Children at the Table: Some Thoughts on Communion and Children

I can’t imagine communion without children being present, partaking in the sacrament right alongside adults. I’m always taken aback, then, when I hear of people or churches requiring communion be reserved for children of a certain age, or for children who have completed some “to do” on the checklist, such as a public profession of faith or catechism class. The Lord’s Supper is a community celebration and it is a place where God’s grace is revealed.  If you or your congregation is wrestling with this, I invite you to consider the following:

Communion is the joyful feast of the people of God, and children understand it as such. 

 I recently had the opportunity to serve communion to a group of children, and the joy they had in receiving the elements was palpable. They sprinted up, tore the bread and happily ate, some of them laughing with excitement. Did their joy dilute the sanctity of the moment? Not at all. In fact, it added to the holiness. Many times adults come to the table with sad or somber faces out of the concern that one must be reverent at the table. I agree that the table should be approached with reverence, but reverence and solemnity are not  the same thing at all. There is such a thing as joyful reverence, and children understand this intuitively. Children, if given the opportunity, don’t grab a tiny square of bread, they tear off a large chunk. Where is it written that the communion bread must be consumed in one, tiny, disintegrating bite?

The communion feast is a symbol of our shared unity and faith. Denying children the elements sends the message that they are not a part of our community.

What kind of message does it send to children when the bread and the cup pass them by? I think the thought of those who elect to have children wait until they’re confirmed or older goes something like this: communion is a serious sign of faith that should not be entered into lightly. Those who partake of it must come to the table having examined its true meaning and understanding its significance. Not only do I think this argument is theologically flawed (more on that in a minute), I think those who offer it as a reason for excluding children from the table underestimate the value in passing on faith to very young children through this important ritual.

I often turn to the important work of James Fowler in Stages of Faith as a guide for understanding how children perceive the actions of the faith community. Fowler says that children in the first stage of faith, are in the “fantasy filled, imitative phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of primally related adults.”  (Stages of Faith  p. 133). What better way to influence through action than the table?  Furthermore, what connection are children supposed to draw about God’s table if they’re not allowed to eat at it? Is God for them, or not?

I remember one time when my children came to communion when they were very hungry. As they ate the bread and drank the juice and my child said, loudly “I’m still hungry!” What a wonderful theological statement, and a reminder that those who see things literally have a lot to teach us about how we come to the table.

The table is for all, even those who don’t fully understand it. 

The idea that children should wait until they understand what is happening there is very weak. The truth is, none of us fully understands the mystery of the communion table. Not even adults. John Calvin said, “there is something so mysterious and incomprehensible in saying that we have communion with the body and the blood of Jesus Christ, and we on our part are so rude and gross that we cannot understand the least things of God, it was of importance that we should be given to understand it as far as our capacity could admit.” (John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Supper of our Lord) If we were to exclude all those who do not fully understand the mystery of the sacrament, no one would be able to come. It is wrong to single out children when none of us could fully understand

The sacrament of communion sometimes leads people into deeper faith, rather than the other way around 

Sara Miles beautiful book Take This Bread tells many wonderful stories of how the communion table can be a place of conversion and grace, drawing people in to a place of deeper commitment to Christ. The same is true for children who often have a remarkable ability to explain the importance of coming to God’s table and partaking of the bread and juice.

There is strong historical precedent for children, even very young children, participating in communion. 

The very early church encouraged even babies to take bits of the elements as priests dipped their fingers in the juice and placed it in the baby’s mouth. The Eastern Orthodox church still continues this practice today. Far from being some sort of vogue new trend, communion for children has deep historical roots. 

Paul’s words to come to the table “examined” are taken out of context and used to exclude children from the table unnecessarily. 

One scripture that is used in support of keeping children from the communion table is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 about those who “partake unworthily.” My short response to this is: this isn’t talking at all about children coming to the table. For a fancier exegesis, however, I’d point folks to professor Wiema’s great article which you can read HERE. (The whole edition of that newsletter is devoted to the topic of children and communion. It’s all worth reading, but his piece on this scripture can be found on page 7 of that link.)

Attention Presbyterians: Children are officially invited to the table. 

Our Book of Order says this: The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended. So grateful to be a part of a denomination that officially welcomes all to the table!

 

What are your thoughts on inviting children to the table? Would love to hear them in the comments!

 

A Dinnertime Gratitude Practice for Families: How Did The Food Get to the Table?

We like to mix up the dinner time prayer at our house. Sometimes we sing a short song or say what we’re thankful for. Sometimes we say a traditional prayer. Sometimes we try something different.

Recently we tried a new exercise I wanted to teach you here today. The exercise was inspired by the video HOW TO MAKE A $1500 SANDWICH IN ONLY SIX MONTHS. It’s the incredible video of a man trying to create a sandwich absolutely from scratch including growing the wheat to grind into flour for the bread, killing the chicken, milking the cow for the cheese, etc. Take a look!  Watching that video reminded me of all the things that go into the dinners we eat every day in our house and take for granted. It was a really easy exercise. All we did was say “Wow, take a look at what’s on our table! What are all of the things that had to happen in order to get it here?” We tried this on a Saturday morning breakfast and were eating egg casserole with potatoes, bacon and cheese along with OJ and coffee. We talked about how the chicken laid the eggs that were checked and put into cartons that were brought to the store where we bought them. We said “thank you, God, for the chickens.” We talked about how bacon comes from pigs and said “thank you, God, for the pigs.”  Without much prompting, the boys made the connection to God when we were talking about the potatoes. We talked about how potatoes require soil, water, and sunlight and they offered that all of those things come from God.

Give it a try sometime and see how you like it! One thing I think would be good to add to this practice would be to talk a little about fair labor practices, or free range meat and eggs to get the discussion going about all of the ethical choices we have when we buy and prepare food. We didn’t do that this time, but I’m planning on that for next time.

Treasure Box Tuesday

Treasure Box Tuesday is a weekly (well, mostly weekly, some weeks are skipped) email of all the best resources for Children/Family Ministries. I link to interesting articles, products, books, conferences and all sorts of great goodies. It’s also the main way I keep y’all informed about what’s  I’m working on. I often include special discounts, promotions or other inside scoops, so make sure to sign up!

If you have the scoop on something you’d like me to feature on Treasure Box Tuesday, please fill out this form. Note: recommending something is not a guarantee it will be featured.

Faithful Families Study Guide: 4 Week Guide — FREE!

You’ve asked for it, and here it is!

Children and Family Ministers have been asking me for months for a study guide for Faithful Families, and it’s finally HERE!

Faithful Families is not a book that lends itself to traditional study because it’s a book of practices that are meant to be, well, practiced. I’ve been mulling around a format for a book study that would be meaningful and I’m thrilled at the result! This four week study identifies four values that are woven through Faithful Families and uses them as a framework for discussion. Each lesson features an article (that is free, and online) as well as a Bible passage. Suggested practices from Faithful Families are outlined each week and also used in the closing prayer practice. The four sessions are:

  • Faithful Families Value #1: Embrace the Messiness and Imperfection of Life
  • Faithful Families Value #2: Fight Against Consumerism and Materialism
  • Faithful Families Value #3: Prioritize Time Together
  • Faithful Families Value #4: Value Mystery and Accept Doubt

The four sessions are designed to be about an hour each, but the entire study could be adapted to one afternoon or evening workshop. Download, study, and distribute widely!

Please get in touch with questions or concerns. I’ll do my best to respond personally as I’m able!

HERE’S THE LINK to the study! So excited!

 

Shared Truths About Santa and Jesus: How to Talk to Children

Does teaching belief in Santa lead to a feeling of betrayal once a child learns the “truth” about him? How should Christian parents teach about Santa in a way that fosters trust and encourages mystery?

There are certainly a wide variety of opinions out there. Mine is this: Christian parents would do well to teach faith in Jesus and belief in Santa in nearly the same way. Jesus and Santa are both real, true, and rooted in myth. If we are willing to offer children more nuance when talking about Santa and Jesus, we might be able to set them up for a mature faith at a very young age.

If saying Jesus is rooted in myth makes it sound like Jesus is a fairy tale, or if saying Santa is real sounds divorced from reality, keep reading, you might change your mind.

The Myth of Santa and the Myth of Jesus

When we think about myth we often turn to the definition of a false narrative. Oh, she still believes the myth that a going outside with wet hair will give you a cold, or it’s a myth that if you have heartburn during pregnancy your baby will be hairy. The other definition of myth is a shared story that explains a deeper truth.

When it comes to Santa, we get stuck in a mental trap of believing that because Santa isn’t real, he isn’t true, and so we ignore the theological messages we are sending children when we talk about him. The Santa myth is 100% true. Who puts the presents under the tree every year in my house? Santa does. Santa may not be a physical being in a red suit with a sleigh, but he’s a real presence I learned from my parents who learned about Santa from their parents. My hope is that when my children learn that it’s not possible for one person to fly around the world giving presents to everyone they won’t feel “duped.” Instead, I want them to be drawn into a deeper faith in Santa, one that doesn’t rely on Santa needing a physical body.

In the same way, when we talk about our faith in Christ with children, we don’t have to get caught up in explaining all of the mysteries of our faith, particularly resurrection. How is it possible for a person to be resurrected from the dead and come back to life? It’s not scientifically possible at all, but that’s not the point. I’m not saying one way or the other whether or not Jesus’s body was literally and scientifically raised from the dead. I absolutely believe it’s possible, because for God, all things are possible. That said, it’s a mystery, and one that has very little impact on my faith. If the bones of Jesus were discovered somewhere, and there was 100% proof that Jesus’ body did not rise from the dead, I would still have faith. My faith in the resurrection is not tied to a scientific truth about his bones and body, just like my belief in Santa is not tied to one physical being who breaks into strangers houses in the middle of the night, via the chimney.

Some Practical Tips for Talking about Santa in Ways that Encourage a Mature Faith

  • Stop talking about Santa in ways that is connected to behavior. No more talk about Santa bringing gifts when you are good and coal when you are naughty. No more talk about Santa watching you and punishing you if you’re bad. No more “Santa is watching” talk at all. I’ve written about this before. I believe connecting Santa to behavior can be damaging to faith development.

 

  • Do not lie to children about Santa when they ask, but let it be an opportunity to engage some of these deeper discussions. I really like some of the wording in THESE letters that explain the concept of Santa.

 

  • Use words like mystery, shared story, and faith when talking about Santa.

 

  • Do not shy away from making a connection between Jesus and Santa, rather than trying to separate them. I love the idea of teaching about the historical St. Nicholas and connecting him to Jesus.

What do you think? What experience do you have teaching children about Santa and faith? What resources would you like to share? Use the comments below to talk about it!

Advent Roundup: Practices, Books, Activities and Gifts to Create Meaning at Home

Advent snuck up on me this year! I can’t believe it. It means my baby daughter is almost one year old! Wow! I’m glad to be able to get you this Advent roundup just in the nick of time.

This list is, in no way, exhaustive, but it’s a list of my favorite ideas for taking Advent out of the realm of buying and traditional gifting and into a place of deeper meaning and focus on that which is important. I hope you’ll find it to be both inspiration and full of permission. That is, when the stores and commercials and peer pressure make you think that the way to be a good parent is to give shiny things, you might be able to think “Yes, but there’s also another way…”

In an attempt to keep this list manageable, I’ll give three ideas for each. Yay for the perfect number of three!

Practices

If you’ve been hanging around this site for any length of time at all, you know that practices are my favorite. By practice I mean something that is repeated at regular intervals (usually daily or weekly) to deepen spiritual growth and focus. Taking up a spiritual practice during a season like Advent is a perfect way to “try one on” with a clear start and end date. Here are some I recommend:

  1. Fasting A couple of years ago I wrote about using the spiritual practice of fasting during Advent. Though we often associate fasting with Lent, I think Advent lends itself to fasting for different reasons. I especially recommend fasting during Advent for those who are finding this Advent to be challenging for one reason or another.
  2. Gratitude is a practice to take up anytime of the year, particularly Advent. Make a paper chain this advent where each link is something you’re grateful for. Watch it grow and decorate your house.
  3. Compassion and Service during advent as a practice can be life changing. I have an Advent calendar that focuses on this, but you can just as easily make a list of the ways you’d like to serve others this Advent and begin going through them one at a time.

Books

  1. The Song of the Stars – Poetic and beautiful and beloved by many. This one does not disappoint. Its perspective is that of creation waiting for the arrival of the baby Jesus. Lovely!
  2. Christmas Love Letters from God – I’ve talked about Glenys Nellist’s books many times before, and with good reason. I just love them. One of my favorite features of this book is that each page is a sort of “stand alone” story which makes it great to read through over time.
  3. Room for a Little One – A lovely story that focuses on the nativity through a variety of animal perspectives.

Faith Activities

Spending time together during Advent doing activities that teach some of the basic principles of faith is a wonderful way to make memories during the season, pass on faith, and spend time together. Here are three of my favorites!

  1.  Make an Advent Wreath and light the candles every day at dinner, or on Sunday evenings at home. Week one starts with the first candle, HOPE. Week two, is PEACE. Week three is JOY and week four is LOVE. Pinterest and Google are your friend for more examples than you ever wanted, but some of my favorites are: THIS crafty one from Jerusalem Greer, THIS simple design with votive candles (could be painted or unpainted.)  and  THIS no fuss budget version from Build Faith. The Build Faith version has words you can say around the table if you like. I also like the idea of using tea lights, as the photo above shows.
  2. Make a Jesse Tree – There are so many different ornaments, patterns, and guides for this online. THIS one from the RCA is a great place to start, but I recommend using whichever guide or style suits your family most.
  3. Do a Faith Practices Advent Calendar  – I’ll give a shout out for the one I created, of course! But you could make your own.

Gifts

Many churches have alternative gift markets or ways to highlight giving that go beyond a tangible product that can be broken or collect dust. Instead of saying no to all gifts, think about ways to give alternative gifts

  1. Give a gift for someone in need. I love these little boxes for kids that teach about a charity while offering them the opportunity to make something.  You could easily make one yourself by looking at this list, or asking around at local charities in your area.
  2. Give the gift of time and connection. Wrap up a certificate promising a nature walk together, quality time together to color or do art, or bake together. Your imagination is the limit!
  3. Give a gift to the earth. Pick up trash, make a bird feeder, or plant trees. Wrap up seeds, or the materials needed to make the feeder, or other earth-based gifts.

What are you doing to celebrate Advent with your family in a way that creates meaning and joy?

One more link. I have loved the graphics, videos and ideas Advent Conspiracy has put out for the last few years and highly recommend this site!

 

 

I share my favorite products and ideas because I love them! Some of the links are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if folks click through to buy. I use the funds to pay for costs associated with this site which keeps it free from other advertising and allows you these articles to remain free!

 

Stop Giving Parents the Stink Eye In Church

 

Recently I had the opportunity to hear from a young mom who had grown up in the church, spent some time away after she got married, and was now looking to bring her children back to faith in the church. Among many valid critiques about why church was becoming a frustrating experience for her as she tried week after week to find a place that would be good for her children was something that’s so easy for congregations to fix: the stink eye. Ah the “stink eye.” You know what that is, right? It’s that look of disapproval that comes darting over the glasses or sideways. It’s a look that says “shape up” or “shhhhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly.”

The stink eye is subtle and obvious all at the same time. You know it when you see it.

The stink eye is one reason young families don’t come to your church anymore. (Note: I didn’t say it’s the reason, there are lots of reasons for this, but I promise you, the stink eye is on the list.) Families who get the stink eye in a church don’t just get turned off from a church, they get turned off from church in general. Even if your church isn’t a stink eye church, you need to be aware of it, because you’ll have to work that much harder to compensate for all the stinky eyed churches out there. Trust me. The woman I heard from a few weeks ago was not the only one who has told me about the stink eye. It’s pervasive. The bad news about the stink eye is that it’s contagious: if your church has a (spoken or unspoken) rule that it’s okay to tell young families to “shape up” or “shhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly,” this rule will be enforced by the stink eye. The good news is that the stink eye is easily counterbalanced and shut down by easy ways to help young families feel welcome.

  • Offer a reassuring comment that lets the parents and the children know they’re welcome just as they are. My favorite is “We just love noisy and wiggly children in our sanctuary. It helps us all to hear their lively energy and to know they are present!” or “It’s hard to be still and quiet for a long time in church. You’re doing a great job.” If you are old enough to have raised children in the church you know it can be a challenge. A simple smile with the words “I remember what it was like when my children were small” says more than enough.

 

  • Smile. A warm genuine smile that says “No worries. We’ve got your back here.”

 

  • Engage the family or children. Some churches have worship bags or coloring sheets or even a Prayground for children to enjoy. If you’ve got these resources… show them off!

 

  • Resist the urge to correct or judge. Parenting styles range from very strict to very free range and every parent I know is just doing the best they can with the resources they have. What is appropriate guidance to one is “helicopter parenting” to another. What is helping a child develop independence to one is “laissez faire” to another. Parents are bombarded all the time by people telling us what to do and how to do it. What would it look like if churches were free of this type of judgment?

 

What would happen if your sanctuary was known for being a stink eye free zone? What if, instead of the stink eye, parents received smiles, reassuring comments, and full acceptance when they visited your church? I’ll tell you what would happen: they’d come back.

Sutherland Springs, One Week Later // Moving Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

 

Last Sunday, November 5th, was my 39th birthday. As I sat around a table with my family and a few friends, the news of the Sutherland Springs massacre started to come in on our phones. When we were cleaning up the plates of cake and ice cream I glanced at my phone. Tags on Social Media: “I think Traci Smith is nearby” and BREAKING NEWS texts from KSAT. It took no more than a quick scan to realize that this was wide ranging, devastating. Another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church.

another mass shooting in a church. 

I sent a quick text to the Executive Presbyter saying “If pastoral care is needed in Sutherland Springs, I am willing.” I didn’t expect to hear back from her until the next day at the earliest, but she called 20 minutes later. She told me that a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance representative had told her about a vigil in LaVernia, TX, nearby and asked if I would go with her.

This morning in my sermon, I told the congregation about the fear I had as we drove there, with my 10 month old baby sitting next to me in the backseat. I worried we wouldn’t be safe. A church vigil should be safe, right? That’s exactly the point. A church should be safe.

I told the rest of that personal story from the pulpit this morning, including the question I was asked by the pastor there: “What kind of evil is this?”

Deliver us from evil.

We talked this morning about the evil of what happened this week and how we have a responsibility to do something about it. Thoughts and prayers are important, but they’re not enough.

I’m grateful to my fearless colleague Rev. Krin Van Tatenhove and the Mission Elders of my congregation, Patty and Robert, for designing four action stations:

First, a station where folks could write cards and expressions of sympathy to members of the church.

Second, a station where they pick up information on how to talk to children about a tragedy like this. I also included the same practices I recommended to folks wanting to help children after hurricane Harvey.

Third, a station that details the PC(USA) work to prevent gun violence and

Finally, a letter writing station. Our friends at Texas Impact helped us draft the following letter that parishioners could send to Speaker Joe Straus and Governor Abbott:

 

Dear Governor Abbott:

The recent tragic shooting at a place of worship in Sutherland Springs has once again highlighted policy issues related to the availability of firearms. Specifically, the interplay of Texas and Federal firearms laws, administrative procedures related to those laws, and the special circumstances of domestic violence and mental health woven into this tragedy mandate that Texas continue its ongoing efforts to improve public policy and reduce the chance of the next terrible event. None of these issues is new to the legislature. In fact, we have shown strong willingness to discuss these issues both individually and in relationship to one another. Specifically, we applaud the legislature’s commitment to mental health over the past several sessions. However, we are sadly reminded that there is much more work to do.

We request that you direct the appropriate committees in your houses to conduct a comprehensive review of policy issues potentially related to this tragedy, including:

  • The interplay of, and confusion between, various state and federal gun laws related to possession, transport, and licensure;
  • The communication between local, state, and federal authorities (including military authorities) of information pertinent to an application to obtain a firearm;
  • The communication of aggregated authority to sellers of firearms, and actions taken by sellers to deny a sale; and
  • Current laws related to disqualification for firearm purchase as a result of domestic violence and mental health records.

We believe that such an interdisciplinary review will be valuable to our communities, to Texans in general, and to policymakers as they grapple with the policy issues that such tragedies illuminate.

After the service, I was overwhelmed by the number of connections my San Antonio had to Sutherland Springs. I knew some of the stories, but not all of them. I walked away from service reminded again just how much this tragedy was  in our own back yard, but it’s always in somebody’s backyard…

 

Resources:

  1. The letter: please feel free to copy and paste the letter and send to your own representatives. We have no ownership over it and are deeply grateful to Texas Impact for their support.
  2. Resources for children. We provided THIS and THIS today.
  3. PCUSA Resources on Gun Violence
  4. Why Christians Must Support Gun Control 

 

Boredom as a Spiritual Practice

Recently I’ve been actively working on making sure my children and I are bored on a regular basis. Yep, that’s right. I’m trying to be bored and to make sure the rest of my family is too. It all started a few months ago when I heard an episode of the RobCast called “The Importance of Boredom.” The episode is well worth your time, and it’s a reflection on what it means to be busy all the time, filling up every single spare second with something to do. Bell talks a lot about the time we spend doing things that don’t nurture our souls — aimlessly scrolling through social media, for example.  The episode reminded me of a sermon I heard John Ortberg preach one time. (tangental side note: Why you gotta leave the PCUSA, John Ortberg?!) Anyway, I can’t remember the exact topic of the sermon now, but I do remember he was talking about TV watching. At some point he addressed the congregation and said “Who here, after watching a few hours of TV leaps up from the couch and says ‘Man, I feel great! That was really energizing!’?” The answer, of course, is nobody, because TV isn’t energizing; it’s draining. Boredom, as defined by Rob Bell and by me in this post is the exact opposite of TV watching. Boredom done right can be very energizing. When we are bored our mind has a chance to rest and think, and we’re able to actually be creative and fresh. Sometimes it is in the stillness and silence of boredom where the best ideas are born.

Choosing to be Bored

What does it mean to try to be bored? In my experience, there are many times where boredom might creep in, but  a persistent voice urging me to “be productive!” or “Get something done!” stops it cold in its tracks. I have a tendency to do anything required to shut that voice up. So instead of just sitting in silence while I ride the elevator up to the eighth floor, or mindlessly browsing the silly headlines on the tabloids in line, I feel obligated to read  emails, respond to text messages and flip through my to-do list. Filling up the cracks of the day with stuff to do seems productive on the surface, (see how many things I get done, even while I’m in the elevator!) In reality, though, it just wears me down. After a full day of “productivity” the only thing I want to do is collapse in a heap and watch Netflix. Intentional boredom is a remedy for this way of living. The phrase”Not every second needs to be scheduled” has been my new mantra. Paradoxically, doing nothing is the thing to do. Here are times when I’ve been choosing boredom recently: 

  • In the car — I’ve not even been listening to music or podcasts recently — just silence (there’s a version of this in Faithful Families called “Silent Car Rides.”)
  • In line at the grocery store. No flipping through the phone or texting, or working on the meal plan, just looking at the extra large sized candy bars and thinking “why aren’t they called ‘King Sized’ anymore?” or pondering the crazy tabloid headings
  • While waiting for a meeting to start, or when getting somewhere early — Instead of sitting in the car and flipping through email or Facebook, I take a walk
  • In between tasks – I get up and walk around for a little while instead of scrolling social media or trying to squeeze in one more thing.
  • In the shower – Extra long shower for the win!

Making Room For Children to be Bored

There’s some fairly compelling evidence that boredom is great for children, too. Providing space for boredom in my home is not easy for me. Its easy to feel like I’m being lazy if I don’t have a structured activity for my children to do to do, especially since I don’t have a lot of time with them during the week. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m tempted, not by structure, but by formless screen time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just say “why don’t we turn on Paw Patrol” so I don’t have to think about it. The middle way is, what I’ve been calling “space for boredom.”  We turn off the TV, don’t plan anything to do, and see what happens. It’s not usually the first hour or two that are a problem. They happily play. It’s what happens after the playtime gets, well… boring. When I’m most tempted to say “Ok, let’s go to the museum now!” or “Ok, let’s turn on Paw Patrol” is precisely the time to say, “I know it’s hard to find something to do sometimes” and to go back to making muffins. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, and the results have been even more powerful than I originally anticipated.

Crayons have come out, on their own. Kleenex boxes have been sloppily taped onto Amazon boxes with proud declarations of “It’s an ambulance.” Comic books have been created. It’s magical, but certainly not easy. In order to get there, we’ve had to suffer through many rounds of “Pleeeeeeeeeease can we go to incredible pizza” and “This is SO BORING.” Well, when you’re bored you can think. When you can think you can be creative. Boredom is a gift. Not all the time, but some of the time. Too much boredom isn’t good, of course, but this not the danger for our family and a lot of families like us.

This “dance floor” was born after a long stretch of boredom

It seems to me that previous generations of parents understood this intuitively (plus there were no iPads or TV on demand to compete with.) Boredom wasn’t really something you needed to “make room” for in those days. It just happened. Now, if we want our children to be bored, we have to make sure it happens by intentionally blocking out the time and saying no to extra lessons and classes and enrichment opportunities and parties. We have to make space. 

 

Here are some times when I’ve been making room for my children to be bored:

  • In the car
  • On Saturdays (all day, not just for an hour or two)
  • Sunday afternoons
  • Days off of school
  • At the dinner table — Example: “May I be excused?” answer “In a few more minutes….”

Boredom Apps? Say what?

It seems counterintuitive to think about using technology to find rest and create boredom, but there are actually some tools I’ve found that work remarkably well for this.

Forest App: I’ve mentioned this one before, but the forest app helps plant virtual trees to keep you off of your phone. The more time you’re away from your phone, the more trees are planted. Plant enough virtual trees and forest will plant real trees in your honor. Pretty great. I go through seasons where I use this app a lot. 

Forest App is one of my favorites. Grow trees instead of looking at your phone!

Do Not Disturb Mode: I’ve not had to use this in awhile, but there have been times when I’m so fried and so overloaded by texts and emails that I need to not know that they exist. In order to get in to true do not disturb mode, I need to adjust my phone settings to turn off all notifications for email (I turned them off for social media a long time ago) and also put the phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode (this works well for iPhone. I’m not sure how to make it work for Android, but I’m sure Google will help!) iPhone will kick out of Do Not Disturb mode if someone calls back immediately.

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook: This extension for Chrome has been a huge game changer for me. I love using Facebook for a lot of things, including keeping up with folks in my congregation, keeping connected in clergy communities, and connecting with friend who don’t live in the same city as me. At the same time, it can be a huge way to fill up empty time that should be used for boredom or true rest. The Newsfeed Eradicator removes the newsfeed. You can still get notifications, still check on groups, still update status, etc. It eliminates the phenomenon whereby I log in to Facebook to check on something and 20 minutes later I’m clicking through photos of people I don’t even know because they’re there. HERE’s a link for Chrome. Also available for phones, I believe. 

Boredom has been a gift recently. It’s been the difference between exhaustion and a little room. It’s not been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

What about you? What do you think of boredom? Is there a place for it in your life or home? Share your stories in the comments!

Taking a Spiritual Inventory (with printable worksheet!)

 

The older I get, the more convinced I am that our spiritual health and wellness is vital to our physical, emotional, and psychological health and wellness as well. (I guess I’m in the right profession!) In other areas of wellness I see a lot of resources for assessment. There are lots of ways to evaluate one’s physical health or psychological health, but how do I know if I’m spiritually healthy? How can I identify areas of spiritual health and wellness? I spent some time thinking about this and made a spiritual inventory for myself and others. If it sounds like something you might be interested in using, take a look! I would love to know if you have any questions or thoughts. Peace, and enjoy!

Evaluating Spiritual Wellness: A Guide

NOTE: To download a the questions in one easy worksheet, click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF

At the end of this, the goal is to feel more hopeful and inspired for future growth. If this isn’t the case, you did it wrong. (I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course!) It’s important to approach this exercise with that outset “I’d like to continue to grow spiritually, and I want to take look at where things are. The goal is not to give myself a grade or to feel poorly about how things are going.”

Spiritual health is intimately connected to physical, emotional, financial, and psychological heath. It’s hard to write about “spiritual health” divorced from these things. Often a detailed look into of all of life will yield interesting results or connections, and often one life change can show results in all of these areas. For example, taking up a practice of walking could lead to health in all sorts of areas, not just physical health. These are your questions, so it’s fine to go off on a “tangent.” If reflecting for a bit on spiritual health leads to some changes in the way you manage your money or cook your food, go with it. Maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something!

How to use these questions: Sky’s the limit! Some may choose to write down their answers all in one swoop, on a 1/2 or day long silent retreat. Others may choose to do them in a group, with trusted friends or mentors. Pastors and ministry leaders might want to use them as a “jumping off point” for a retreat or workshop on faith development. Work through them in a language that works for you, whether it’s long form writing or journaling, or painting, or conversation. Return to them as often as is necessary. I ordered these questions with a specific progression in mind. I believe you will get the most value from this exercise if you work through them in order and challenge yourself to complete every question. Enjoy!

1. What do I believe? (Crafting a personal faith statement)

There are no “right” answers here, and honesty is key. What do you believe about the world? About human nature? About God? Which beliefs are central to your sense of identity? For many of us, (pastors too!) we don’t often take the time to look at our beliefs closely, under a microscope. Sometimes, when we do, what we find surprises or even scares us. Consider how you want to write your personal faith statement. Do you want to write it out in narrative form? As a list of beliefs? Do you want to paint it? Make a poem? Tell a story? Select a series of photographs that illustrate your beliefs? Whatever you choose, make it something natural for you. Dig in deeply, here. What do I believe, for real? Nobody will be checking over your shoulder.

2. What are my biggest doubts and questions?

Doubts and questions are great teachers and an important part of mature faith. The purpose of writing these down is not to identify weakness or problems. Quite the opposite, identifying doubts and questions help make space for us to understand how the spirit is at work and where our faith is growing. What haunts you? What is bothering you? What can’t you reconcile? Put these things down on paper.  Sometimes just naming these things and writing them down can do remarkable things.

3. When do I hear God’s voice* most clearly now or in the past?

Perhaps there is a certain place you go where you hear God’s voice most clearly, or a certain state of being you are in when you feel the most connected to God.

I used the words “God’s voice” because it makes sense to me and it’s how I describe a feeling of spiritual connectedness to God and to others. There might be another way that works better for you. Perhaps “when do I feel most spiritually connected?” or “When am I most at peace with myself and others?”

4. How have my beliefs changed over time? How are they in the process of changing? What season or shape is my faith and spirituality taking right now?

Faith and spiritual wellness seems to change with seasons. Some describe “dry” or “dark” times of the soul when things are challenging or difficult. Others talk about “mountaintop” experiences when things seem to be going really well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what season one is in at any particular time, but it’s helpful, I think, to take a look behind and consider how beliefs have changed over time, or are in the process of changing.

5. What spiritual practices are nurturing to me?

For this question, it might be helpful to think in terms of past spiritual practices, present ones and those that we’d like to try in the future. For this, it’s helpful to think of spiritual practices folks might label as “traditional” (such as prayer, meditation, fasting or acts of service) as well as those that might be unique to you: silence, poetry, art, walking, gardening, journaling, running. Whatever practice helps you to feel most spiritually alive and connected and able to hear God’s voice. Perhaps there is a practice that was valuable to you in the past which has somehow faded away, Write down those that were valuable in the past as well as those in the present. If there is no spiritual practice currently alive and active in your life, note that as well.

6. What goals would I like to implement in order to be more spiritually healthy?

By now, you have laid out a clear foundation of what you believe, what doubts and questions are brewing in you and what season of life you might be in. You’ve also taken the time to think about what spiritual practices are nurturing to you. Now is the time to think about some goals for spiritual wellness. I would caution against jumping straight to this question without doing the reflection that comes beforehand. Though it takes some time, it will put things into sharper focus and help refine what kind of spiritual practice you might want to embark on. A few “refresher course” words about goals. Goals should be as specific as possible and as quantifiable as possible. So saying “I’d like to meditate more” is far less effective than “I’d like to do ten minutes of meditation from Headspace per day for ten days in a row to see how it works for me.” When goals have specificity and can be measured, it’s much easier to see if you’re on track and, if not, to make a course correction. One helpful tip for goals is to make sure not to pile on too many. One or two is a great place to start, you can always add more, change or refine as time goes on.

7. What steps do I need to take in order to make my goals a reality?

Perhaps something needs to be moved off of your schedule in order to have the space and time to focus on a new goal. Perhaps you need to enlist the help of another person to encourage or help you stay focused. A word of caution here: be wary of thinking that your spiritual goals can only be reached by investing a lot of money. Particularly in North American culture, we’re trained to believe that if we just purchase the “right” (fill in the blank) we’ll have what we need. This is a lesson I feel like I’m still learning. Whenever I want to tackle the clutter in my house, I am tempted to buy more baskets or boxes or clutter busting devices when, in reality, what I need to do is this: get rid of the stuff that’s creating the clutter in the first place. There are so many great products, tools, services and “gadgets” to help with spiritual heath and wellness. Over time you may find a natural way to incorporate some of them into your life. At the same time, when you’re laying out your goals and vision, try to resist adding a long list of things to buy.

8. What resources do I have that will help me with my goal?

Here you can list personal resources (motivation, strength, kindness, attention), people resources (friends, spiritual mentors or leaders, family members.) and stuff resources (supplies, books, videos, songs.)

9. When will I begin?

The sooner the better!

10. When will I re-evaluate?

I think it’s a great idea to give yourself a relatively short timeframe (say 6-12 weeks) in which to try a new practice and then re-evaluate with a mini version of this inventory to see how things are going and try something new!

There you have it! My attempt at a spiritual inventory. I’ve done variations of this myself and found it very helpful. If you try it either on your own, or with a group, let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Don’t forget to snag your printable worksheet!  Click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF!

I would love to know your thoughts! Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking!