When our youngest daughter was little she watched Barney over and over and over again. She knew the songs and she would sing and dance along with that big purple dinosaur. The rest of us had lost interest in that show weeks (maybe months) before she did but she loved watching it. You probably know kids who love the same thing too. Perhaps it is a CD (or mp3) that they listen to every night at bedtime. But, whatever it is, it reminds us that children love rituals. Children love things that are the same.
In church, our three years olds always play with Play-Doh when they gather in the children’s worship room. Last week one of the four years olds (who had moved on to a room for older children) asked if she could go to the Play-Doh room. This isn’t surprising because kids aren’t the only ones who like things the same. Teens will sit in the same seats in the lunch room every day even though seats aren’t assigned. Adults chose the same side of church (and often even the same pew) to sit on every Sunday. We develop practices or rituals that give us comfort.
God knows that we’re wired this way. He gave us some practices, like communion, that remind us, again and again of our place in the family of God. But there are other rituals, too, less sacramental, that can build our faith like reading the Bible and praying at meal times. These repeated actions that we do often soon become habits. In our church, a candle is lit at the beginning of worship and then that light is taken out of church at the end of worship. It reminds us that we gather around the light of Christ and that His light goes with us as we leave the sanctuary for another week. Families could also light a candle when they read the Bible or have family devotions. In worship at church, we also pray a prayer of illumination before the reading the Bible. This prayer reminds us that we only understand scripture if the Holy Spirit works in us. Families could also pray a prayer of illumination before we read the Bible at home.
We can use the power of rituals to help build the faith in our children and teens. These practices become an important part of the fabric of our faith and can help us have good conversations with our children and teens about how faith is part of who we are. If your church has a bulletin or repeated liturgical elements, consider taking them home and using them as part of your family devotions.
If you’re interested in including more practices and rituals in your family life, consider reading Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life by Traci Smith (Chalice Press, 2014). Smith gives lots of ideas, some of which might work for your family.