Category: Spiritual Practice

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!

 

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!

Snuggled Under God’s Wings and the Butterfly Prayer – Two Practices for Children Experiencing Natural Disaster

Dear Friends,

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I want you all to have two practices from Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home that can be used with families and children after a trauma. Both of them allow opportunities for children to feel safe, loved and cared for in the midst of chaos all around.

Pastors and children’s ministers: you can make these available to your congregations so that children may have some practical and hands-on ways to cope.

Parents: these practices require only materials you have at home, and you can do them with children of any age.

The first, “Snuggled Under God’s Wings” provides assurance of safety and an opportunity to talk about what it means to be safe.

The second, “The Butterfly Prayer” is modeled after The Butterfly Hug.

Both of these practices can be downloaded for free HERE, courtesy of Chalice Press. Excerpted from Faithful Families

All of my prayers and love,

Traci Smith

PS – For more practical and hands on way to talk with children after a natural disaster, please see THIS POST. 

 

 

Back to School Traditions!

Yesterday we all piled into the van for the annual school supplies shopping trek. I feel like not much has changed there since I was a child. Some of the exact same items are on the list, in fact. First, there’s the “mostly easy to find but one or two impossible things to find” item. in our case purple pocket folders with brads in the middle. Plenty of red, blue, yellow and green, but purple? Nowhere to be found. Next there’s the famous “thanks for being so specific, but I’m not getting that” item. For us two boxes of two hundred-count unscented Kleenex fit the bill. The 180 count boxes will have to suffice. Who can forget the  “We’re not getting that because it’s not on the list” item? In Clayton and Sam’s case, many things items including (but not limited to) Skittles, office chairs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencil sharpeners, and post-it notes in the shape of arrows fit this description. Ah the joys. Although some parts of back to school shopping are a drag, it’s also really great. I love the tradition of it all, the reminder that something new is about to happen, and the hopefulness that comes with the start of a new year.

Obviously, I love traditions. A full 1/3 of Faithful Families is dedicated to them. The back to school tradition in the book is included at the end of this post. Before we get to that, though, I thought I’d give a shout out to a few other traditions that I think are really great.

Back to School Benedictions

This idea comes from writer and podcaster Osheta Moore who runs the great website Shalom in the City. Her entire post is on this topic is so lovely and heartfelt and you must read it in full to appreciate the idea. Basically, you come up with a benediction for the school year with your child, write it down, and photograph it. Head over to the post for full details and photos of Osheta’s lovelies. I absolutely love this idea, and think it’s a great way to frame the new year with your children. I enjoy Osheta’s work, and think you will too!

Back to School Pictures

These are becoming pretty popular, and I think a nice back to school picture on the first day is a great idea! (Warning: one thing that’s wrong with them is that they can contribute to a sense of “I’m doing it wrong” among parents when the first day doesn’t go as planned, the child doesn’t sit still for the picture — or doesn’t want a picture — or when something just doesn’t feel “picture perfect” in life. If this feels like you this year I urge you, in fact I challenge you to ditch the first day of school picture! Your child will not be scarred for life if he/she does not have a neat and tidy photo from the first day of school for every year. It’s fine!) There are plenty of places online to get free printable signs to hold up that say “First day of Kindergarten” and so forth. It’s fun to see folks taking their back to school pictures by the same tree or whatever. When I was little, we always took photos in front of the fireplace.

Back to School Breakfast

If you can swing it, having a back to school breakfast is a fun idea. If parents are able to go in to work late, or if a special guest can come over or Skype in (hi grandma and grandpa!) it could make the first day extra special. Perhaps having something a little indulgent (donuts?!) in addition to healthy brain food could be a good addition to the first day of school. 

Back to School Acts of Service

I think it’s always fun to think about a way to do something kind or nice in connection with a special day like the first day of school. I’ve been wondering about some acts of service that might work well for back to school. If you’ve got a tradition that your family does around this, I’d love it if you shared it in the comments. For our family, it’s going to be to make up an extra bag of school supplies for each child’s classroom (and add a little gift card to Office Max or Target). We’ll write a note to the teacher telling him or her that the gift is intended for anyone who needs them. If we’re really lucky, we’ll track down some more of those purple folders with brads for others who weren’t able to find them!  I think it’s a good reminder not to take school supplies for granted, and I got the idea from a former counselor from my child’s school who told me they have resources for students who need supplies, but can always use some extras so they don’t have to come out of the teacher’s pocket.

Back to School Footprint Tradition

This is the tradition in my book Faithful Families. My son Samuel and I made a video to explain it. Check it out if you haven’t seen it already:

I’m very excited that Chalice Press is allowing us to offer the back to school practice from the book as a PDF for you completely free. Just download HERE!

What are your back to school traditions? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these as well as ideas for others. Please feel free to share in the comments!

Mental Clarity and Peace for Parents: 4 Apps I Recommend

 

Last night on Facebook Live, I got to talking about some of the apps I use as Spiritual Practices. As I said on the broadcast, for me doing a spiritual practice isn’t an  “all or nothing” enterprise. I don’t use all four of these apps every day. Rather, I pick one up for a season in life and use it for awhile and then I’ll go to something else. Someone asked for a post with links, so here you go! Leave a comment with your favorite ones, or with questions about these! Ta da!

1. (In the top left of the photo) Gratitude 365. I’ve tried a few different apps for gratitude, and this is the best one. You take a photo each day and add (in journal form) your gratitude. There are several different views and layouts each day.

2. (Top right in the photo) Five Minute Journal. Most people who are talking about the Five Minute Journal are talking about the great physical book/journal. I’ve seen it: it’s gorgeous and great. For me, the actual book doesn’t work because it’s just one more thing to carry around. I love the app. The morning takes you through gratitude, an intention and affirmations. The afternoon has a reflection on the day. As the name suggests: it’s a five minute process each day.

3. (In the bottom left of the photo) Headspace. (The link goes to the Amazon subscription, but also available for iPhone and other phones) Headspace does what it says: gives you space inside your head! It’s a meditation app, but instead of being cheesy or hokey or weird, it’s really good and clean and methodical. There are guided meditations, unguided ones, short ones long ones, and “packs” that take you through whatever you’re trying to work on. I love it for personal spiritual practice, but we also use some of the short kid meditations, either at the dinner table or at bedtime. Love Headspace!

4. (Bottom right in the photo) Forrest App. I don’t use this as much as I did at one time in my life, but it’s still on my phone. Forrest is a way to focus and leave your phone to the side by growing virtual trees on your phone. For each tree you grow, you get little coins that can be redeemed for fancier trees or (if you get enough) to plant a real live tree somewhere in the world. Fun, and great for teens, I think.

 

There you have it! What are your favorites?

 

 

Sabbath Notecards: Helping Families Rest – (Spiritual Practice) #FaithfulFamilies

Sabbath, to rest. Rest. Rest. So many of the parents I know are desperate for rest. Incidentally, rest isn’t the same as sleep. One can be well rested on very little sleep. Conversely, one can get many hours of sleep and still not feel rested. True rest comes from a sense of peace and calm and sabbath. Sabbath is the opportunity to reflect, recharge and renew. Often people use the metaphor of a cup filled with water to represent Spiritual well being – one can not help fill the cup of others if her own cup is empty. This is as true in parenting as it is in ministry.  Sabbath keeping for parents can be a challenge. As my friend Nicole, a family therapist writes, many of us make excuses for why we don’t have time for self care or Sabbath. We’ve got deadlines, and busy lives. Children have needs around the clock. That said, developing a routine of Sabbath is so important to spiritual well being and health.

The Sabbath Practice in Faithful Families uses Sabbath Notecards. In order to help families save time on this practice, I made printable notecards to download and use. They can be downloaded HERE.

It’s easy to use them, just print out the one minute Sabbath Cards on a different colored paper from the five minute Sabbath Cards. When your family has time for a short rest, choose either a One Minute Sabbath Card or a Five Minute Sabbath Card and do what it says.

Use them regularly and come up with your own ideas for for one and five minute Sabbath!

As I was revisiting these and typing them out for the notecards it occurred to me that many of these activities are geared for older children and parents. Five minutes of silence, for example, is a definite “yeah, not going to happen” for preschool families. Start small, though, and work your way up. Enjoy these Sabbath Notecards! I look forward to hearing how your Sabbath practices develop.

For Further Reading: Sabbath in the Suburbs, A Family’s Experiment With Holy Time

 

5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.

paperchain

  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!

actsofkindness

2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.

adventbooks

4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.

 

 

 

Making Time and Space For Gratitude

rainbow

Walking through Target and the grocery store this week, I’ve noticed something: Thanksgiving seems to be missing from the shelf. Pumpkins and ghost napkins are 50% off, and the empty space that’s left is being filled with stockings and gingerbread. Out with goblins and pumpkins, in with Santa and stockings.

On the one hand, this is rather refreshing. After all, it’s kind of nice that Thanksgiving gets to slide in under the radar of “things you need to buy in order to celebrate.” On the other hand, it feels like the culture simply can’t be bothered with a culture centered around gratitude. There’s a lesson in there. If we want to foster a practice of gratitude, we’ll have to work to make it happen.We can’t just pick it up and put it in the cart, we’ll have to do some actual work.

November is a great month to focus on gratitude. Not only is Thanksgiving toward the end of the month, but the culture seems to be dumping glitter and evergreens on us, even if we’re not ready. Focusing on gratitude in November provides a slowing rhythm to our days. It gives us the opportunity to say “Not yet… not yet…” to all the twinkle lights and jingle bells.

There are many ways to incorporate gratitude in to the month of November (or, frankly, any month) but one of the easiest and most important is to simply ask “What am I thankful for?” Ask your friends or your spouse or children. Be surprised at what they say. We rotate family prayers at dinnertime and one of them is “Let’s all go around and say one thing we are thankful for.” Our oldest son, Clayton (age 5) often chooses that one. Last week when he did, his four year old brother said “I’m thankful that kids have kid scissors.” I asked what made him think of that and he said “I don’t know, I just like them.”

November starts in three days. Ready to take the challenge? 

 

 

 

When We’re All On Edge: 4 Spiritual Practices for Election Season

Is it just me, or are we all on edge lately? We have a lot to be overwhelmed about. This is a very tense election season. The stakes are high. Everyone has an opinion they’re trying to boil down to 140 characters and a bumper sticker. People are talking past each other, calling each other names, un-friending, making threats If you vote for him I will unfriend you. If you vote for her, don’t expect to see me at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s loud.  As one who loves to help children and families find moments of peace and rest in their busy lives, I feel like my role in the conversation is to simply knock on the door and say “Hey there. Take a deep breath. (Thanks to my son’s Pre-K teacher we call them ‘belly breathes’ in my family.) Use kind words. Give each other a hug. It will all be ok.”

If you, like me, are feeling tense and overwhelmed this election season as words and insults and articles are being flung to and fro, I invite you to take a look at one of these 4 spiritual practices. See where it leads.

The Spiritual Practice of Media and Electronics Fasting: Fasting from media and electronics is the fasting of our age. As I write this, I’m sitting at the “charging station” in the airport. It’s jam packed in here as we all crowd around the precious electrical outlets, making sure we can be connected, always. I understand, truly. It’s good (and feels normal) to be informed and connected. Still, we feel over-saturated at times, and need to simply unplug, take a break, turn it down. I think the New Testament advice about fasting (as it, in that time, applied to fasting from food) is great advice “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret. And when your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:16-18. In other words, it’s not necessary to announce your fasting to the entire world, nor is it necessary to judge or look down on others who aren’t fasting. Fasting is personal. Fasting requires discernment. Nobody can tell you how to fast or for how long, or what to do, but a good spiritual director, pastor or friend might have some guidance. Try fasting for a day, or a few days, or a week. Perhaps fast from certain devices or certain social networks. Notice how you feel and what you learn. Journal. Take notes. See what God does through the fasting. Just like fasting from food, it might be uncomfortable or challenging, but it’s in that discomfort that wisdom and spiritual discernment can break forth. See what it’s like to be disconnected for awhile.

The Spiritual Practice of Face-To-Face Conversation With Friends: It bugs me when folks say “Why don’t people get off line and have a real conversation with their real friends?” I think that’s a misunderstanding of social media and relationship. I’ve had conversations and friendships deepened and strengthened (and even begun) via social media and the internet. I don’t think that a conversation, just because it happens online is not a “real” friendship, and I don’t believe that a conversation, just because it’s online, can’t be meaningful. At the same time, there’s something truly gained from all the things that happen when we have conversations face-to-face with people we trust. Eye contact. Body language. Tone. Hugs. Perhaps especially when the conversation is centered around deep issues like politics and elections we need the nuance that comes from that face-to-face interaction. I would argue that Skype or other forms of video chat are the “next best thing.”

The Spiritual Practice of Sabbath: There’s a difference between fasting and Sabbath. Sabbath is the practice of incorporating a regular rhythm in to our days, weeks and years. Sabbath is a chunk of time dedicating to rest and renewal. I’ve written about mini-sabbaths before, and this is a great way to regroup when the world is overwhelming.

The Spiritual Practice of Listening: Look. We know we have a problem. We know we’re listening to people who agree with us and making blanket statements about people who have opposing views. We know we do it, but we don’t know what to do. We need to listen. Less talking, more listening. The best people to listen to are those who are not shouting. I’d also argue it makes good sense to start listening to those with whom you already have a good relationship or friendship. Three tips to becoming an excellent listener:

  • 1. Remember that the person to whom you are listening is a child of God, was a little baby once and will be an old, frail person one day. Just like you.
  • 2. Be curious and ask clarifying questions as you seek to understand someone else’s point of view. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
  • 3. Be nice. Don’t call people names or hurt their feelings. Your kindergarten teacher taught you this.

Listening. Sabbath. Conversation. Fasting. We need more of these… agreed?

How to Help Your Grandchildren Grow In Faith: Ideas for Grandparents

 

I’m speaking about faith practices and families this week at Mo Ranch in Hunt, Texas. I’m half-way through the workshops (two down, two to go!) but one of the things that I’ve found so far is the same thing I find nearly every time I present about faith practices and children: a lot of grandmothers show up.  They tell me the same things, these faithful grandmas:

  • “I am the person who is present to pass on faith to my grandchildren, I want them to grow in faith and I need some ideas.”
  • “My children don’t go to church, but they don’t seem opposed to the idea that I would share faith with the grandchildren.”
  • “I want to share my faith with my grandchildren, but I’m worried about crossing a boundary or interfering somehow.”

Grandmas (and grandpas too!) I have excellent news for you: I have a TON of ideas to help you pass on your faith to your grandchildren in ways that are easy, respectful of your children, and create memories that will help your grandchildren to understand and love the faith you so want to share with them. Keep reading! 

  1. Be the initiator (or guardian) of tradition for your family. Grandparents and tradition go together like peanut butter and jelly! So many among us remember how every year grandma and grandpa would (fill in the blank). Create a tradition with your grandchildren that you stick to as much as you possibly can. Perhaps your tradition is to take the grandchildren to church on particular holidays or to say a special prayer with them before every meal. My book, Seamless Faith has traditions for every day and traditions for Holy Days (holidays) that you will want to use. Whatever tradition you choose, make it your own.  Traditions should be memorable, they should be simple, and they should happen frequently.
  2. Make faith connections with your grandchildren about the things you already do with them.  Do you go out and look at stars with your grandchildren at night? Take the opportunity to talk to them about how God made the stars and the world and everything in it. Do you have bird feeders outside? Let your grandchildren fill them up and talk to them about how important it is to take care of God’s creatures. Do you cook or bake with your grandchildren? Make extra goodies and take them to folks who need them, explaining to your grandchildren that you do this because you believe it’s important to care for others. Your grandchildren will get the message, I promise. It’s not necessary to have a separate “faith time” with your grandchildren, just weave it in to what you are already doing!
  3. Provide faith connections with your grandchildren during key transition moments in their lives. In the book, I call these “ceremonies” but you can call them rituals, or celebrations, or whatever you like! Find a way to “mark the moment” with your grandchildren in a way that honors faith. Perhaps it is the first day of school and you’d like to honor that moment with a remembrance that God is with your grandchildren wherever they go. The same is true of graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild. Ceremonies can also be valuable with your grandchildren when they experience hard times. Be there for them when they are anxious, lose a pet, or have to deal with the hard current events stories they are sometimes faced with.
  4. Think creatively about spiritual practices that you can teach your grandchildren. Often when we think about spiritual practices to practice with our grandchildren, we remember prayers and meals or bedtime. This is great, but there are so many other spiritual practices we can use, too. Again, if you’re not interested in coming up with your own, you can use the ones I lay out in Seamless Faith, some examples are: creative prayer, imagination, and meditation. There are also plenty of ancient spiritual practices that speak to children today. Things like the daily examen, the labyrinth and lectio divina can all be used with your grandchildren.

A lot of times people ask me some variation of this question: I raised my children in the faith, but they don’t go anymore. How can I get them to take the grandchildren to church?  

This is a tough one, and certainly something that I hear a lot. Each family situation is unique, but I have a few “dos and don’ts” that grandparents I’ve talked to have found to be helpful:

  • DON’T say things that inspire guilt or drive a wedge between your children and you. 
  • DO talk with your children respectfully and with genuine curiosity about why they’re not interested in church. Perhaps you will find that there is something about the theology in which your children were raised that doesn’t seem to fit with what they believe now. Many children who were raised in the 70s, 80s and 90s found that when they became adults, the faith of their parents was too judgmental, too exclusive, too difficult to relate to. They need sympathetic ears who will listen to the kind of faith they are looking to embrace. There are plenty of faith communities out there that are daring to reimagine faith and Christianity, but a lot of people don’t know where to look, or how to start.
  • DO share your faith in ways that are natural and not preaching. St. Francis of Assisi’s most famous quote is, arguably, this: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Your grandchildren and children will continue to remember how important your faith is to you when they see how it affects the way you life your life. When I learned how to crochet, my brother said “Yeah, I remember how grandma used to crochet those little hats for babies in the hospital. I always thought that was really cool.” I never knew she did that, but clearly it had a profound impact on my brother.
  • DO ask your adult children how they feel about your incorporating your faith stories or activities with your grandchildren. If you say “I would love to make a bird feeder with the children and talk to them about how God cares for the earth, is that ok?” your children are likely to say “Yes! That sounds great!”
  • DON’T tell your grandchildren everybody must believe the same way you do. One of the number one reasons hear from parents of young children who have decided to stay away from the church is that they feel the church is too closed-minded and is not open to a diversity of opinions. Even if you have strong beliefs about right and wrong, your children and grandchildren may not. It will help you to maintain a strong relationship with your family if you are clear that you are sharing your beliefs and do not expect them to think exactly the same way you do.
  • DO provide unconditional love and acceptance of your children and grandchildren, no matter what. 

Interested in resources that you might want to use with your grandchildren to help them grow in faith? I have some ideas about those too!

  • Here, again, is a link to my book Seamless Faith. It has 50 easy to use traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. I’d say about 1/2 (or more!) of the people who buy this book are grandparents.
  • Would you like to have a grandma “faith jar” on your counter? You can get the resource here. It’s 48 different faith practices that you cut in to strips. Each time you are together with your grandchildren, pick out a practice from the jar, and do what it says!
  • My favorite Children’s Bible is the Children of God Storybook Bible   I also recommend the books God’s Paintbrush, In God’s Name and Love Letters From God.

Grandparents: What ideas do you have about sharing your faith with your grandchildren? I’d love to hear them below! Also, what questions can I address in a future post?