I (Kara) tend to feel closest to God when I’m reading my Bible or writing in my prayer journal. Or both. But the older I get, the more I am coming to terms with the reality that not everyone is the same as me.
In fact, no one in my own family is the same as me. My husband isn’t the same and neither are my kids. Odds are you’ve had similar experiences in your own families. That’s because we all “faith” differently.
In our new book, Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in their Family, Faith, and Future, we describe the faith journey that each of us experience as “faithing.” By “faithing,” we mean “a child’s growth in owning and embodying their own journey with God as they encounter new experiences and information.”
We tend to think of “faith” as a noun. We assume faith is something we have. That’s true, but theologically faith is also a verb; it is something we exercise so that it continues to grow.
With research showing that almost half of youth group students drift from God and the church after they graduate from high school, it’s imperative that we help our kids figure out how they best “faith.” Based on our research on families and faith, as well as our own experience as parents, we want to offer the following four practical tips to help your own children own their own faith.
Photo Credit: Pexels
Tip One: Help Your Kids Notice When They Feel Closest to God
Because of our research on faithing, periodically I (Kara) ask my kids this question: When do you feel closest to God? I’m interested in what they say and even more eager for them to learn about their own faithing.
Our 18 year-old normally answers: “During worship.” He has felt close to God through worship music since fourth grade. He now plays guitar and regularly leads worship at our high school ministry. Thursday night worship practices are a priority in his schedule.
Our 16 year-old tells me she feels closest to God when she’s at church. With her friends. She’s always been social, and she comes alive when she’s with people who get her.
For our 13 year-old, our most introverted child, it’s in our backyard. By herself. She loves nature and experiencing God’s creation. As much as she loves her friends, she cherishes time on her own outside to read, swing on a swing, ride her scooter, or just lie in the grass and look at the sky.
God has wired each of our kids differently, each with a unique way of faithing that can be encouraging to them and inspiring to us as parents. We recommend that you help your family appreciate your child’s unique ways of faithing:
• Ask your kids when they feel closest to God. If we really thought about it, we could probably guess our kids’ answers based on what we observe about them. But even having the conversation provides one more way to faith as a family.
• Carve out time in your family schedule so your kid gets their time with God. I (Kara) have a confession to make. Sometimes I don’t want our oldest to go to Thursday night worship practice because I treasure time with him at home. I am learning that encouraging his faithing requires sacrificing my preferences for what he values.
• Expose your kids to other ways to connect with God. While Scripture reading and prayer are foundational to faithing, we want our kids to know that they can be creative in their faithing. Like any relationship, we grow when we try new things together, and we can offer this vision to our kids. A talkative kid might find a contemplative prayer group transformative. A talented performer might discover a new kind of engagement with God through manual labor. We may need to be the catalysts who invite them to try something new.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Tip Two: Speak of Faithing Fluently
As we interact with parents nationwide, they confess that when it comes to discussing spirituality, they’re worried about saying the wrong thing and either messing up or revealing their ignorance. Let’s acknowledge right now that we all will say the wrong thing sometimes! The good news is that faithing needs fluency not correctness.
Faith in families has become a lost language, a segmented category, the fancy room in the house that we visit but don’t live in. Parents can bring faithing language back into everyday life by finding small ways to speak it again. Like any language, it will seem awkward at first, but consistency will bring fluency.
Before my (Steve’s) kids could drive, I would take them to school in the morning. I realized that this task was also a ritual when I had my kids all to myself at the beginning of the day. So somewhere along the way, I made it a point to turn down the music and pray a simple prayer over them. I would typically end by praying, “May we follow you to live in ways that make the world a better place today.”
One morning on our drive, I was moody and quiet, making our typical fun morning drive not very fun. My daughter sensed it. She grabbed my hand, started to pray for me, and ended the prayer, “And may we follow you to live in ways that make the world a better place today.” I squeezed her hand, wiped my tears, and said, “Amen.”
"Like any language, the more we practice, the easier it comes."
If car-time prayer doesn’t work or is too awkward, pray for them as you occasionally make their lunch or dinner. Tell them you’re praying for them. Ask them what you can pray for.
When my kids have been at college or lived on their own, I have tried to text them regularly. I try not to be overbearing. In fact, we have an agreement that if I text, they don’t need to text back! These texts aren’t, “Don’t forget to turn in that paper” texts or “We miss you—please come home this weekend!” texts. Instead, I tell them what I love about them, that I’m praying for them, or I send them a quote that resonates with their interests.
My family has tried regularly to take time over dinner (usually on Sunday before the week begins) for each one of us to share what we’re anticipating for the week. Usually we ask two questions: (1) What are you excited about? and (2) What would you like us to pray about? Then we each pick someone to pray for. This small ritual seems to keep us connected with each other throughout the week. For those who have kids away from home, you can still find ways to connect and ask these very same questions by text, email, or video.
Having said all that, I can also list the numerous times when I forgot to ask the questions over Sunday dinners, failed to pray for my daughters, or just plain blew it. So we know that even our best intentions will at times fall flat or simply lose steam. Our goal is not to be perfect but rather to ask ourselves, “what are the simple ways we’re making our faithing conversations fluid and natural”? Like any language, the more we practice, the easier it comes.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Tip Three: Create Spaces for Faithing to Happen
When my (Steve’s) daughters were in their late teens and early twenties, I made a point to use coffee outings to talk about meaningful topics. I’ll be honest, it was hard at first. As a parent, you want your kids to come to you and ask you about the meaning of life, but that rarely happens! What I found is that they often expected me to bring up important topics. So I learned to take some risks with them by asking them about friends, politics, current events, and God.
One question that I regularly brought up with them is this: “What is something you don’t believe that you think I still believe?” I’ve also turned the question around: “What is something you believe that you don’t think I believe?” Sometimes the answer would be, “I can’t think of anything.” Sometimes they had a list. Each time I held my breath, wondering what they might say! But what gave me courage was knowing that faithing is a process—a process that is best fueled by honest, regular conversation.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Tip Four: Tell Your Own Faithing Story (It’s Part of Their Story Too)
Somewhere along my parenting journey, I (Steve) realized that even though I was in ministry and our family shared many faith rituals, I had not really told my girls the story of my spiritual journey. So with each of them, I have tried to find moments to ask, “You know, we do all these religious things and talk a lot about Jesus, but have you ever wondered why or how I found a connection with Jesus and his story?” Each said that they didn’t know; when I asked them if I could share my story, each one graciously responded, “Yes.”
Tell your story. It doesn’t have to be told perfectly. Offer pieces of it as you can. And if you told them once long ago, don’t assume they remember. Tell it again or share how you are experiencing God in your daily living. Let’s give our kids context and a starting point for their spiritual journeys by telling them our own stories of faithing. As you share about how God’s grace has sustained you through your own highs and lows, your kids may feel more drawn to that amazing grace themselves.
Adapted from Growing With (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019).
Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in their Faith, Family, and Future, from which this article is adapted.
Dr. Steven Argue is the Applied Research Strategist for the Fuller Youth Institute and Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Steve researches, speaks, and writes on adolescent and emerging adult spirituality. He has served as a pastor on the Lead Team at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI; coaches and trains church leaders and volunteers; and has been invested in youth ministry conversation for over 20 years. He is the co-author of Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in their Faith, Family, and Future.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Originally published Thursday, 14 March 2019.