Our church staff just finished studying a book on the evolution of Methodist Spirituality. In one chapter, the author discussed the role of faith in the home and in the lives of children in the 19th century. In inspirational stories of the time, faithful children were idealized, often speaking from their deathbed, with great spiritual wisdom and directions for the adults that surrounded them. It was as if the tender hearts of children were the ideal vessels for God’s spirit.
The author ended the chapter by asking, “What does it mean today to dedicate one’s child to God?”
In our discussion we decided that the author did not mean the type of dedication that Hannah offered, leaving her son Samuel to be raised in the temple. We talked, instead, about what it would look like to raise children intent on nurturing their spiritual lives.
The first and most important step is that parents have to sort out and be clear about the overriding goals for child raising. We live in a solidly middle class suburb. The top goal for children here is achievement. From the earliest age, children’s lives are programmed with play groups and pre-school classes, sports practices and lessons. As they grow, priority is given to getting children to activities that enhance their skills in sports, the sciences and the arts. If a child will not be a stand out in their areas of extracurricular activity, the opportunity to be on a team is worthwhile to their future careers.
It is interesting to consider how the pursuit of achievement speaks to a child’s spiritual development. As a leader in the church, the primary thing I see is the absence of children on Sunday morning and at mid-week gatherings because other events and practices take priority.
|Photo by Sherry Parker|
I understand that worship and faith formation classes are not the only place to nurture spiritual growth, and I ask where are families fitting this in? Are families offering service together or finding ways to model generosity? With hectic after school schedules do families eat together and hear what is happening in each others lives? Are there times for prayer, questioning, telling stories with holy themes, silence?
What are we dedicating our children to? Perhaps the answer is different for each parent, dedicating children to finding happiness, being successful in the eyes of the world, enjoying life.
What would it look like to dedicate one’s child to God? On a daily basis, what practices and experiences would challenge a child to look for and see God moving in this world? What stories does a child hold that point toward God? What opportunities in conversation and worship and caring do children have?
I don’t think that dedicating one’s child to God means leaving behind the trappings of middle class life, including the celebration of achievement. However, if spiritual nurturing is secondary to training for physical and intellectual success, how equipped are our children?