Faith Takes Practices to Develop

faithI have fond memories of praying, “now I lay me down to sleep” each night before going to bed.  I can still see the colorful children’s bible stories my family would read at the dinner table each night.  I recall the rhythm and tone of Sunday worship services; standing to read scripture, reciting the Apostles Creed, sitting for the “long prayer” and knowing the end was near when the pastor raised his arms and pronounced the Aaronic blessing “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” Numbers 6:22-27.

            In the fourth grade my teacher challenged her class to read the bible every night in order to win a prize.  My sweet tooth was as strong as ever and I conquered that challenge easily.  In sixth grade I went with my youth group to provide meals for homeless children in downtown LA.  In eighth grade, while at a youth group retreat, I put my faith in Jesus for the first time.   Through out high school I played the drums for my church worship team and was actively involved in youth leadership.  But, It was not until my senior year of college, eight years later, that this faith that had been planted in my soul as a child, had taken root as a teen, and was watered with the prayers of my parents began to grow. 

Those eight years of high school and college were long, slow, and sometimes frustrating years.  I longed for a connection to Jesus that did not materialize.  I struggled with guilt, doubt, pride, anger, and depression.  I attempted and failed to continue the practices of prayer, bible reading, worship, and service that had begun in my youth.   I hoped they would establish the connection I believed was missing.

Faith sprouted on a mission trip to Nicaragua, on which I came to the end of myself and discovered that it was my striving and self-reliance that stood in the way of honest connection with Jesus.  On returning to school I found for the first time that I could read scripture and actually understand the WORD.  The end of my college experience was the beginning of a faith journey that has progressed through starts and stops over the course of my adult life. 

Over the last several years I have been convicted of my responsibility to pass this faith on to my children.  I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.  How can I, a father that is passionate but struggling pass on something that is so fragile and broken?  At times I want to throw in the towel and succumb to the pressures of money, time, apathy, and culture. 

I was reminded today of the role I play in my children’s faith development.  I am called to plant seeds that the Holy Spirit cultivates into faith.  I am reading, Shaped By God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults” Edited by Robert J. Keeley.  Don C. Richter writes “Faith begins in practice, in words and songs and gestures and things we do with and for our bodies, with and for one another.  We learn to pray by praying.  We learn to serve by serving.  We learn to care by concrete acts of caring.” (Keely,pg 24) I was brought back to my childhood prayers and bible stories.  I was reminded of the practices that have shaped my faith over the years.  In the beginning they were clumsy, with out heart, and in the case of the bible reading contest motivated by greed.  These practices however having been awakened by the Spirit my senior year of college have been the soil in which my faith has grown.  They have become the “means of grace to nourish and sustain the life of faith” in me. (Keely, pg 30)

 I cannot awaken my children in faith, that is the Holy Spirits role but I can provide for them the raw materials of faith.  I can provide experiences of prayer, worship, bible reading, and service.  My hope is that these experiences will shape and inform their understanding of Jesus.  I trust that they will come to know him as provider, savior, master, and king the one in whom true connection can be found.

WHAT PRACTICES HAVE SHAPED YOUR FAITH OVER THE YEARS?

HOW ARE YOU PASSING YOUR FAITH TO YOUR CHILDREN?

Moments of Stillness

I was all about being still.  I could relax with the best of them.  As a teenager there was an indentation of my body permanently pressed into our couch.  When my wife and I first got married, I joked about how going on vacation with her family was like boot camp, because of the active interests they pursued.  As I reflect on the passage, “Be still and know that I am God” I get a profound sense that “chilling out” and relaxing by the pool is not exactly what God had in mind.

  I have found that although stilling my body is not hard for me, stilling my mind is quite difficult.  I would characterize myself as an over-analyzer.  My body can be still, while my mind is racing a mile a minute.  I have early memories of long sleepless nights analyzing the minutest details of interactions between teachers, friends, and family.  I analyze the slightest pitch change in my wife’s voice.  I attempt to decipher the meaning of and future repercussions of my children’s smallest behaviors.  In short, there are moments when I can drive myself crazy with the thoughts that move through my mind.

Several years ago, I was blessed to attend summer camp with a group of high school students.  The speaker that week focused on several spiritual practices for deepening relationship with Christ.  The one practice that stuck with me was the Jesus prayer.  The prayer comes out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and involves repeating the phrase “Lord, Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  Scripturally the prayer has its roots in Luke 18:13 “but the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I was taught to inhale on, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God” and to exhale on, “have mercy on me a sinner.”

For a person who requires more work on stillness of mind than body this prayer has been a great help.  When I find myself ruminating over the days activities unable to sleep, I will repeat this prayer as a way to slow my mind and focus on Christ.  When I am overwhelmed by my work as a therapist, this prayer helps me to remember my purpose and be reminded that Jesus is the true healer of souls.

I love this prayer because through it I experience moments of stillness.  I am reminded again and again, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I am a sinner.  I inhale the name of Jesus, and exhale the character of man.  Now that is a breath of fresh air!