Building Faith Habits at Home
"Dear God, Thanks for nothing because we paid for all this ourselves."
— Homer Simpson,
Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on every Fish
There is plenty of evidence to support the idea that developing consequential faith does not happen once a week at Church or Sunday School or Youth Group — no matter how good your pastors and programs are. Even if you never miss a week of church or Sunday School there is never enough time in a single hour to reinforce and build upon the lessons of scripture and faith that we have to learn. Developing consequential faith happens in the rich soil of families, communities, and mentor relationships where we see those people we care about enacting a larger story of divine care and hope. Part of what that means is that the habits, actions, and rituals that make up our daily lives are some of the most powerful influences in shaping our faith.
The rituals and habits don't need to be formal, holy, or serious. A ritual can be as simple as developing a habit of saying grace before meals or making the night before the first day of school a special occasion to tell stories from years past and hopes for the year ahead. Rituals keep families connected to God and connected to one another. Rituals aren't magic. They make concrete something very real in our lives: the depth of one person's love for another, a sense of community, and the presence of God.
Figuring out how to make God a part of yours and your family's daily life can be a daunting task. Start small. Talk about it with those whom you share life and decide why this is important and what practices might work for you. And remember, its not about having all the answers or doing "all the right things." Its about learning to ask the questions. Its about cultivating a sense of the sacred in your life — which is often as simple as slowing down long enough to pay attention.
Here are a few practical ways that your family can incorporate rituals that deepen faith into your family's daily life.
Table Prayer: Pray before meals together, whether a standard prayer or a spontaneous one. Saying thanks before meals reminds us of God who provides for our needs. It can also be a way of reminding us about the larger human family for which we are a part. Table grace can be a time to give thanks for the farmer who grew the food, the workers (often grossly underpaid) who picked the crops, and the people who processed, handled, delivered, and sold the food. Thank God for the sun and the soil and water that made it possible. You can develop traditions of saying the same standard grace or take turns inviting each member of the family (parents and children) to say a grace from their heart.
Prayer: Start and end each day with prayer together with your children. Bookending our days with prayer is a way to place what happens in our day in the context of God's love and care. It doesn't have to be complicated or even particularly eloquent. Writer Anne Lamont always said that she prayed two prayers, one the morning and on in the evening: "Help me, Help me, Help me" and "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you." To help provide reminders or ingrain habits you can tape a copy of a prayer that you have chosen as a family to the bathroom mirror. Make it a part of the routine of getting ready and before you go to sleep. Prayer can also be active. Take a walk with a stack of notecards where you have written names of those people and situations for which you would like to pray, praying through them as you go.
Silence/Quiet Time: Nurturing a sense of the sacred and creating rituals and habits is in part about learning to intentionally slow down and pay attention to the work of God in our lives. Our days are bombarded with noise and activity. There is very little time for silence and reflection. Find times to sit together as a family, and/or individually with your children and reflect on the day. When we sit with children and we are quiet, they will often tell us all kinds of things. Ask questions. Listen. Build an hour of quiet reflection into your family's life just like you might build in time for naps or workouts. Paying attention to the details of life is part of developing our spirituality.
Time in God's Creation: Spend time outdoors. With all the activity in our lives it can be hard for us to "stay awake" to the presence of God all around us, not just in the people we meet, but the natural world. We have so many things calling for our attention and thus so many opportunities to avoid being truly present in our lives. Being in touch with the natural word around us can be a great way to recognize God's presence and giving thanks to God for all of creation's goodness. It can restore a sense of awe (root of awareness). Go camping, take nature walks, or do some gardening as a family.