BY SHELLY BOKMAN
Compassion, Community, Connection
Let’s face it—parenting is a crazy frenzy of responsibilities. It takes a special event or a crisis for us to stop for a moment and reflect on life itself. Aside from events like a birth or a death, holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah, lead many families in Middle Georgia to return to their church or spiritual practice; others of us simply turn inward to reflect on life’s big questions: Why are we here? What’s the purpose of life? How can I live a more meaningful life? Big questions. Not so simple answers.
And then one day our kids start asking us those big questions. They may be the innocent, curious questions of a tot, or they may be the angst-ridden questions of a struggling teen—but the questions will come. And how we answer them will have an impact on the adults our children become.
In past generations faith provided people with a community, a social network, and an extended family to help support and encourage parents in addressing those big questions. Today fewer people are connected through that kind of community. Faith no longer provides that kind of structure in most people’s lives.
Some of us grew up in homes where spiritual concerns were not addressed, leaving us to figure things out for ourselves. Others of us were raised going to church or temple as part of our family routine. But as we moved away from home, we moved away from that faith. It was not relevant to our daily lives; and because it didn’t really seem to be making a difference, we moved it off the to-do list and replaced it with other activities. There are an estimated 15 to 20 million people now in America who say they are Christians but who simply don’t want to be a part of the church. There may be a variety of reasons for this. My 16-year-old nephew informed me not long ago, “Church is boring.” For others, the rules and rituals of religion may have left them feeling empty, judged, and disconnected. Yet as parents, the need to belong, to connect with a community, becomes stronger as we realize our parental responsibility for spiritual development.
So where do we go from here? Like everything else, we teach by example. Research shows that if parents take their faith seriously, then so will their children. Since we’ve decided that these are not easy questions, the search for the answers may take some time. But the key is to start and start now before your child asks those big questions.
Reasons for Returning to the Fold
Some local families have addressed this by heading back to religious communities, by either sending their children to private, religion-based schools, and/or becoming involved in churches/temples. There are Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and churches of every denomination in the Middle Georgia area. They offer everything from traditional services to full-on, contemporary rock-n-roll worship. There are large groups and small; you can try different ones and find where you’re comfortable with the belief system, the people and the children’s programs. Many religious groups have events or programs that are open to the public: festivals, vacation Bible schools for kids, concerts, or classes. This can be a good way to get a feel for a new community of people.
Wendy Weber says, “I came to church because my daughter wanted to go.” While her original intention was to just hang out in the back row and be ‘invisible’, she has since become very involved, grown in her faith, and found the church home that she didn’t really realize she needed.
Toni James’ son attended parochial school until he graduated from 8th grade last year. While she was hesitant to let go of that faith-based community, he really wanted to go to public high school. Her compromise with him was that he could attend the local high school as long as he became involved in the high school group at their church. She sent the message that spiritual development is a priority.
Raising ‘Good’ Kids
Jeannine Barrett, mom to seven children, ages 4 to 19, also believes it is a priority. Barrett says, “I really wanted to raise my children to be ‘good’. After observing different children’s personalities and different parenting styles, I began to search for what ‘good’ really meant, and how to teach it. I knew that I wanted my children to be kind, patient, gentle, and caring. I wanted them to be motivated and full of love and joy, and not be selfish. These were the morals that I valued as an adult, but had difficulty finding in families.”
Barrett discovered a community of other families, with the same concerns, at her local church. “I was surprised as a young mom that my search led me to the local church, and the words of the Bible. I have found that being a part of a community church has not only allowed my children to build close relationships with peers and adults, but it has also given us opportunities to get involved in people’s lives when they really needed help. We have had many chances to give to others and put their needs in front of our own. I think this is what ultimately makes someone ‘good’. I have tried to show my children that when they live with high moral standards, they will find the path to adulthood less difficult. My children seem to have joy and hope, even when life is difficult. I attribute that to the close association they have with other Christians and what the Bible teaches.”
This idea of community, relationships, and connection resounded through all the people I spoke with about spiritual development. Pastor K.J. Stephens believes that each student needs an adult who knows their name and is passionate about them. Someone, in addition to a parent, they can have a relationship with, get to know, and turn to when the going gets rough. His youth group is all about connecting students with God, and with other people.
Compassion in Action
Recently, in an effort to connect and understand others beliefs, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, and Temple Beth Israel formed an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service uniting the Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in common devotion and prayer. The act of explaining and sharing their beliefs is a powerful process for young and old alike. This year, the event was hosted by Temple Beth Israel. Reverend Tommy Martin, Senior Pastor of the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church delivered the message, and the offering collected was donated to Mulberry’s Macon Outreach organization that addresses physical and spiritual hunger along with hope for the future to disadvantaged people in the Middle Georgia area. The ladies of the Temple Sisterhood planned a reception that followed the service.
All over Macon, in both parochial and independent schools, volunteerism is encouraged. The projects are too numerous to mention. But one thing we do know is that while the students might be encouraged or even required to participate, the joy of giving of oneself is quickly acquired by the students. Virtually every church puts community and compassion into action, helping families live their beliefs. When, as parents, we raise our children with this sort of experience, we are saying to our children—faith matters. Faith gives us answers to the big questions and a framework to help us live better lives.