Faith Five Families: Nurturing the Spiritual Life of Children

By John Paarlberg

After reading a Christian Century article (“Family Affair: Rich Melheim on How Faith Is Formed,” February 10, 2012), John Paarlberg added his personal ideas to each of Melheim’s five steps (www.faith5.org).

Melheim advocates for parents to spend five minutes each night with their child. Decide when and where this would best fit into your family’s routine. Evenings just before bed is the suggestion from Melheim, but perhaps another time would suit your situation better. It is often very helpful and important—as it is in our own devotional life—to set aside the same time and place each day. Routine and ritual are also important to children. Here are Melheim’s five steps:

  1. Share the highs and lows of the day. Of course, use your discretion about what is appropriate to share with your child. You might simply ask: “What was good about today?” And then this could be an opportunity and prelude to say some simple “thank you” prayers. And then ask, “What was not so good about today?” This could be an opportunity to pray for others, to ask for God’s help, or to offer some simple prayer of confession. For example, sometimes this might even be an opportunity for you as a parent to say “I’m sorry” to your child. A parent could say, “What was not so good for me was when I became upset and angry about…I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”
     
  2. Read a verse of Scripture. Which scripture? You could choose a verse from the Sunday lectionary and/or the text that was read in church on Sunday. For younger children you might want to read a short passage from a children’s story Bible. There is also something called the “Moravian Daily Text,” a practice of the Moravian church for over 250 years. You can subscribe for free.
     
  3. Talk about how the highs and lows of the day relate to the scripture. Is God saying something to you? Keep it simple. Maybe use “wondering” questions. “I wonder how God protects us today.” You don’t have to tell your child what the passage means (unless, of course, you need to explain the meaning of a word or provide other basic information) but think about the passage and wonder about it together.
     
  4. Pray for each other’s highs and lows. See suggestions above. Or perhaps have a collection of simple prayers that you can choose from to say at this time.
     
  5. Bless each other before turning out the lights. Perhaps something like, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you peace.” Or simply, “God bless you, ____.” And the response: “God bless you, Mommy (and/or Daddy).”

I often sang the first verse of the hymn “God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven” at bedtime with my children (the tune is a lullaby):

God, who made the earth and heaven, darkness and light,
Who the day for toil has given, for rest the night:
May your angel guards defend us, slumber sweet your mercy send us;
Holy dreams and hopes attend us, all through the night.