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Parenting as Presence Part 1: Of Mass Chaos and Spiritual Practices

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Photo by Matt Clingan

I love being a parent.

My 3-year-old is full of energy, always willing to offer observations of the world around him, is wonderfully over-dramatic at times, and annoyingly over-dramatic when on the occasion he doesn’t get his way.

Amid all the joy, frustration and beauty of growth, my wife and I as people of faith decided it is of high priority to pass the faith on to our little boy.

But, figuring out how and what to do is often a challenge.

I distinctly remember my parents making a point to pass the faith.  Once, they attempted a spiritual practice with my brother, sister and I, all of whom have ADHD.  They thought that participating as a family in a spiritual practice was important and worth enduring whatever children drama would be a result of this activity.

Mostly I remember that it never went well.  EVER!

One year over Christmas my dad, who was a pastor, thought it would be a great idea to have devotions together as a family.  So we would sit around the kitchen table, he would read a bible story, light a candle for advent and pray.

That is not what would happen.

I would provoke my little brother into some disruptive retaliatory action by kicking his legs under the table; it would work about 105% of the time.  My little brother would then start to throw stuff at me, and my sister, the youngest would attempt with great success to blow out the candle during the prayer and dance upon completion of this specific mission.  My beautiful, exhausted mom would try to referee the mass chaos.

Midway through the third attempt at doing this devotional on a Sunday evening my dad started laughing and, cushioned by his forearm, lowered his head onto the table as if he was raising a white flag.  He knew that what was supposed to be a devotional had indeed become chaos.  So we all started laughing, the only time we showed any kind of unity during this devotional experiment.

Sometimes our attempts at spiritual practices, or conversations about faith which are grounded in our parental instincts to ‘pass the faith,’ seem like they only facilitate frustration and empower chaos.  Sometimes the attempt and subsequent failure forces us to ask the question, “What was the point of that?”  Heck, sometimes our parenting itself, the way we fail, or accidently succeed feels like one raised white flag after another.

Practicing parents, Take hope!

The theological ‘speak’ or word of note here is “Incarnational.”  Incarnational is fancy language for the practice of presence.

Be present.  Try.  Try again.  Invite your children into the grand narrative of the gospel by first simply being present.

For the assumed failure of my parent’s attempt at devotional time during advent I still sit here and remember 18 years later the prayers, the effort, and most importantly the family time.  We were present with one another.  My parents embodied the redemptive gospel.  They, both redeemed and made holy through the saving life of Christ, were present with us, their children, to whom they thought it valuable to pass the faith.  The practice may not have worked, but their presence is part of a solid foundation which empowers me to follow Jesus to this day.  I depend on them today for the very same thing which was valuable 18 years ago.

Be present with your children.  Try new practices and celebrate success, and be ok with failure, because the most important part is that you are present with your children, embodying the love of Jesus right before their little or big, growing and curious minds.    

Chris Lenshyn

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