Teaching Religion & Spirituality

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

March 20, 2011

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

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For me, one of the more nebulous bits of being a parent is how do we teach religion and spirituality? How do we our beliefs and break them down in a truthful, succinct way for our children? How do we, as parents, work through our differences to have some coherent pattern to show Levi? In short: how do we teach religion?

We do it every day, in our actions, at minimum. No matter what those actions are, we are modeling some sort of behavior. So, with these religious undertones we pray daily, I try to be thankful for things, and if not aware of changing at least aware when I do things like swear at “bad drivers.” Daily prayer and conversations introduced, despite the parental example.

A few times, Levi woke up scared, maybe from a bad dream. I gave him a hug, asked him if he was still scared or if he could describe the scary thing. He was still scared but wasn’t able to describe the scary thing. “So, this is where I introduce God,” thought my brain. I told him that we believe in God, who is everyone’s father, and when we’re scared that God will take care of us and help us to not be scared anymore. I remember, well, that comfort growing up. If my mom couldn’t make the thunderstorm go away, or if I was afraid to go to school the next day, it was nice to believe I could turn to this thing much bigger than me to help with my problems. God the protector is one way I’ve introduced spirituality to Levi.

We attend church regularly. If not weekly, 2-3 times a month. We attend a local Catholic Church. I want to remain practicing Catholocism since I’ve chosen this Christian Path. My husband is true to his Protestant upbringing, but hasn’t found a Protestant Church that not only he likes but that we can both agree on. This Catholic Church we attend is low key, it has a school, and serves as a good neighborhood church. It doesn’t ruffle any feathers, it focuses on the community, and it’s modest. This suits our personalities very well.

Catholicism is laden with rituals. I know it’s not fair to expect Levi to be quiet in church, so we’ve made concessions I never thought I would: we let him play with toys in church! Right now, from age 0 to about 6, I’ve conceded that this is “practice” time. This is the time where we teach Levi church is different, special, and we must be calm, quiet, and respectful in church. Again, we use bribery: if everyone is good, we get a half dozen doughnuts. We introduce ritual with these patterns even the bribes.

Now, Levi has been paying attention to the smaller rituals. He’s been Genuflecting at church after mass! This caught me off guard, but my husband says he’s been doing it for some time. I usually exit the pew last and follow them out, meeting them on the sidewalk after any genuflecting has been done along with the collection of the weekly bulletin. He’s learning, first, these steps without knowledge of what purpose they serve. I find it interesting that this is one of the things where Levi has not asked Why?

Every day and night, Levi asks what we’re doing. We’re teaching him the days of the weeks, as is more relevant with our impending vacation. We’ve been introducing the concept of the weekday and weekend since he’s been in preschool. Every Sunday, Levi understand, we should be going to Church. After Church is doughnuts, and after that – maybe lunch, bread, naps. I like Sunday to be a quiet, reflective day, no matter the pattern.

Through these habits of church and grace before meals and using God when we’re unhappy, sad, or scared – I am introducing this concept of Religion. I don’t really remember how my mother layered in these beliefs, as my personal reflections show they were always there. I am very curious to see what Levi’s expectations and understanding of religion grows to be as we layer on the heavier, conflicting topics of religion with his age. It, if anything, will prove to be an interesting ride.

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