There were so many things I didn’t know when I became a mother. I didn’t know how to change a diaper; the hospital nurse showed me. I didn’t know when I should take my daughter to the doctor; the pediatrician gave me a chart. I didn’t know what to consider when choosing a school; the internet helped on that one.
Because I wanted to be a responsible parent, I’ve tried to learn whatever I needed to know to care for my children. Sometimes it wasn’t pleasant (rectal temperatures come to mind), but if it was necessary, in general I tried to accomplish it. I think many parents are the same: we will do whatever we think is in the best interests of our children, even if it means stretching ourselves.
As religious educators, we often bemoan the lack of commitment made to faith practices among those we wish were more faithful. But how often do we make clear exactly what we believe is critical for parents to do in order to raise children in the Christian faith? Too often, I find myself saying “I wish our families were more regular at church” without ever having made clear that I hope every family will worship God in community each weekend. Without ever having made clear that being a Christian is a full-contact sport which requires appropriate preparation, intentionality and communal support.
I have only myself to hold accountable when families consider church optional. I’ve never taught them any differently. The pediatrician would never dream of saying, “Your son doesn’t need a well-child check-up; just bring him when you feel like it.” The school wouldn’t say, “Don’t bother reading the manual.” Precisely because there are so many demands on parents’ lives these days, I find myself trying to squish faith practices into a smaller and smaller space just so people can fit them in – and compromising in the process. I may not say “don’t worry about practicing your faith,” but I may as well, because unless I have clear expectations, the unspoken message is that I have no expectations in particular.
It’s a new year. And this year, I vow: to be clear with parents and the church as a whole about the nature of practicing Christian faith. There’s a cost to discipleship. But also: Christian discipleship is the one sure way to have an abundant life, an adventure with God where we are never alone.
Of all the things I’ve learned since I became a parent, practicing faith with my children has undoubtedly been the most valuable, both for them and for me. This year I pray for the words to be clear about that, and for the boldness to share them.