Connecting Faith and Life Through Reading
I call my nine year old the Queen of Connections. I enjoy her royal abilities most of the time. I’m temporarily homeschooling my kids, and we are using a literature curriculum. What that means is we spend the majority of our day reading books out loud. For someone who loves books and her kids and cuddling, this is a dream come true.
Reading, however, takes quite a bit of time when you are reading with the Queen of Connections because every other paragraph reminds her of something else she has read or we have read or she has watched in the movie, Hamilton. (Hamilton is big one around here.)
Despite knowing my little queen and her penchant for connections, she took me by surprise a few weeks ago. We were driving around town and we saw an ambulance. She told me that every time she sees an ambulance, she says a “Glory Be” for the person inside because she remembers the night a few years ago that we followed an ambulance that held her dad. It’s her way of helping the people experiencing that fear right now.
It surprised me in the brings-tears-to-my-eyes sort of way. I can hardly believe that any light could be embedded in that dark episode. My surprise is also mixed with pride, the right kind, I think. My girls have seen me trace the Sign of the Cross over my body in prayer many times. For years as we passed an ambulance we would cross ourselves and I would ask them to say an Our Father to unite ourselves to the suffering ones in the ambulance and the whole lot of us to the Suffering One.
It makes me think. You never know what is going to stick with kids, and you never know just when "that something" will stick. How to we help the best things to stick?
As I mentioned, I am homeschooling my kids, but it’s only for one more quarter. One. more. quarter. I find myself frantically trying to fill their little minds and hearts with truth and beauty and goodness, but it’s not always in a beautiful or good way. Sometimes it feels a little frantic, like I need to stuff it all in there right now. Sometimes you're caught, especially as a homeschooler, in this dynamic of trying to do enough, trying to get all the best stuff inside your child. That’s all fine and dandy, but if it’s not presented in the right light and it is presented in an aggressive environment, it’s not going to stick. Maybe it even creates resistance in some personalities? All I know is that real learning does not happen under pressure. Again, I wonder how to we help the best things to stick?
Before I could explicitly consider a change of approach a change of dynamic approached me. I received a review copy of Katie Warner’s new book Listening for God: Silence Practice for Little Ones. The book relates the story of Elijah and how he could not find God in the earthquake or the wind or fire. But when he was silent, he heard the still small voice of God.
This is a fun book. The kids get to act out being "wind" and "earthquake" and "fire." They like the book about silence so much partly because they get to jump around and act crazy! But then, they are asked to come and sit down and spend a few moments of silence. We are at a whopping 60 seconds of silence.
Our house is never so still or so quiet as in those 60 seconds.
Now sometimes I wonder how much activities like these mean to them. Are they really contemplating God and listening for that still small voice in those moments? I’ll never really know. But in a way, that doesn’t matter so much to me.
What matters to me is that a seed is planted. The seed of experiencing that more is real than "wind" and "earthquake" and "fire." The seed of listening to a God who speaks.
I don’t know where my children’s lives will take them. I don’t know where their faith, their education, their hearts will take them. But if they are like many people, at some point their lives may lead them away from their faith and away from the goodness we work so hard to instill. (I’m already warning myself that this may happen and that I will need to have faith and hope and patience if and when it does.)
My goal in parenting isn’t to stop them from those adult detours, because their freedom is beyond my power. Sometimes what seems like detours are crucial parts of the faith journey--in fact, the most direct path---of some very wonderful people. My goal is to plant seeds that might start to slowly sprout during those times.
Maybe they’ll find themselves lost in some bad decisions or hiding from inner demons or anxieties. Maybe they’ll be searching everywhere for something that feels like home, when they are very far from home. My hope and prayer as I look at that future detour is that, just like they remembered prayer behind an ambulance, they will remember silence as a path to God’s voice.
And this is just with one book----the book on silence. There are so many more seeds we unconsciously plant and so many more I hope we are consciously able to plant.
Not all of these come through books. Probably the vast majority don’t.
But for book people, for my people, I think that many seeds may come through books. Every evening we gather together on our couch and we read about saints, and we pray, and then we read our fun book. It’s a time of calm and comfort. It’s my favorite part of the day, and in many ways I think it is for my children as well.
I hope that all we fill them up with during these times come to fruition sometime in the future as those little seeds grow into full fledged and beautiful gardens. I hope my Queen of Connections will continue making connections from what we talk about and read about to what she sees out in the world.
But it all starts with planting the seeds.
Amanda Knapp is a wife, mother, writer, knitter, and reader of books. She earned her BA from Marquette University and her MA in English from Northern Illinois University. She credits reading and writing with helping her remember who she was after many years in the trenches with toddlers and infants. She currently spends almost all of her time homeschooling her four daughters and chronicling her thoughts on her website and Instagram page.