Recommendation: Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents by Wendy Claire Barrie
I came face-to-face with the problem at Christmas.
My son, almost 18 months, was rounding the corner into toddlerhood. Since we were traveling to see family at Christmas, we didn’t put up a tree — just a nightly Advent wreath and some decorations around the house. But what do you tell an 18-month-old about an Advent wreath? Since he was so little, and we are uncomfortable with the civic religion of consumerism that wants to claim Christmas, we didn’t get a big stack of presents, or make a big deal of the ones we had. Phew, one more year before we have to decide how to handle Santa! How are we going to talk to him about that next year?
Now that we are out of the newborn-survival stage, I’m learning that the tools that have served me well in working with youth and camping programs don’t quite map onto the task of forming this tiny human with a Christian imagination. There’s some cognitive dissonance here: I’m a priest, so the practices that shape my life in the way of Jesus are woven through my daily routine and will implicitly form him as a Christian too, right? By osmosis?
Perhaps not. My spouse Brian and I talk about our values, we worship together, we have ways of praying together at home, and we each have spiritual (and practical) practices that form us as people of faith. But faced with an 18-month old encountering Christmastime, we’re uncomfortably aware that there’s a bit of a gap (putting it nicely) between what we adults experience and what our son understands.
Osmosis is great, but I want something more for his experience of faith in our family. I want to give him the gift of living all of his early childhood in the context of a big story of God’s love as we know it in Jesus. I want him not just to embrace practices of forgiveness, hospitality, and truth-telling, but to know those practices as part of the way of Jesus of Nazareth. That means living that story in more explicit ways at home, not assuming that he knows the why’s that seem to obvious to me and Brian.
In Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, Wendy Claire Barrie writes that “[Clergy and Christian Educators’] job is to encourage parents to accept [their] role as the primary pastors of children and to give them the vocabulary they need to articulate their faith.” Her book is one of several resources that seek to equip families to practice their faith in the midst of daily household life. Without doing an exhaustive review of other options, here’s why I like it: The book is short, and doesn’t assume that the reader has a highly developed theological vocabulary. Barrie manages to cover talking about God, many practices of prayer, observing seasons and events, and family milestones and pastoral situations with respect for the reader, delight in her faith, and referrals to other sources for learning more. This book graciously and creatively invites parents to be explicit about practicing their faith with their children. Faith At Home would be a great resource to share with new families, at baptismal preparation (for godparents too!), or as a gift for members when babies come into their lives.
Personally, I’m grateful for this gift from her writing: I am wondering now whether the osmosis works the other way from what I had originally assumed. Perhaps my faith will be changed by walking alongside my son in the way of Jesus.
So here’s one more recommendation: Sarah Barnett, Missioner for Children, Youth, and Camp, suggests this as a book for those who want to think more about how raising children impacts our faith: Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker, a short set of stories about her life with her children that have shaped her faith.