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Faith That’s Caught

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by Jamie Roach

There is no playbook for raising kids who love Jesus. No checklist of Bible verses memorized or quota of Sunday School classes attended that will ensure faith in our children. If we really want our children and grandchildren to know and love Jesus, the best thing we can do is to allow our own presence-centered, lived-out faith to be caught, not taught. Let me show you what I mean.
I love Nebraska football. Like, through and through, to the core, LOVE Nebraska football. Even though I have not lived in Nebraska for over 30 years and the team has given me very little reason to cheer for the past 20 years, I am still a devoted fan. You see, for the first 18 years of my life, every Saturday in the fall centered around listening to Nebraska football games on the radio with the occasional treat of getting to see them on TV. Thanksgiving weekend always included watching the Huskers battle it out on the gridiron with the evil empire that was the Oklahoma Sooners. Wearing red on Saturdays was not optional (something I still practice today). In fact, I still go over to my parents’ house each Saturday to watch the games with my mom and dad.
What is interesting is that my parents never one time told me I had to love Nebraska football. They loved Nebraska football themselves and I caught their disease. 
It is the same thing with faith, hope and love. They are all caught, not taught. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we learn how love begins with God and ends up in our children. It starts with parents who are immersed in God’s love, who then are fully present to their children. They easily and naturally point out God’s active presence everywhere they go… “at home, going down the street, from morning till night.” Love is not one more thing to do, it is the way you do everything else. Presence-centered parenting is about living all of life in the Presence of Love, that you may be the Presence of Love to your kids. It is not a matter of being smart enough or having the right personality. It is about being the kind of person with whom your children feel loved. The day-to-day relationship you have with your kids is what matters most. 
The social sciences say the same thing as our theologians. One of the largest studies on faith formation and young people, The National Study for Youth and Religion, concluded parents “get what they are” when it comes to the faith of their children¹.
Commenting on the research done by Dr. Allan Sroufe and his colleagues, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk makes the bold observation, “Neither the mother’s personality, nor the infants’ neurological anomalies at birth, nor its IQ, nor its temperament–including its activity level and reactivity to stress predicted whether a child would develop serious behavioral problems in adolescence². The key issue, rather, was the nature of the parent-child relationship; how parents felt about and interacted with their kids.” 
The science and ongoing research around attachment theory continues to reveal that children who grow up with a secure attachment to their parents tend to turn out to be happy and healthy  (Brown and Elliot 2016).


The Presence-Centered Parenting Three-Step

The first step is to practice God’s presence. Immerse yourself daily in God’s love. By spending time with God, we come to experience being held by Love. We understand that we are beloved by God. It is this security that enables us to let go of our own lives and reputations in order to radically and faithfully love our children. 
The second movement is to love ourselves. When it comes to parenting, one of the biggest obstacles to being present is seeking to be perfect. Perfectionism turns us into judgemental and critical parents who experience isolation and defeat. Rather than protecting our more vulnerable parts through perfectionism, let’s love ourselves and show up for our children as we are. It is this authenticity and vulnerability that enables us to connect with the heart of our children. 
Which brings us nicely to step three, loving our children from the center of who we are. Being transformed by love makes loving others as natural as a “good tree bearing good fruit”  (Matthew 7:17).  Too many parents focus on the tips and techniques of parenting, when what we need to focus on is developing strong roots that sink deep into Love.

To summarize: Who (Beloved) and how (with Love) we are as parents is way more important than what we know (right answers) or do (right techniques). I love these words from Paul to the church gathered in homes throughout Ephesus. Spend some time meditating on this scripture today. Let it inspire infectious faith in you that can be caught by your children and your children’s children. 
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with God and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Ephesians 5:1 MSG)



¹ https://youthandreligion.nd.edu/
² Brown, D. P., & Elliott, D. S. (2016). Attachment disturbances in adults: Treatment for comprehensive repair. W W Norton & Co.
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