The Words of the Roth Family
Mrs. Roth is currently a portrait photographer. She has worked with the Parent Information Center, focusing on parenting education, and has also been a Sunday School teacher and presenter for Middle School and Youth Camps.
Traditions evolve because people love each other and enjoy doing things together. With all the changes and challenges in life, family traditions can offer a safe harbor to be nurtured in, and be a source of renewed hope through our connectedness. Children feel a sense of identity and security by participating in family gatherings and events that are repeated on a regular basis. More importantly, when the events are filled with love and joy the children want to continue these traditions into adulthood as they marry and have their own children.
Religious traditions express our love and gratitude to God and share God's love within the family and community. Love is expressed through actions, so a religious ritual or activity is a concrete way that we can express love to God and others. When we do such activities as a family we give our children tools to develop a life of faith through their expedience. Because children learn primarily through experience it's essential that they feel loved and empowered by the religious traditions we offer them. Our ability to embrace each child's unique goodness and to encourage them will influence their sense of self, as well as their identity within the family, community and world. Most importantly, it will influence their sense of identity as a child of God.
Are the traditions you practice in your family filled with love and joy? Do they give hope, comfort and connect people more deeply to each other? Do they give your children a chance to express and feel God's love within the family and community? This is their purpose, so how do we create that?
I have often wondered how modern Christmas traditions evolved throughout the world. The first public celebrations of Jesus' birthday were probably more religious in nature, and definitely did not include Christmas trees and Santa Clause. Yet decorating, sending cards, singing songs, giving gifts and telling stories all add meaning to the celebration because these activities give us joy through increasing our connectedness to each other. The more connected we are in loving relationships, the more secure we feel as human beings.
I am using the example of Christmas because many of its traditions are centered on children, and were no doubt developed to keep children interested in the Holy Day and to give them the experience of joy through God's unconditional love
As we strive to connect more deeply to God, True Parents and each other, as well as pass our traditions on to our children, I think we have to consider the ritual vs. the heart. It may not always be possible to duplicate the exact traditional method or activity that our True Parents have established, but we can always strive to duplicate the heart of loving God and loving each other. With this in mind I'm offering a few examples of how some might practice a tradition to fit their family's needs considering the demands of our daily lives and family circumstances, without compromising the heart or attitude of attendance to God.
Our family went through many transitions with prayer times and scripture reading due to schedules, children's ages, and morning person / night person issues. When the children were very little I found it best to offer our morning and evening prayers while cuddling in bed. For a bedtime story sometimes we would read from a children's Bible.
When my kids were in elementary school a book called What Would Jesus Do was our favorite daily reading, which would sometimes be in the morning and sometimes at night. Finally, as they got older it seemed to work out best to have scripture reading during breakfast. Now that two of my children are adults our daily prayers and reading are done individually.
A daily family time does not have to be long and boring or preachy. On the contrary, it should be a time when children look forward to being reunited with family members. Shared experiences help create family identity and the bonds between siblings. Understanding each child's personality, as well as their needs according to age is helpful when considering how to create your family's daily spiritual routine.
Observing Ahn Shi Il every eight days can be a real challenge to keep up with. Some families still do this on Sunday mornings because they have already been successful with that habit. Another way is to read one point of the Family Pledge for each day of the week, ending on the eighth day with Pledge #8.
Regardless of when or how we observe Ahn Shi Il, children will not inherit this tradition unless it is more than words. Making it a habit from a young age is helpful only if the parents practice this tradition joyfully to begin with and not force the ritual. At some point, children will naturally ask why we recite the Family Pledge, so it is good to think about age appropriate ways to answer. As children grow, gradually discuss the meaning behind each pledge verse in a natural way that encourages them to think about their relationship to God and their family. Hugging and telling our children how much we love and appreciate them will also show them we value their effort.
As children grow older some may lose interest and struggle to participate in any tradition. Judgment doesn't work but rewards might help in some situations. Many teens will reject a ritual or activity if they cannot feel the meaning or value it has for their own life. This is part of the process of finding their own identity and taking responsibility for their own spiritual life so be patient. Discussion may help or they may want to figure it out for themselves. Try giving your children a challenge to find the meaning and value behind any tradition, or the possible benefits of developing spiritual habits.
Families may struggle as life is not always easy, but the value of the struggle is in the victory of what we have learned or gained. If we've created a habit of praying and reading together on a daily or weekly basis, when our children get older this can also be a time when we share our hearts and discuss problems or make new plans. It can also be a time when parents can introduce and discuss new traditions and how they can be practiced in the family.
A new tradition that could be difficult to keep up with is using the Lunar Calendar. If my children were young I would begin teaching them the Lunar Calendar in the same way they learn about the Solar Calendar in preschool, through songs, games, and daily practice with a big interactive calendar with stick on words, numbers and pictures. For kids who are a little older you might make it their responsibility to write in all the Lunar months on your family Solar Calendar, as well as the Unification Church Holy Days and holidays. If you home school this would be a fun group project. They can learn about the Chinese horoscope as well.
In the same way, teaching about the use and multiplication of Holy Salt and Holy Candles can be a fun activity. Holy Salt and Holy Candles are tools that help keep the mind focused on faith. Their meaning can be explained simply, remembering that the joyfulness in your heart while you teach them will have the greatest impact. It would also be wonderful to involve grandparents in our creative efforts to pass on these traditions.
The Day of All Things is a Holy Day that can be easy to engage children's interest in. Children have a natural interest in exploring God's creation, so visiting a zoo or aquarium, going on a hike or to the beach can be part of a family celebration of this day. Other possibilities might be gardening together, cleaning up a park, or purchasing a family pet. The possibilities are endless and don't have to cost a lot. As kids get older they may want to help plan these kinds of fun family activities for the weekend nearest the Holy Day.
When my children were very young I would try to at least give a small gift or some money on Children's Day and God's Day because these Holy Days were so close to the holidays that the rest of the world celebrates. Every December I would plan my budget so that some gifts were for Christmas and some were for God's Day. I wanted my children to feel as much joy from our Holy Days as they do from these other special occasions.
It's not really possible to compete with other well established traditions, as ours are just beginning. For this reason celebrating Unification Church Holy Days as a community can be valuable and supportive to our children as they are growing up, especially during the school years. However sometimes it may not be possible for your family to attend large church events. Gathering with one or two other local families can also create a supportive community atmosphere even if the celebration is very small. There may also be times when you celebrate only with your immediate family, in this case greeting God and each other with love, sharing a story about the meaning of the day, and preparing a special dinner or a cake can be the starting point of a joyful family tradition that is passed on from generation to generation.
Being consistent and united as parents in our own life of faith will give our children security through an example they can trust. However it's not always easy and sometimes there is just too much on our plate. This is also true for our children. If we are not experiencing joy through a deeper connection of love, then it's time to evaluate what we are doing and why. Patience, compassion and good communication will help us find even small ways to keep developing loving family traditions.