Living with gratitude, hope and grace

April 15, 2021 by Ellie Johns-Kelley

As a parent of young children during the pandemic, feelings of inadequacy are common. Regardless of the words of encouragement from supervisors, and family and friends, it is easy to sense that we are falling short. To note, I have been truly blessed with bosses who have affirmed me in my work. Yet, the sense of inferiority is persistent, particularly with being a mom. From education, socialization, discipline and spiritual development, how can we meet the imaginary marks in our minds we set for our families to keep up with the demands of our working lives?

The pandemic has required those of us with young children to play tandem roles with our work and childcare. Trying to do both well is hard work.

Even with school and daycare back in session, the days are shorter with no afterschool care. This means parents juggling school pickup, navigating homework and pleading with a first grader and toddler to play nicely as mommy or daddy finish up work that needs attending.

The idea of including any formal Christian Education beyond attending remote worship on Sunday and bedtime prayers with a few Sunday School songs has seemed unattainable.

We raise the question, will our children have faith? And will they learn enough that one day they can make the decision for themselves to accept or reject this faith we share? Will they know that nothing in life and death can separate them from the love of God?

Faith is caught, not taught

As a pastor, I used to distribute to children and their families “Belonging to God, a First Catechism” and encourage them to go through a few questions each day during Lent. Two cycles of Lent and Easter have passed, and I have not done this with my own girls.

Twenty-three years ago, as a seminarian at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, I met Professor Emeritus, Bob Kelley. As the G. Albert Shoemaker Professor of Bible and Archaeology, he would make Greek and the scriptures come alive for seminarians and high school kids alike. Dr. Kelley was full of enthusiasm, joy and genuine care. Young people fondly referred to him as Coach Kelley. Recently, I remembered an expression he used so often. Dr. Kelley would say, “faith is caught, not taught.”

I find this incredibly reassuring as a parent. Many parents are experiencing the struggles I have expressed. Pastors and elders around share the concern that they want to live into the baptismal promises with children and youth, and it is harder in pandemic times; particularly as we still must wait for the vaccines to be approved for children. As congregations begin to reopen to vaccinated adults, we must figure out how to provide simple tools and if nothing else, encouragement that spiritual nurture is not limited to formal education but everyday interactions with our children.

Gardening as spiritual practice

For me, it is as simple as stepping out into the garden with our two girls. Soil tilled. The garden is ready for them to plant seeds to grow vegetables for ourselves with extra to share with our community through local food pantries. While digging in the soil, weeding, and eventually picking ripe vegetables, we get to wonder aloud about God and God’s good creation. We get to talk about our near and distant neighbors with different experiences in the world. We talk about justice and injustice and how we may play a part in God’s reconciliation, both experiencing redemption and demonstrating it. We can sing songs of faith that retell the Biblical stories and raise questions for what that means for us today.

Dr. Kelley’s expression that faith is caught, not taught, comes alive in our dinner ritual. Without the prodding of her preacher momma (to consider inclusivity and that faith isn’t about making warm fuzzies with Jesus in the corner but about being in relationship to God, God’s good creation and being the body of Christ), our eldest edited the words to the Johnny Appleseed song.

Each evening before she begins, she declares the seed of the day. “Oh, the Lord is good to us and so we thank the Lord, for giving us the things we need, the sun and the rain and the apple (or watermelon, pumpkin, beet, pea or pumpkin) seed. The Lord is good to us.”

The Lord is good to the world. Our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, journeys with us through joy, adventure, discomfort and distress. God does not leave us abandoned. Everyday engagement proclaims this faith to our children and helps them to live with gratitude, hope and grace.

Ellie Johns-Kelley serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the Northeast Region. She works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Ellie received a BS in Biology at Muskingum College and a Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She resides in Carmichaels, PA with her husband, Eric and their daughters Ibby and Karoline.