I was recently struck by the weird and wonderful uniqueness of families. Of course, we all know that we are unique. I like to think that God made each of us in his image yet different so that in every individual I meet a different part of his image.
Now, think of your family of unique individuals creating a unique collection of humans that is different from any other on earth, either now or that has ever been. The funny thing is, we generally see our own families as normal. The quirks and strange words are the only thing we know until we start to hang out with other people. And if we get married, we suddenly find that what we thought was normal is completely alien to someone from another unique family, with all their normal oddities.
I recently ran a faith at home event for 30 families, and each one that came was different. So to cope with their uniqueness, I organised them into different categories in my head:
- Those with children aged under 5
- Those with four or more children
- Those I had met before
- Those who came with grandparents
However, as I met and chatted with them, I got to see a little bit of their uniqueness: the things they enjoyed and the different contributions each person makes to their family life. And I discovered some of the unique ways they interacted as a family and with God. This is important when we think about the ways we do faith at home as a family.
Family uniqueness isn’t static. We’re always changing! At this event, I challenged the families to add their ages to discover how ‘old’ their family was. Then I asked them who had a birthday in the next few months, and then to imagine adding up their ages after those birthdays. This simple activity helps us remember how often our families change. And of course it’s not just about age, but abilities, roles, skills, interests, difficulties, joys and habits. Some changes happen due to our growth and other changes are driven by external forces, such as a change of school year or a career change.
As we change, our families move through different life stages, each with varying challenges and opportunities. And in each stage there are also changing seasons. I shared with these families how last year my family went through a hard but good season, during which we lived in a tent for ten weeks. We’re now in a
different, easier season in some ways, though it’s also mixed with grief, as we recently lost an extended family member. We might not always be aware of the season our families are in, but asking what the dominant emotions are – what the shared joys and sorrows may currently be – helps us find out where we might be in our shared journey of life.
Also, these unique factors mean that the things we need to help us grow in faith together are unique for us and for this time. We need to embrace this and look for things that work for our fami- lies now, knowing that they probably won’t work for ever. What works this week might work for a bit, but might then need tweak- ing or adding to, and sometimes completely changing.
Managing change is the game parents play all the time. We spend time making sure everyone has clothes and shoes that fit them, and toys and books that work for their current interests and abilities. It’s the same with spiritual growth. We need to get rid of the idea that there is a set list of what families should do to focus on faith at home together, and realise that the list is as long and wide as a list of families and the stages and seasons they go through. We need to find what works for our families now, and to be open to flex and change as we move forward together.
Here are some ideas to help you find out what might work for your family now:
Look at what you love doing together
This might be eating, watching films, riding bikes or playing with balloons. Whatever it is, ask God to show you how it might already be helping faith grow, and what, if anything, you could do to help it become more effective in building spiritual growth into your family.
Ask other people
Find someone who is a few years ahead of you in ‘life stage’, for example someone who has children a few years older than yours, and ask them what worked for them during the stage you’re in. Don’t try to apply their ideas wholesale, but think about the ways in which your families might be similar and try out ideas that work with that. If you try an idea they have shared, don’t forget to encourage them with feedback or to ask them questions that will help you continue to make it work well for your family.
Explore Bible stories in the way your family explores other stories
Do you like reading books together or watching films? Do you enjoy playing stories with toys or sharing stories about your fami- ly history? Think about the way you share stories and experiment with sharing Bible stories in a similar way.
Pray in the ways you most enjoy communicating
I love drawing, writing, singing, dancing, and composing songs. I also pray in all these ways. What methods does your family use to communicate? Do you like writing notes? Giving gifts? What creative activities do you do? Explore ways to use these in your prayer life together.
Look for ways to reach out together
What issues are you interested in as a family? What gets a conversation fired up in your home? Are there things you really care about? These could be things you could work together to serve others through and make a difference in the world.
Try out new things
If you’d like to branch out, why not introduce different ways to do faith together? Perhaps introduce a new option each month, or take it in turns to present a new idea to the family. You might be surprised at what children will suggest! If your children are younger, you could provide a few ways for everyone to respond to a Bible story: some toys to replay the story, some art materials to create a picture, a pile of cushions and books to sit on and read or to pray quietly, and a set of construction materials to create a model. Give everyone 20 or 30 minutes, then compare notes about what you did, what you liked and what they felt God did during this time.
Work something out for the specific season you are in
When we were living in our tent, I worked hard to make the transition a good one, and to incorporate our spiritual habits into the new lifestyle. For us this meant working out how to do our weekly Shabbat meal in a tent and to celebrate baptism birthdays and biblical festivals as they came up. I took a small kit with us to help us do this. You could spend time together working out what season you might be in at the moment and considering what would help you best connect with God as it plays out.