Nurturing your children’s faith

The God of the Pots and Pans

Our families are holy ground. Here we experience love in all its joy and sorrow, transcendence and ordinariness, wholeness and mess. Here is our domestic church where God dwells just as surely as He does in any mighty cathedral. St Teresa of Avila said that ‘God is in the pots and pans’ and this is where we can find Him in all the day-to-day work of family life and this is where we find ourselves poured out in love, given away, made holy. As followers of Christ, we are all called to holiness and our family lives are moment-by-moment, daily invitations to love and to be loved in all the repetitive business of human life because there, beneath the surface, is God- Love Himself.

Our children usually first learn of love through us, their parents. We are their first teachers and they experience the love of God through our love for them. God is there in our kindness, self-sacrifice, patience, forgiveness, fairness, honesty and perhaps this is the beginning of us as parents, passing our faith to our children. We are attempting to show the Face of God to our children, just as Jesus showed us the Face of the Father through His Incarnation. And maybe this is the most important witness we can give – a faith lived. All those small signs of love; a kiss, a meal, clean clothes, an unkind remark forgiven, done with love and faith. Are these the ‘sacraments’ of our domestic church? Visible signs of grace, of God’s Love.

 

Faith Enough to Share

Of course, in order to nurture the gift of faith in our children, we find that our own faith also needs nurturing. It can be tested as we meet the challenges of family life. In my own faith journey, I found myself returning to the Sacraments in a new way, exploring how my faith could inform my day-to-day life. I also discovered that I knew few of the answers to the very challenging questions that my children ask! So, rediscovering the ‘reasons for your hope’ (1 Peter 3:15) became important and life-giving. We do, I think, need to talk about our faith, bringing God into our daily conversations when it is called for. This can be challenging because it often feels as if we cannot clothe our faith with words, God is a Being, our faith a result of encountering Him, a gift. It can also feel as though our own faith is not strong enough, we have so many questions ourselves, we feel far from understanding the mysteries of God. There are no easy answers here, and perhaps if we feel we know all the answers, we probably haven’t understood the question! If we let Him, the Holy Spirit will guide us and sometimes, maybe we are called to live in the mystery of God, letting go of our tight grip and allowing God to be the heart of our families.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”                Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Struggles and Imperfection

It is often difficult to see our own home as a holy place or a domestic church – after all, we live there and know how far it is from ideal! Each family has its own story, its own history and its own struggles. We look at other families in church whose children are well-behaved and quiet, whose teenagers still come to Mass, where both parents are there, and so on and wonder where we went astray with our own family, what we did wrong. This is deeply painful but this is also holy ground. It is exactly here in our brokenness, our woundedness and our imperfection that the Lord enters in. Holiness is not in perfection, it is in the struggle. In the Gospels, we see how Jesus is irresistibly drawn to people who have need of Him; the sick, the grieving, the sinners, the lonely and the broken. He is still walking with us today, loving us and meeting us in all our need.

 

Being a Witness

Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”                                Pope Paul VI

Children learn the faith through us as models and witnesses. We do not have to perform amazing feats; just live our everyday family lives with love. Our example is powerful as our children watch how we navigate relationships with loved ones, how we live out our faith, how we do our work, how we connect with the wider community. We hope that our children see us putting into practice what we believe and living in accordance with our beliefs.

If we want our children to learn how to incorporate faith into their own lives, we also need to practice the faith explicitly at home.  A routine for prayers at home, talking about God and church teaching, celebrating special liturgical seasons, sharing our own faith stories, having pictures and statues in our homes that reflect our faith are all ways of making God central in our family lives. It is also very helpful if we can spend time with other families, where both parents and children can share experiences of the journey as a Christian family, knowing that we are not alone. Our children develop their own faith journey too, as they are brought more deeply into the life of the church through the Sacraments of Initiation; Baptism, Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. They come to Mass with us, joining with the wider Catholic community at the source and summit of our lives as Catholic Christians.

All this sounds very perfect, and therefore unlikely that it will be plain sailing for most families. Each family is unique, with its own ingredients of personalities, beliefs, resources, constraints, struggles and commitment. It is easy to feel inadequate, thinking that we have failed, when things do not go to plan. It is extremely hurtful if, despite our best efforts, our children reject faith and no longer wish to practice. We cannot pass on our faith wholesale to our children; it is a gift that they have to accept as their own. In this, as in all things, we are called to trust in our loving, merciful Father, that He will bring all His children home one day.

 

Questions to think and pray about:

In what ways are love and grace present in the everyday life of my family?

In what areas do I struggle with my own faith and how would I like to change this?

What is stopping me from sharing my faith with my family?

What areas of my family life feel broken and difficult?

How can I allow God into those areas?

Do I have any ideas, tips or experiences that could help others?