My children’s bedtime routines, when they went to bed before my own bedtime, included brushing teeth, saying prayers, and avoiding going to sleep for as long as possible. I have very much been an enabler of those tired mornings as I have treasured the years of debriefing the day’s events, deep discussions solving the universe’s problems, and “tell me a story from when you were little” delays.
One night a few years ago when my daughter was nine, we started talking about the funny things kids sometimes pray for and how she had earnestly prayed one Christmas to get a unicorn. We had been working on a book (that’s still in process) to submit in a publishing contest, when we simultaneously got the idea to submit one instead about a kid (who looked remarkably like Kate) praying. After working on the other book for months, we jumped out of bed, wrote this one in a few minutes, polished it up the next day (when she was tired from not going to bed early enough), and submitted it. When we got the letter that Beaming Books wanted to publish it, I ran to her school, checked her out of class, and showed it to her as the office secretaries celebrated with us. Kate’s famous words were “Can I go to lunch now?” It took her a while to realize how big of deal it was to get a publishing offer at age nine.
Here’s what we’ve noticed when we’ve sat at tables peddling books in churches for world hunger fundraisers or from gifts shops who stock it: the biggest buyers of our book, There’s No Wrong Way to Pray, are grandparents. Why? Part of me hopes it’s because we have a picture of dog poop in a book about prayer. But it is also because they are worried that their grandchildren are not being equipped with tools of faith.
They are right to be concerned. As I’ve written about before, and as you have probably noticed in your Sunday school and worship participation trends, there’s no guarantee that parents who grew up part of a faith community will give their kids the same grounding in faith. The reasons for this are a whole other blog, but the bottom line is that many kids won’t know the stories of faith, the countercultural call to discipleship, the hymns that have carried people through times of joy and struggle, or that they can talk to God anytime and anywhere.
I understand and have experienced myself frustration with congregations and pastors, feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of kids’ activities on the calendar, the desire to sleep in just one day a week, etc. But what I can’t stand is the idea that parents will just wait in order to let kids decide for themselves when they are older. To me, that is like saying I’ll let my kids decide if they like books and what type they’ll read when they are adults, and then not teaching them their letters and how to read or putting books in their hands when they are little.
Like manners and math, learning the tools of faith is a process best started early in life, but it can happen anytime. Keep at it out there, providing opportunities for parents and grandparents to bring children to your church, for kids and teens to be involved in youth groups and camps, and to find new ways to teach faith to another generation. The church has survived many challenges, including sometimes those of its own making, and I have faith that it will continue to be the Body of Christ on earth with your help.