Our son and daughter go to a kindergarten run by the local Anglican church. Most non-profits are ran by the church here in Germany, in a benevolent Sound of Music kind of way. My daughter loves to sing the songs she’s learned at kindergarten at the top of her little lungs all day and all night. Her favorite song of late goes like this:
“lasst uns miteinander, lasst uns miteinander –
SINGEN, BETEN, LOBEN DEM HERRN!”
(that last part is where I need to cover my ears so I don’t lose what little hearing I have left)
The translation is, in effect: “Let us, with one another – SING, PRAY, and PRAISE THE LORD!”
Having not come from a religious family, this interlude from our daughter tickles me. She doesn’t understand the concept for which she’s singing, but she’s ever so passionate about it. I love her passion, even if I don’t understand the topic about which she sings.
On top of this, we are sending the kids to a summer camp every morning for a week. The church organizes this ‘camp’ and advertises it as “bible studies.” My children love stories. They will listen to stories about dinosaurs, dragons, princesses and what-have-you for hours. I’m not sure they’re going to have much interest in parables from the bible. I’m sure there are many that are appropriate for and enthralling to children. I’ll have a major sense of humor failure if they get into the wrath of God. It’s one thing to get kids to sing along to a catchy tune or listen to an interesting story. It’s another to actually begin to study something as perplex as faith in God.
This brings me to a question about faith. How does a family which does not actively practice a religion demonstrate and teach their kids about faith? Without depending particularly on faith in God, what else do we reach for to provide our kids with moral guidance?
Where else to start but the home? How can I best demonstrate faith? By being faithful. If my kids perceive me as being firm and constant in my love and support for them, then I’m demonstrating faithfulness to them. I can be faithful in the same respect to my wife, my parents, my siblings, etc, while showing our kids the value of constancy and devotion in my actions and support for those people.
This can be difficult, though, especially when combining faith with discipline. When I discipline my daughter for screaming in my ear, for instance, am I not shaking her faith in me? Have I not shown her that I’m not going to support her wholeheartedly in any situation? In this regard, consistency and boundaries are key.
We all know that consistency is key. I’m the king at jumping into a thousand separate lines of thought all at once, much to my wife’s chagrin, but when it comes to discipline, I try to set a line and stick with it. If the kids do something that’s not in line with the rules, I will try to consistently enforce the rules with providing negative or positive consequences – more commonly known as punishment and bribes, but don’t tell the kids! As far as I see it, I’m lovingly establishing and implementing the rules while guiding them in the right direction. They may see it differently – like I’m the tyrant keeping them from bouncing delightfully on the bed – but my hope is that in the long run, they’ll get the love part. Even when I’m taking away their privileges as a consequence of rule-breaking, I’m not taking away my love or support.
The second, and equally important, an ingredient in this faith sandwich is boundaries. If I set no boundaries, the kids will run amok. The kind of chaos that occasionally greets our house cannot support constant or firm relationships. On the other hand, demanding that the kids always adhere to rigid, inflexible rules will only foster resentment and distrust. In this regard, “firm but gentle” is our motto. I’m thinking nice plush padding on the insides of my otherwise indestructible helmet. Without that padding, my brains would take a heavy blow in the event of a fall. Likewise, the kids can use some gentle guidance before they go plowing into the firm boundaries that we’ve set them.
This should work equally in all aspects of life. Take community – very closely related to religion. One should expect to have faith in the community to consistently provide support while upholding the moral and ethical boundaries generally agreed to by those living in it. The kids don’t need to have all of this explained to them, or written out, or pantomimed in colorful stories. If we live it and show both faith and faithfulness daily, they’ll come to embody it.
I’d love to say that all this has worked out perfectly and our kids are wonderful angels, full of respect and deeply faithful. At this point, all I can do is put my hands in the air and have faith that they’ll turn out ok.
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