My wife and I are both pastors. Ginny and I try to teach our kids about holy things. We learn about holy things from our kids. The other night before bed, the middle child whispered to his mom, “I think I have God and Mother Nature in my heart.” I mean, c’mon! What a dear!
But it is likewise true that all three of our children raise holy hell when it is time to say grace before meals.
Picture the five of us around the table, our food before us. Either Ginny or I will begin to offer simple words of gratitude; it’s not like she and I pontificate in long-winded supplications. But almost immediately, all three of them start to complain. Sometimes they even yell, “Stop!”
I think God is rather amused by this behavior — the Lord created all preacher’s kids!
I also understand that their responses to prayer represent a power struggle. My kids do not decide whether or not to go to church on Sunday mornings. So, they push back when they can.
Such differentiation from one’s caregivers is a healthy part of growing up. I certainly am not the only parent that faces this reality.
A 2022 Gallup Poll found that in American houses of worship, attendance has dipped below 50 percent of the population. For the first time in eight decades, a majority of our citizens do not belong to either a mosque, synagogue, or church. Does this cause Christians to doubt their words and actions, even their own faith?
These are not abstract questions for me. I am a pastor, part of the church as an institution.
I am also a parent and a person of faith. When my kids’ antics annoy me, even anger me, it’s important to step back and ask myself, “What’s going on with me? Why is their behavior triggering me? Is it that I wish to have pious children?”
Naw, that can’t be it. Something deeper is going on.
My kids trigger me at the dinner table because I doubt my parenting abilities. Am I able to pass along to my offspring the shimmer of the faith, that which has helped me in my darkest hours? Am I able to teach them to pray, to trust, to hope?
The Gallup Poll brought to mind my maternal grandfather. Granddad was what some call a “lapsed Catholic,” meaning he no longer darkened the church doors of his youth. When I was a boy visiting for a weekend, I liked that he and I could stay home and watch Sunday morning cartoons. Okay, I loved that about my visits. Instead of church, he and I would play baseball in the yard, pretending we were teammates on his beloved Atlanta Braves. We would head inside when it got too hot and sit at the kitchen table for a cookie salad — a couple of Oreos, a couple of Chips Ahoy, tossed together in a bowl.
But though I never remember Granddad going to church, grace was always said before meals. Granddad offered a prayer from his Roman Catholic upbringing that sounded like one long word:
I am going to keep praying every night before meals. Saying grace is about the recognition that the life-sustaining gifts of food before us did not magically appear on our doorstep through Amazon delivery, but required work at every step from farm to factory to grocery store to kitchen to table. Whether named as God, Allah, Jesus, a Higher Power, the Source, or the Universe, we are all indebted to forces beyond our ken.
That kind of preachy talk would make my kids roll their eyes. Though he had left the church, Granddad held onto the prayer of his childhood. Something about his faith stayed with him and must have been a part of the kind, patient, generous, and loving way that he related to me. Now that is my prayer for my kids.
Adapted from Little Big Moments by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock. All rights reserved.