Moving Toward an Inter-generational Family Spirituality

April 2, 2008

“Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithfulWith Vincent’s son

May the fire of our devotion light their way

May the footprints that we leave

Lead them to believe

And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.”

“After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone

And our children sift through all we’ve left behind

May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover

Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.”

These beautiful words from Steve Green’s song, “Find Us Faithful”, echo the sentiments of families throughout the generations. There exists for families, an innate need to pass on legacies to the children and the succeeding generation, whether done consciously or not. Families have the unspoken, yet ongoing search for meaning that encompasses family life itself. The pathway toward inter-generational spirituality is a journey that each family must take.

The journey toward an integrated family spirituality is a shared endeavor. This is where our biggest contextual challenge lies. A lot of the things that families used to share are fast becoming far and in between. Many things in our family lives are no longer mutually shared, be it in terms of memories, experiences, insights or present activities.

Family counselors have noted that several activities, though seemingly routinely performed, can foster family faith. Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow discovered that the prime source of faith for self-described “religious” people was the way faith permeated the daily life of the family. Family studies would confirm that the religious formation of the family happens when there are specific and intentional religious activities that are deeply intertwined with the family’s daily habits. Faith becomes an expression of family living that is shared by all members of the family.

What are some of the daily family routines that can help us all in fostering family faith?

1. EATING

A study in the University of Chicago done recently revealed an interesting result to the question posed to the respondents: “Where did you get most of your ideas about morality and religion?” The overarching response was through conversations with the family at meal times. There is an extreme value attached to the family meal. Do you and the rest of the family members still share family dinners, or can our family dinners be easily likened to ships that dock and leave according to their schedules? When we sit down to eat regularly, say grace before meals, and share information about our lives, we provide the children one of the most potent ways of forming their faith. It is through eating time that a family can embark on the exploration of their shared past. Recounting stories in a relaxed and loving family table discussion may help the parents and the children connect with values of earlier times and places, as well as gain a sense of one’s extended family’s history and values.

When I was visiting a classmate’s family in Buffalo, New York over the Christmas break in 1992, I learned so much about the family’s history during lunch when the grandfather served his homemade ravioli. This triggered all my questions and the answers revealed a host of interesting anecdotes that went way back in the 1930s when the old man migrated from Italy to the United States.

2. Sleeping

Bedtime rituals are great opportunities to introduce prayer naturally to our children. When we spend a little more time talking before bedtime, it would be interesting to hear the questions they may never have the guts to ask us during the day. Such is also the case with our teens, who have asked me significant questions that seemed to have weighed them down but could not ask me during the day. Bedtime rituals can be used to introduce God’s providence and care which can accompany them during the night. Saying goodnight to each other, which is a fast-dwindling family tradition, can make everyone feel loved and comfortably warm inside.

3. Having conversations

Reflect on the quality of conversations you have with your children or your parents. In years passed, children spent hours talking with Mom and Dad or any significant adult. Nowadays, these conversations are easily reduced to a few minutes of information exchange, giving orders, or reprimands. The art of telling our stories to the children need to be re-claimed. A father in Sta. Rosa limited the television time of his children after school because he noticed that his children hardly noticed him or their mother when they would get home in the evening. He would find them constantly glued to the set. It is time that the parents begin telling the story of their experiences again, but this time, through the eyes of faith because then, the children will be encouraged to find God in their own experiences.

I could still remember those Friday nights when my Mom would pull out all those old Bible Story books and read to us those Old Testament stories using a wick lamp since we had no electricity in that area at that time. They all sounded scary with the flood, famine and wars, but those Friday nights laid the foundational work for my belief in God early on, and HIS involvement in our lives.

4. Celebrating Christian traditions

The religious roots of most of our holidays provide their true significance. However, it is easy for these holidays to get lost amidst the secular celebrations. Why not, instead, celebrate these holidays with your own family traditions? We in the Worldwide Church of God have tremendously enjoyed the annual trip to the Festival. None of the people I know could recount all the messages they heard while growing up and attending the Festival, but let them talk awhile and pretty soon, they get misty-eyed talking about how significant those experiences were growing up. Children who participate in family rituals (Bible study, worship, going to family celebrations, birthdays, weddings, baptisms, anniversaries, etc.) are helped to be reminded of the activity’s significance. They know that it is a ritual; therefore, it celebrates something we believe to be real. Wedding anniversaries would impress upon the hearts and minds of the children that this day is significant because of the love the parents share, and because this love is real. Rituals have the enormous power to bind people. A study in George Washington University on alcoholic families, particularly those families that succeeded in handing alcoholism up to the 3rd generation, revealed that those “successful families” all had something in common: rituals. They have all become ritual-protected families. The study suggests that rituals made the families secure and gave them a sense of identity and belonging.

5. Being part of a spiritual community

The depth of our spiritual life and involvement as parents could have tremendous impact on the whole family. Membership in a Christian group or community is a God-given tool for our spiritual well-being. And this comes from the caring center within each member that promotes sharing, love and compassion.

Most grown-ups would say that our children may be too young to appreciate our congregational worship. Oftentimes, people don’t have faith in children and they are viewed as incomplete adults. But our children have their own perceptions and their own understanding and sometimes, when we listen more, we would find that their perceptions are more insightful than the grown-ups because they have not been conditioned by society.

We can do better for our families by initiating our children (and teens!) into a community of faith by making our local congregation our community, too. Sign up for the ministries. Sing and pray together during worship time, instead of just letting the children roam free. Talk to people you meet in church. Participate in church retreats as a family. Doing all these will round up the child’s identity and begin for himself/herself the journey to discovering that we are all part of the bigger Body of Christ.

Family spirituality need not be a very complicated task with vague overtones. Go and embark on this journey as a family. Practice each point and emphasize the ways our faith shines through, so that when we leave our children behind, we will leave them a “heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.”

– message given in a youth and family awareness campaign prior to the 2003 Summer Enrichment Program

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