“I guess I just don’t understand why some people have to be jerks all the time.”
Our ears perked up, and we sat up a little straighter. We were gathered in our usual spots, but this was a bit unusual. We were more accustomed to getting a perfunctory one-sentence or one-word answer, since both of our boys were now into their morose teenage years. Seemingly everything we asked of them was a miserable inconvenience. My wife and I generally resigned ourselves to the terse, often sarcastic responses. “My high is that I don’t have a low and my low is that I don’t have a high.” Or the ever popular, “My low is that I’m tired” (hint: “let’s speed this up”).
Establishing Rhythms: the Faith5
Since before our children could speak, we established a bedtime practice of checking in and praying together as a family. We adopted the model popularized by our friend and colleague Rich Melheim called the Faith5. It is a simple method of family devotions that consists of 5 easy steps that you can do in 5 minutes: share, read, talk, pray, and bless (he even wrote a book about it!). When they were younger, our children took turns reading the daily scripture passage and loved blessing one another. We established a litany of family prayer that included people who were important to us and closing with the Lord’s prayer. When I was away on work trips, I was still able to participate in the bedtime ritual. They would make the sign of the cross on the smartphone camera in order to bless me. In fact, my youngest blessed me with the sign of the cross before he could even speak the word of blessing.
Things got more challenging as the kids got older. There were more nights when someone was away, and they grew increasingly reticent to read the daily scripture. We began skipping the scripture reading on some nights. But we always included the first step of the Faith5: share. This involves sharing highs and lows from the day, like we were all accustomed to doing at camp. Sometimes, the sharing or the scripture passage provoked discussion (the “talk” step of the Faith5). This happened less and less frequently as the kids entered adolescence and it was clear that they would rather be somewhere – anywhere – but hanging out and talking about their day with their parents and sibling.
But occasionally, one would open up. Sometimes, this led to deep discussions and sharing. On the night my son brought up people being jerks, we learned about some of the challenges going on at school. We talked about how people treated one another and how they might respond. We talked about forgiveness. We even got into the theodicy question (why bad things happen to good people) and considered how we as Christians might respond in difficult ethical situations. We went for a lot longer than 5 minutes that night, and when we finally turned in, my wife and I were glowing, our hearts filled with joy that our children felt comfortable opening up to us (even if only occasionally).
The Importance of Rhythms of Faith
This amazing, life-giving discussion with our children did not happen randomly or by accident. We spent years cultivating the ritual of bedtime devotions. Even when our testy teenagers gave terse or sarcastic responses, they knew that the space was open for them to share. Providing that space for conversations, for reflection on God, for prayer, is what facilitated that wonderful discussion and heart-to-heart sharing. We made it part of our ritual, our daily rhythm. When it was missing, we felt it.
Christian practices sometimes feel like going through the motions. What if we don’t feel like it? What if our hearts are not in the right place? Should we still go to church or pray the prayers, even when we’re not sure we believe any of it? We are sometimes so fearful of being inauthentic or hypocritical that we dismiss the importance of ritualistic practices. We justify cutting out the rhythms of faith from daily living and don’t realize what we’re missing until they’re gone.
As we coaches often say to our athletes, if you realize you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. If we only drink water when we are thirsty, our bodies will not function optimally. We establish regular sleep rhythms and mealtimes because these predictable rhythms help us maintain our physical health and function. Our spiritual health is no different. Without regular rhythms of faith, we can find ourselves thirsting spiritually or in need of connection without knowing where to turn.
The rhythms of Christian living like morning prayer, giving thanks before every meal, evening devotions, and weekly worship do not create faith. But they open the space for regular encounter with God and reflection on what God is up to in our lives. They open space for faith conversations among family members, like the ones I had with my children on countless nights through their childhood and adolescence.
The Rhythms of Faith Project
Melheim developed his Faith5 based on his experiences working at Christian summer camp. The camp schedule is oftentimes structured around daily faith practices, and the extended time period of the camp experience offers the opportunity to establish rhythms of faith practices that can be transferred into the home environments. We know that if we want to have a lasting impact on young people, we have to influence their home. Imagine the impact we could have if we could help our camper families establish regular faith practices in the home.
Over the next 5 years, the Rhythms of Faith Project will seek and test the best practices for camps to become catalysts for family faith formation. What are the best practices or your camp? What are the most important rhythms of faith in your home?