How families turn faith into action

On one of the first evenings after our then foster (now adopted) daughter Teenasia came to live with us, second-grade Jacob was at the dining room table doing religion homework to prepare for his upcoming First Communion.

My husband, Bill, was upstairs giving 4-year-old Liam a bath, and I was holding wriggling 16-month-old Teenasia, trying to wash her hair in the kitchen sink.

I found I couldn’t hold her with one arm and wash her hair with the other.

“Hey, Jacob,” I said. “Do you want to sit there and learn about your faith, or do you want to live it?”

Jacob looked up, intrigued, and put his pencil down.

“I’ll live it,” he said, smiling and walking over.

As I held Teenasia tightly so she wouldn’t bump her head on the faucet, Jacob took the spray and wet his new little sister’s hair, then added shampoo.

As he worked the suds around Teenasia’s head, he looked into her eyes and narrated the process.

“You need to have clean hair. The water won’t hurt you. We’ll put a cloth over your eyes when we rinse. If you’d stop trying to get away, this would be easier,” he said.

Soon Teenasia, distracted by Jacob’s voice and interested in what he was doing, slowed her movements, smiled at Jacob, and relaxed in my arms.

Teenasia has been washing her own hair for many years, and I’m not sure Jacob, now 19, even remembers that night.

For for me, the evening has come to encapsulate what I believe to be true about the connection between faith and service: We need to know when it’s time to put down the religion book and get to work.

Going to church, joining a prayer group, or reading books on spirituality cannot be ends in themselves.

Faith and prayer must lead to action.

Yet propelling a family from a weekly hour at church to a life focused on service can feel complicated.

Here’s how some families work it

Start when the kids are young: Families who begin service early are trying to build both a sense of compassion for others and a sense of responsibility to reach out. These families are laying the groundwork for what they hope will become a lifetime commitment to service. Continue reading

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