Kehrwald’s Families and Faith: A Vision and Practice for Leaders)—helping families “identify and celebrate moments of meaning in the contact of daily life”—is so powerful. Parents often think they have to “know” so much more. They have to “be” better. The reality of being the spiritual leader of their own household can be overwhelming. We can help alleviate that fear, but too often we exacerbate it by loading expectations on them before we help them see and celebrate what they’re already doing. Rosina’s focus on “all the moments of our day” is one I’d like to explore further…
Children learn faith in the family. They are already adopting spiritual language and practices before we ever see them in our programs. I think we’ve begun to acknowledge that as we walk alongside families today. We’re remembering that faith formation is not a service we’re offering, but a way of being, a way of growing together with children and their parents.
I am encouraged as I see the Church empowering parents—equipping them as witnesses of faith and listening to what they need and what they’re learning. We live our faith, our deepening relationship with God, day in and day out in the most natural ways. Often, we don’t even use faith language. It happens in moments. In seasons. If faith practices and faith conversations in the home have the greatest impact on a child’s faith formation (and that’s what research tells us), then how might we help parents to discover the ways they are already forming their children in faith, from their earliest days?
As ministry leaders, we might encourage parents to start by focusing on their children’s wonder and curiosity, as this increases a sense of gratitude in their children. Cultivating a sense of wonder in children can reawaken a parents’ wonder, too. And a healthy sense of wonder can lead to a posture that is always open to God’s presence in our world. In his book, The Wonder Switch, professional illusionist Harris III says wonder is what gives us permission to believe: “Wonder is the childlike state we find ourselvesn when we are awake to possibility and rescued from the ordinary, granting us permission to believe in what we have yet to see.”
What does that look like? Put simply, it looks like everyday life. It means paying attention to everything around us, to the many opportunities for conversation, for wonder and awe!
Here are just a few ideas to share with parents. These ideas and activities are excerpted from a parent booklet I’ve written, Faith Talks, Prayers, and Easy Activities for Raising Catholic Kids:
- Go for a prayer walk in nature. Notice all the sights and sounds and scents as you walk. Notice the plants, the animals, the hills, and the bodies of water. Wonder about the particular qualities of each of these along your path or in your neighborhood. Be sure to give praise to God for all of creation and give thanks to God for your shared experience.
- Go for a prayer walk in a city. Wonder at the artists who created the murals on building sides. Wonder at the skyscrapers and those who dreamed them into being. Think of all the people joined under one roof in those big high rises and ponder how God has gifted every one of us. Pray for the people you pass. Pray especially for those you see who are without shelter, without food. Give gratitude for the green spaces that exist in the midst of that city.
- Collect things in nature. This can also be a great “wonder-increaser.” Use leaves to decorate a fall table with natural items from the outdoors for Thanksgiving.
- Engage in other outdoor activities of your childhood. Recapture those things that encouraged wonder in you—activities like cloud-watching or rock-skipping.
- Encourage your children’s creativity. Help them see it as a reflection of our own role as co-creators with God. Help them to silence the inner critic by encouraging their own expression of what they see in creation through colored pencils, crayons, watercolor, and more. Affirm them. Call their attention to every part of this activity with wonder and curiosity.
- Visit places that cause you to be still and to reflect on this world. In these places, teach your child to practice stillness, even if it is just a few quiet moments (later that can be extended with practice.) Ask your children to be still, to quiet themselves and focus on the moment, listening “inside.” What do they notice? This practice can help you and your child appreciate this world and your place in it.
When we look for the good, the gifts, and the grace, we find them. We build a life that lends itself to “pray always” (as St. Paul taught us) when we give thanks and praise to our Creator in our practice of paying attention. Following a child’s curiosity, and encouraging their sense of wonder leads quite naturally to praise, prayer, and thanksgiving.
The family is where we learn this. Home is where we learn to pay attention to how God is present in our lives. This begins before any formal faith education before we begin to engage in the larger faith community. It begins at home, in simple and spontaneous ways. Our best ministry with families today, might be to remind them that it’s in the smallest ways, day in and day out, that our faith is formed.
Denise Utter, M.A., is a freelance consultant, writer, and a speaker—she’s been coaching with Vibrant Faith since 2018. She has worked in ministry and education for 30 years. Denise loves to inspire ministry leaders to reimagine faith formation, put families at the center of faith, and provide innovative approaches to faith formation.