As a parent, we constantly think about the things we want to teach our children. There are the literal lessons. Most moms of toddlers are focused on ABCs, shapes, colors, numbers. Many dads dream about the day they can teach their little one to swing a golf club or throw a baseball. And then there are the less concrete ones--how to treat others, how to be part of a family, how to be a good friend.
For our family, faith is a central anchor. Though we don't walk around with our Bible in our bag or talk about God in every conversation, Andrew and I and our marriage are rooted in our love for the Lord. Accordingly, the lessons we want to teach our kids about faith are some of the lessons I think about most. Yes, we have had them all baptized. We take them to Mass each week, and we teach them stories from the Bible. For now, we are teaching them what we believe. But there are bigger lessons I want them to grasp. There are 10 lessons that I hope, as a parent, to truly instill in my sweet children regarding their own faith journey.
1) Believe. For your father and me, believing in Jesus as the Son of God is the most full and true way to know our Creator. And I'll be honest...it will make my soul sing with joy if one day you choose Jesus as well. But most of all I want you to believe. Believe in something. Believe in something more than yourself, something bigger than anything you can see. This world can be a hard place, but it is also quite magnificent. Look around; realize your smallness; see the miraculous way things work together; know that a higher power must be behind the beauty we get to experience each day. And if someday you decide to subscribe to a different faith, know that your dad and I will love and support you, learn as much as we can about your life path, and be ready to celebrate every milestone.
2) Question your faith. Never be afraid to question. Ask questions about what you believe, why you believe, whether you always believe. Questions are good. Questions are where we allow ourselves to be honest. Ruth Queen Smith, an incredibly wise woman, once told me that if you've never questioned your faith, you've never owned it. Never be so afraid of an answer that you refuse to ask the question. A true faith can withstand the questions, the answers, and the ambiguity that may follow.
3) Ambiguity is okay. Sweet children, this is a lesson I continue to learn each day. I am a black & white, everything has an order kind of person. But here's the thing...truly believing in something that you can't see or touch or fully explain is never going to be black & white. There will inevitably be gray, and that is just fine. As you live and grow, learning to embrace that ambiguity will enrich both your life and your faith.
4) Be able to explain why you believe what you believe. While ambiguity is good and necessary, your faith must have roots. Analyze yourself, your God, and your choices enough that you can explain your faith to others.
5) Respect other faiths. Each and every life philosophy has something to teach you. Remember this. Never foolishly assume that you and your faith have a monopoly on truth and wisdom. At the end of the day, most of us share much more commonality than difference.
6) Do not judge someone based on their faith. Wise ones walk many paths. Keep your eyes and mind open so that you can learn from all with lessons to teach, no matter what their faith background may be. Surrounding yourself with people who only think or believe like you will belittle your world, and you will truly miss much of the richness your Creator intends for you.
7) Be open to change. People evolve, and their beliefs do as well. Throughout our lives, we experience situations we could have never imagined. Each of these situations changes us, changes our very being. Know that the shape of your soul will shift over the years. Truths that you once held to be sacrosanct may one day come crashing down. And that's okay. Expect your faith to shift and change and grow. Just as a tree may grow in different directions, gain and lose branches, and shift with the wind, your beliefs will inevitably vary. But with good, deep roots, you will be able to hold on to the essential Truths.
8) Find a community. Here's the thing--though we were made as individuals, we were not made to live individually. We crave community, and I firmly believe that we thrive when we find people to do life with. While you should never isolate yourself and refuse associations with those outside your faith, it is vital that you find a faith community to join. Life can get hard and ugly. Hanging onto your God when things feel completely broken is incredibly difficult. There will be times when you truly need a community to lift you up and remind you of God's promises. And communities are also great for celebrating.
9) Hold onto your faith in the good times, too. It's easy to look to God when you need something. When life gets difficult, prayer seems to be a natural response. But remember to maintain that line of communication in the good times. When life is grooving along, all easy peasy, keep talking to your God. You see, in these good times you will often hear and know God most clearly. When you aren't full of petitions, when you aren't doing all the talking and are quiet enough to hear, you may find new depths of faith. And that is beautiful.
10) Love. Please, no matter what you do, remember that it all comes down to love. Love your Creator. Love your neighbors. Really, just love everyone. Live a life full of service borne from love. There is no better way to share your faith than to act with true, no-strings-attached love.