Before we had the girls, Dan and I were long agreed that our children would be brought up in faith, with God and ideally attending a faith school. Neither of us had been brought up as church goers and both of our mothers are unsure about whether or not they believe, but this is something we feel quite strongly about. Both of us expressing the view that being brought up with God gives you greater freedom to make a choice about your beliefs when you are older: if you are brought up without God, it is harder to find a place for Him and to put your belief in something unseen. It is a bigger leap to allow Him into your life and to make your decisions on His teachings if you have not always done so. Whereas, having God in your life as a child does not make it harder to make an informed choice to turn away. We also feel strongly that in a changing world, that extra place to turn to and that extra set of guidance and values, is almost essential for a teenager or young adult faced with new and unknown pressures and significant decisions to make.
And so, some years ago, we set out to discover a church which would suit us all. Up until this point, both Dan and I had always been curious about God and had found solace in church buildings but had not attended church other than for weddings, christenings and funerals. The idea was that I would visit all of our local churches to find out which one was our spiritual home, but actually I never left the first church I attended, finding in that place such an overwhelming sense of love and acceptance, that I didn’t need to look anywhere else.
The decision about attending church was always motivated by the girls, but after almost a year, it was clear it was about more than that. I too was finding my faith. I found mass cathartic, therapeutic and emotional, ending most services in tears, without ever really knowing why. I found comfort in learning to accept and appreciate my blessings and the many gifts bestowed on me and no longer felt consumed by material gains – my sense of failure at not keeping up with the Jones’ fast disappeared and that remains today. My weekly attendance really was food for my soul and I felt starved if I missed, satiated when I attended.
I had already attended church run playgroups and a course on family life run by another local church and then I found myself signing up for faith classes with a view to being received and confirmed. Sessions again, that I sobbed through and at the same time felt uplifted by. That Easter was one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life, I genuinely felt like I had come home. Two years later, Dan also undertook the faith classes and was baptised and confirmed. The girls now attend our local Catholic primary school, which we adore and we remain so very pleased that we made the decision for them to have God as such a fundamental and intrinsic part of their lives.
So why is it, that another Sunday has come and gone and we have not attended mass? For the first time, in I think 5-6 years, we have only been to church, I think once in 3-4 months.
When I first started attending church, my family was sceptical, suggesting that it was all about getting the girls into the best primary school and not about God or Christian values. And this niggles at the back of my mind, in our current absenteeism from mass. I am sure my parents were not the only ones to wonder….I do know, however, in my heart, that we were not motivated by school choice – yes we wanted the girls to be in a faith school so that the values could be embedded and part of their everyday, but it has always been about the bigger picture and not about Ofsted reports.
I have blamed our recent lack of attendance on our busy lives. We get the girls out of the house by 8.30am Monday- Friday and they are busy during the week with gymnastics, piano and swimming and then on a Saturday we are at the dance school 8.45-3.45. It sometimes feels grossly unfair to march them out of the door on another day when all they want more than anything is to just ‘be’, to spend time at home, with their things and each other and sometimes, not to get changed. I sometimes just don’t have the heart to deny them this.
And if I listen to my heart, I am not sure it is fair to label this as an excuse. I feel that it is an instinctive maternal decision: love and connections thrive when we slow down. When we are always rushing and always busy, you can guarantee that frictions will arises – with your partner, with your friends, with your children. Particularly with your children – they will scream, fight and contradict you not because they are naughty, but because they want you to hear them. To really listen. To really pay attention. To be with them – really be with them. So if we are guarding our one day to slow down, a day we reconnect with home and each other, is that a decision worth making to the detriment of our church life, if only for the time being?
On the other hand, we know every other family has the same busy life and yet our friends still chose church. The difference mainly being that they themselves were brought up with God and with always attending mass. It is part of their fabric, interwoven into their expectations of family life and integral to their faith.
Isn’t this the very thing we aspire to for the girls? That God and church are indivisible from themselves, part of their own make-up, an essential element of their wellbeing? Without this, will they really ever be able to turn to God in times of uncertainty, distress or pain?
Is it enough to attend a church school? As with everything else, don’t we need to lead by example? If we don’t, are we denying the girls a full and real faith?
Dan and I don’t have the same exposure to God and his teachings in our everyday lives as the girls, but we do know that we feel the absence of God having not been attending church the last few months. The difficulty is deciding whether or not he has been missed…..True, we always feel better after church but there is no gaping hole….But is that just reverting to the life we led before we started attending church? Have we just fallen out of practice and would feel better and more enriched once back in the habit?
When devastating events occur like they have in Manchester this week, it is always easy to wonder if there is a God or what kind of God would allow such pain and suffering…this is certainly a question in my mind this week. In my weakest moments I wonder, if we have faith instead in humanity’s ability to choose love over hate and joy over suffering, do we need God? I read this week about making a decision each day to be a “representative of love”. If I make this my daily personal mission, is that good enough? I will still be following Christian examples….
That might be enough in my ordinary life but if I am completely honest, I have not faced real adversity in my life. Yes I have had my own heartache but I have not yet been laid completely bereft, naked with the need to anchor myself to a deeper faith and belief that there is someone to watch over and to guide me. Someone to answer my prayers.
And it’s this element of faith, we want to deliver to the girls. One day we won’t be there and we need to know that they will have another rock to lean on. Another certainty. Another given. An unquestionable belief that they are loved and will be cared for and an unquenchable hope for the future.
Will it matter if we take the girls to church, our own faith wobbling? Do we need to sacrifice our slow time, our own sacred family time? Is it enough now for God, that we want so desperately to embrace Him but cannot always….right now, we feel our immediate need is to have time together but we are also aware that if we want the girls to have the faith our friends have, then we cannot do this always?
Right now, I feel we are failing in our Christianity – our own faith is failing, but we are also failing faith by not leading by example…
Yet even as I acknowledge this, I feel the tug of those lazy, relaxed, family times at home. Wanting to be just our little gang, at home, away from everything else…
I am lost.
But my priest and my faith classes have taught me that faith is a journey and I am not at the end of the road.
Ps thank you to Pinterest for the image