Every morning after breakfast, my daughter Clare takes a long look out the window and announces that it is time to refill the bird feeder. “The birds are hungry, Mom-mom”, she says with great concern. Caring for our feathered friends has become a cherished daily task for her – - and she takes it very, very seriously.
As I take down the feeder, she comments on how much her friends have eaten in the past day, recalls the various species that she observed, and scans the yard for her favorite family of dark-eyed juncos. As she carefully scoops out just enough seed to fill the feeder she notes that any spills are okay, because Chippy (our resident chipmunk) will eat them. Most days, Chippy is very well-fed.
Watching her care for her world with such conviction, I’m amazed that she has taken on such an important task of stewardship, completely by herself. Although this great ritual does sometimes take a bit longer than I’d like, and it can be challenging on days when we have appointments, I’ve learned to restructure my day to accommodate one of her first expressions of taking the initiative with a cause that she feels great passion for. By giving her the space and opportunity to nurture this great love that she has, I hope that this will translate into future convictions in both faith and values.
As she grows and ventures out into the world beyond bird feeders and the calls of dark-eyed juncos, her faith will be tested, questioned, and possibly ridiculed. I hope that the world isn’t too hard on her, but I know that she must face these questions. One day, she will wonder why we believe, why we feel so strongly about our values, and why we defend them daily. She will also reach a point where she has to make an educated decision to choose to continue on this path of faith for herself, and then defend that decision daily. Our job as her parents is to make sure that she feels confident enough to apply the great initiative that she is just now exploring to her own self-discovery of faith, and also normalize the outward existence of faith within our home. She has a long journey of discernment ahead, and she has already started down the road of independent exploration.
We can’t choose her faith for her. Of course I hope that she one day finds the same love for Catholicism that we have, but she will have to choose this faith for herself. What we can do, however, is weave faith into our everyday conversations. We normalize questioning and theology in our home. We also encourage challenges to our family’s faith, as we feel they push us to further define our beliefs. We live our faith, actively. This can be seen in very outward expressions like attending Mass, discussing grief, and praying together; however, we also have many subtle moments of alms giving, stewardship, and pure love for our family unit. We cannot expect her to follow in our footsteps and create her own faithful expressions if she doesn’t feel the permission and confidence to do so.
Whether she is feeding her dear friends, digging holes in the garden, or creating special artwork as a gift for someone else, she’s pursuing her own natural desires. We do our best to encourage these ‘jobs’ (as she calls them), because we want her to know that her values and beliefs are important, whatever they may be.
Her faith will continue to evolve slowly and quietly. In this safe and nonjudgmental environment, we hope that she will one day feel confident to take the initiative to ask those challenging questions, defend her beliefs, and preserve her values. As her faith slowly evolves, we will be there waiting to listen and share.