Sharing our faith stories with our children

In a recent Children’s Ministries newsletter published by the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Office of Life and Faith, I invited readers to think about how they share their personal faith stories with the children in their lives. Why?

Because we know that parents have the greatest impact in influencing their child/ren’s personal development. This is because parents are, and always will be, the first and primary educators of their children. In a particular way, parents have the most influential role in developing their children’s moral and religious beliefs. So, the question that comes back to me as one of the diocese’s Family Community Faith Co-ordinators is, ‘How can parents begin to pass on the practice of ‘having faith’ to their children? How do we communicate what faith is, when it can be such a complex issue we are still discovering ourselves?’

I believe that one effective way we can begin to pass on faith to our children is by sharing our own important faith stories within the family home.

So, the first question for us as adults is: what experiences have I had that involved – challenged – invoked − faith? Perhaps there was a nervous, uncertain moment before an important exam was attempted. Perhaps a step of faith was required in order to take a different pathway in a career. Perhaps it was the birth of a child or a grandchild, a moment filled with deep emotion and new beginnings. Did my experience influence me to have faith − in myself, another person or even God?

The “milestone” moments that occur in a person’s life come with a certain level of faith, since it is from these points that we begin to step into an unknown future – a future we cannot predict or approach with certainty.

In my journey to discovering the importance of faith in my own life, I can recall a really clear memory of a story my mother once told me. I would have been about 19 years old when I persuaded my Mum to share this story with me. Her experience had left a lasting impression in her memory, and it is one which I will always remember too, since she has passed it on to me.

The experience happened when I was about 3 years old. My family is made up of Mum, Dad, an older brother, a younger brother and me. On one seemingly normal day in my early years, the family had decided to go for a walk. When we were walking alongside a road, my older brother (5 years old) was safely holding Dad’s hand, my younger brother (1 year old) was being pushed along in a stroller by my mother and I had been instructed to hold onto the side of the stroller whilst we walked along. Everything was very normal about the day and nothing seemed amiss. We strolled up closer to the side of the road because we needed to cross. My father judged it safe to cross, so holding my older brother’s hand, started to walk towards the footpath on the other side.  Mum tells the story that, having taken a moment to check on her youngest child, she needed to have a second look before crossing with my brother and me. Rising over the top of the crest in the road, she spotted a large truck approaching. My mother wisely decided that it would be best to hold off crossing the road until it had passed. By this point my older brother and Dad were close to the other side and hurried along. What happened next was the unexpected. My mother shared with me that it was at this point that I must have decided that I wanted to follow Dad across the road too, and so I let go of the stroller and began to run across the street. Mum describes the shock and horror she felt the moment she realised I had begun to cross the street, right into the pathway of the oncoming truck.

Despite the sudden burst of adrenaline and fear she felt in that moment, she left her youngest child secured in the stroller on the sidewalk to run after me. Her intention was to collect me in her arms and position herself between me and the oncoming truck. She remembers screaming out my name. She wasn’t going to get to me in time. Mum recalls hearing the truck driver slam on his brakes and sharply swerve away from a distressed mother and her little girl following her Dad’s path across the road. Thankfully, the driver reacted in time and the truck came to a stop without hitting anybody. Mum shares how she remembers the truck driver being in shock when he emerged from the vehicle to see if everyone was all right.

And it is this moment in Mum’s story which remains imprinted in my own memory: we were so incredibly lucky to have survived what could have easily become a tragic accident, devastating our family. Mum refers to this experience as a miracle because “something or someone, somewhere, must be looking out for my little girl”. Perhaps I survived to fulfil some bigger plan?  This story helped me to believe that perhaps something “bigger” was planned for my life, and that I had a God who really did look out for me.

Can you see how my mother’s sharing this story, and her belief that a mysterious God was looking out for her and her little girl, helped encourage the development of my own sense of faith; how it would have led me to ask questions and make my own sense of the story? I encourage families to share stories of faith moments, significant or trivial, in our lives, and explore those experiences together.

After all, children love a good story!

The following books are recommended by the Children’s Ministries team:

Colin Buchanan Practise Being Godly Christian Focus Publications

Jan Godfrey & Honor Ayres Who Made the Morning? Anno Domini Publishing/Koorong Books

Ray Buckley God’s Love is Like Abingdon Press

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Melissa Fenech

Melissa Fenech is one of the Supervisors in the Pastoral Placement Program. She is filling in for Teresa for this week's Tuesdays with Teresa column.

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