The Relationship Between Spirituality and Parenting
Before my son was born, I was on a mission to address spiritual questions that had been kicking around in my head for years. I wanted to be able to help him have a meaningful sense of God throughout his life, but first I needed to have a better sense of God.
I started reading more books and listening to more podcasts about religion and spirituality. I found inspiration in the novels and essays of authors Marilynne Robinson and Wendell Berry, the daily meditations of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, and Rob Bell’s podcast of sermons about how to live well.
Since then, I’ve discovered numerous other writers, speakers, and thinkers whose forward-thinking Christianity reflects understandings that seem to have been deep inside of me all along.
What I’ve found is not the Christianity of my childhood in which I was taught to see myself as depraved and guilty and God as a grumpy father who watched my every move with suspicion. This is a Christianity of grace—one in which I am—we all are—loved unconditionally.
As a new parent, I understand this unconditional love for the first time.
I have come to see that my real mission is to allow myself to believe that life itself is a gift. And starting with my family, I have countless opportunities every day to live as if this is true.
When I think about life this way, I have a clearer sense of what is right and real. As Rob Bell would say, I’ve started to hear the “bass note” of my life. Spirituality is less an abstract concept and more of a way to experience the material world: the people, places, and things in my life. This, of course, has huge ramifications for my parenting.
The writers and thinkers I mentioned above have wisdom that seems rooted in the fact that they consider questions to be more important than answers. This is a huge shift for me. It’s difficult, but I’m trying to let myself be okay with not having all the answers.
I’ve learned that this embrace of mystery, however uncomfortable I am with it, is an act of faith in itself. It’s holy.
I’ve met others who have similar questions, and, like me, want to explore the relationship between parenting and spirituality. Parents who want to do the best thing for their kids. In most cases, they identify as “spiritual, not religious” and do not attend a place of worship, which makes sense given the practices and ideologies of many of our churches.
And that’s what brings us here.
This is a space—a community, really—where parents can ask questions, consider possibilities together, and learn how to avoid the black-and-white, either-or thinking that is so prevalent everywhere. Life isn’t that simple.
I want to explore the specifics of why it’s important to have a rich spiritual life as a parent and how having one serves as a model for our children’s spirituality.
For example, when I try to declutter my mind with just a few minutes of meditation at some point in the day, I’m much more patient with whatever comes my way afterward, from someone cutting me off in traffic to my son loudly protesting the fact that he needs to wear clothes.
If he sees me handling these situations gracefully, he’ll notice. And if I don’t handle situations gracefully, he’ll notice that, too.
I also want to explore how our children help us grow spiritually. My wife and I recently celebrated our son’s first birthday, and I’m just beginning to understand the countless ways he helps connect me with God and my deepest self.
There is no other way to describe his birth and sudden presence here as anything other than a miracle. His very existence transcends understanding. I’m reminded that science and logic and reason, essential and useful as they are, cannot fully explain why he’s here—why we’re all here—and the love I feel for him.
Through him, I’m reconnected with my essential humanity. By feeding him, holding him, consoling him, changing him, talking to him, and playing with him on the floor, I have the distinct feeling that this is what it’s all about. I feel closer to God because now I understand how God, as Mother and as Father, feels about me. It’s a love that has a lot to teach.
Spirituality and parenting are mutually beneficial. I’m confident there are plenty of other parents out there who are looking to begin or deepen a spiritual practice and nurture their children’s spirituality, too.
There is so much we can learn from each other. I hope you’ll join me in accumulating some wisdom.