"We Believe in Mystery": Raising Kids in Faith

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I’m in the final throes of finishing the next book and will be largely offline for the next few weeks, but I wanted to share a book that came across my desk that I loved and think you will too.

 In Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home, Rev. Traci Smith, a Presbyterian pastor and mama of three, offers super-practical, creative ideas for developing spiritual practices as a family.

As a new mom asking big questions about how we want to raise our son in the faith, I found this book incredibly helpful, because it starts so small. It doesn't tell me what to teach my kid about death and resurrection, but it gives me some meaningful, age-appropriate ideas for how to celebrate Easter. 


Here’s more from my foreword to the book:

“So we know what we don’t want to teach him about God,” I said to my husband, Dan, as I collapsed onto the park bench, rubbing my pregnant belly. “But we haven’t decided what we do want to teach him.”

It was quiet between us for a moment, save for my labored breathing. A mile around our favorite walking track wasn’t as easy as it used to be, but then neither was anything else in those days leading up to and following our first baby’s birth.

Dan and I were both raised in loving, grace-filled homes, but in a fundamentalist religious culture that required total acquiescence to a strict set of theological beliefs and left little room for mystery. After years of doubt and deconstruction, we’d made peace with the meandering nature of our own faith journeys, but raising our little boy to do the same seemed daunting. We had no models for that, no roadmap. We knew what teachings we wanted to avoid, but were flummoxed about what to present as an alternative.

“Well I guess it’s like everything else with parenting,” Dan finally said. “We’ll just have to figure it out as we go.”

Indeed, parenting, like faith, can only be learned in the doing. So in this first year of being this little boy’s parents, we’ve been taking it a day at a time, praying for wisdom, and getting help from those ahead of us on the path—good friends and good guides.

Traci Smith is one of those guides. From the moment I met her, I knew Traci was the kind of mom I wanted to be: playful, empathetic, and deliberate about integrating spiritual practices into her family’s everyday life. We met at a Christian women’s conference in Texas, and throughout the first day of sessions, Traci insisted on wearing a rather loud, colorful pin her young son had crafted for her to remember him while they were apart. He’d have never known if she’d simply left it in her suitcase, but Traci wore that little pin proudly, and I loved how her eyes twinkled when she talked about her kids.

Traci brings that same joy to the book you now hold in your hands. Faithful Families is a thoughtful, practical guide to teaching by doing—to integrating prayer, tradition, Scripture, and ritual into the routines of a normal, busy family. What I love about this book, and about Traci’s work, is how it illuminates the sacred in the everyday, how it invites us to turn a lazy Saturday morning breakfast, a long car ride, the death of a pet, or the end of a stressful day into an opportunity to look for God, hiding in plain sight. “We believe in mystery,” she encourages us to tell our kids...and ourselves.

After reading Faithful Families (and dog-earing nearly every page for Dan), I felt relieved—relieved I didn’t have to understand theodicy before praying a simple blessing over my son’s bed at night, relieved I didn’t have to know all the answers before staring in awe into a starry sky, relieved I didn’t have to be free of doubt to be full of gratitude at our family’s “gratitude café.” For the first time since becoming a mother, I was thinking less about how I didn’t want to parent and more about how I did want to parent, particularly as it concerned my child’s spiritual formation.

It’s as true for children as it is for adults: faith must be practiced. We can teach, certainly, and instruct and inform. But what will be remembered are those tangible, in-the-flesh actions that get God out of our heads and into our hands. What will be remembered is the scent of a bubbling hot casserole for a family in need, the whoosh of a “Pentecost kite” whipping through the air, the feeling of prayer beads pressed against fingers, the dance of flame atop Advent candles.

As a new parent, I’m often overwhelmed at the prospect of raising a kind and happy son. With this book, Traci reminds us we aren’t called to be perfect; we’re called to be faithful. All we can do is attend to the present moment. All we can do is take it one step at a time.

Check out Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home.

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