Affan Abdullah is a Muslim American. He doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. He feels, however, that we can find basic common ground and beliefs, no matter our faith or non-faith.* What is this common ground?
We offer each other holiday wishes, often along these lines:
- A wish that we all will live up to the values the holidays represent, not just talk about them.
- A wish that we will live into the spirit of the season, helping those who need it and sharing with others from whatever we have.
What is the spirit of Christmas?
- For children old enough to recognize that difficulties, trouble and disappointments have entered their lives, Christmas offers hope. Tradition records that Jesus described humanity as filled with both the characteristics of God and with self-defeating tendencies. Christmas brings the hope that good will overcome the bad, and Jesus laid out his way of doing that.
- The need for community and fellowship. Jan Sutton sees the weeks of festivities and reunions as a way to hold communities together. She points out that there is nothing religious about giving and generosity.*
- Spiritual intensity. Marianne Williamson, herself a non-Christian offer this: “One doesn’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the fact that Jesus is a magnificent spiritual force. Jesus gives to Christmas its spiritual intensity, hidden behind all the… sounds of the season.”
“Because no words are as powerful as our human lives.” (Scott Korb)
We can respect the powerful life of Jesus as a figure of peace and authentic justice….. Jesus as someone who fed the poor and comforted the grieving. Christians remind themselves of the good work Jesus began and of his call to do them to do likewise.
Tweetable: Christmas brings hope to children and all of us that the good will overcome the bad. Click to Tweet
Children need to know there are so many ways spirituality fosters community, not division and strife. Click to Tweet
*USA Today, 12/21/14
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner and your table will include non-religious and religious people of different faiths, you may want to take a look at the Quaker tradition of “silent grace.” It doesn’t exclude anyone. It allows space during the holiday festivities for reflection and thanks.
“Silent grace” before the meal
All present join hands in a circle around the table, and are silent for half a minute or so as they pray, meditate or collect their thoughts. Then the host gently squeezes the hand of the person seated adjacent; this signal is quickly passed around the table and when it returns to the host, people then begin to eat and talk.
You can try variations on this simple idea:
- The host ends silent grace, “For what we are about to receive we are truly thankful.”
- A guest is invited to end silent grace, “For the meal we are about to eat and for those with whom we are going to share it, we are thankful.”
Tweetable: Having religious & non-religious guests around your Thanksgiving table? Here’s a way to express gratitude. Click to Tweet
This question presents an interesting dilemma from the parent-teen perspective. Someone in our blog community shared this story with me. As you read it, consider how you might handle the situation.
Yesterday my daughter asked if she had to go to church. She said she was tired and needed some unscheduled downtime.
After asking her some questions,
it did seem like the issue was more about her time-management skills (too many activities and social events and time spent texting) than about anything specifically at church, which she generally seemed to like.
But her question led to some conversations
about whether or not church was required in our family or optional. My analytic daughter (who will almost certainly go into the sciences) asked, “So if one of us decided we didn’t believe in Christianity at all and we didn’t want to go anymore, would we have to go?” And of course she kept pressing for an answer, even though I had never really thought that scenario through– or talked about it with her dad (who was conveniently not present at the time so I couldn’t get his opinion).
Eventually I said, “If the reason not to go was that you don’t believe it, we wouldn’t force you to go. That wouldn’t feel good. At the same time, if it’s a matter of just going when you feel like it and skipping it when you would rather sleep in, that wouldn’t feel good either. So the answer kind of depends on the deeper reasons. In this case, let’s talk about how you could prioritize your time so you have that downtime you need.”
I’m not sure what we’ll do
if one of our kids really decides to opt out. Most likely they wouldn’t say they didn’t believe in Christianity at all, but simply that church wasn’t a priority at this point in their life. Hmmmm…
After that conversation, the issue seemed to pass.
My daughter hasn’t asked again about having to go to church. But we have had some conversations about what she likes about the experience of attending, and whether she’s going for her own sake or ours. We’ve talked about other families who have different rules and what their reasons might be.
She did, however, opt out of youth group this semester.
In thinking through her time-management and current activities (some of which she shouldn’t drop mid-school-year), she decided something had to go. Together we decided two things. One: She would not have to attend youth group if she didn’t want to. Two: She would have her phone taken away at 10pm on school nights, which would allow for better sleep.
Tweetable: Teen’s question, “Do I have to go to church?” led to a very thoughtful discussion with her mom here. Click to Tweet
In early Spring, when we tore open seed packets of carrots and pumpkins, the golden days of harvest were far away. I like what Ann Voskamp says, “The seeds, they fall into my hand small, jewels. But to look at seeds and believe they will feed us? When…it doesn’t look like near enough. When it looks like less than a handful instead of a plateful, a year full, a life full. When it looks inedible. These seeds, they are food? It looks like a bit of a joke. To hand someone seeds…and ask him to believe in a feast?”
Being mindful of the future feast in a child’s life
When kids are what we seed, it can help to take time from life’s busyness to recapture what our hopes and dreams are for their spiritual life. Here’s a visualization exercise:
- What character traits do you want to see in them?
- What character flaws will be holding them back?
- Where will they turn for their inner guidance system?
- What relationship will they have with a Higher Power?
- How much self-awareness will they possess?
- To whom will they turn for help and support?
Honor the ordinaryness of everyday life
From the earliest years, when adults shape the entire life experience of infants and toddlers, through the child’s growth in self-awareness, conscience, and responsibility, we are modeling and teaching, listening and supporting. But we don’t expect to see any signs of harvest yet.
“A small thing is just a small thing. But faithfulness in small things is a very great thing.” (A. Carmichael)
“What would happen today if we saw all the not-enough, too-little in a child’s life to be but a seed? asks Ann Voskamp. “Small somethings growing into a more wonderful future. Believe it. All feasts began as seeds.”
Conversation starters for older children
- What do you want your life harvest to be?
- How do you know if you’re planting the right seeds to get you that harvest?
- Agree or disagree (and why): Some people think they’ll only get a harvest if they are successful or special.
- Someone said: “When you think about it—we cannot not produce a harvest.” What do you think that means?
Tweetable: A visualization exercise here clarifies the hopes and dreams we hold for a kid’s solid inner life. Click to Tweet