Resilience. Empathy. Courage. Gratitude. These are all just a few descriptions of what I assume all parents (and grandparents) wish to instill in their children. I believe being part of a faithful, worshiping community is an avenue to supporting us in this endeavor, as it is a hard, if not impossible road to follow on one’s own. But not all families are connected to a faith community and certainly during this pandemic, we are now isolated from many of those personal face-to-face support systems.
COVID-19 has “simply” added to all the reasons why parents (and any adult) despair over the world that we will be leaving to our children: climate change, political division, civil unrest, and racial injustice. And many couples have chosen not to have children as they do not want to add another individual into a world with a fraught-filled future.
Then along comes Amelia Richardson Dress’ new publication, The Hopeful Family: Raising Children in Uncertain Times (Morehouse Publishing, 2021). Asked to be part of the “launch team” of the book I agreed, despite wondering if this was going to be another book about children and spiritual practices (as the early descriptions shared) to hold them up against the evils in this world. I was more than pleasantly surprised. From the moment I held the soft, smooth cover of the book in my hands and discovered the beautiful layout and interior design, The Hopeful Family evoked feelings of calm; each chapter begins with an unexpected quote about parenting (with hope) and a lovely blessing is offering in conclusion.
In her introduction, Amelia captured me with the first of many quotes that struck me the essential many parents (and grandparents, teachers, and advocates for children) are asking:
How do we raise our children in an uncertain world?the hopeful family, 2
My children have been long gone out of my household, with one of them raising an almost 6-year-old while being a teacher in the midst of this pandemic. Why would this book be of interest to me? Don’t all of us (with or without children) want the children of this world to be “grounded in the idea that God loves (her) and that (her) ultimate worth is as a child of God.”? As an adult without children in my home, this book even offered me, a lifelong Christian educator, ways to build up hope in myself and the future within these pages. This book isn’t just for parents.
Using research, interviews, anecdotes, and personal stories, Amelia (I feel like she’s a friend after reading the text) offers nine chapters of spiritual practices to “connect the dots between resilience and traditional spiritual practices to rooted connectedness.” For each renamed practice, she offers numerous “Try This” suggestions that one does not need a child to try on and offers us a blessing in conclusion. Here are the practices, along with one of her “Try This” ideas for each:
- Sacred Reading: Look through a family photo album with your kids and see what stories emerge. (p. 18)
- Forgiveness: Experiment with saying something other than “it’s okay” when someone wrongs you. Is there another phrase that would express your true feelings better? Encourage your kids to try it too. (p. 45)
- Sabbath: Make a list of things that bring you joy. How can you incorporate more of these things in your life? (p. 54)
- Sharing the Table: As a family, trace a favorite food on its journey to your table. How is it grown or raised? How many hands helped it to get to you? Include a prayer of gratitude for each step another the way. (p. 70)
- Gratitude: Make a list of ten things you have enough of for this moment. (p. 96)
- Hospitality: The next time you’re having a guest over (post-pandemic – my insert), ask your kids what makes them feel welcome at someone’s home. Help them implement these ideas at your home. (p. 118)
- Generosity: Tell your kids about a time they were generous and how it inspired you. (p. 134)
- Silence: Keep track of the noises around you for one day. How much of your day is filled with noise? Where do you find time for quiet? (p. 144)
- Blessing: Add an element of blessing to a family routine. At mealtime, bedtime, or on the way to school, ask your family who they’d like to bless. For kids unfamiliar with the idea of blessing, you can say something like, “Who would you like to send God’s light to today?” or “Who would you like to send love to today?” (p. 160)
Today the language of “spiritual practices” has become the “buzz words” in religious circles, but Amelia walks alongside the reader, noting the quotidian events of our lives give us plenty to be hopeful for in the midst of what seems like a world crumbling around us. She taps into numerous children’s books and how they can help with the profound dilemmas we face, clearing a path to conversation about how life does go on no matter the circumstance. Her chapter on Sabbath particularly struck me (having just finished reading Abraham Herschel’s The Sabbath). We are so focused on “time pressure” as children and adults. I think of my granddaughter and her times of meltdowns that often occur during times of transitions. How can we reduce anxiety during transitions? Amelia’s response, “What would make rest holy for us?” My reaction, “Why are we in such a hurry most of the time? Why can’t we accept the rituals our children have created for themselves in times of anxiety and slow down?”
Each chapter includes four or five questions for group or personal reflection; a helpful addition for those who would like to read this with others in a faith community or parent group. Yes, we are worried about climate change and our kids safety at school. The pandemic continues to rage – but there is hope in sight if we can only practice patience, gratitude for what we do have, and generosity to wear our masks to protect others.
In Amelia’s conclusion, “Practicing Hope,” she writes:
How we organize our lives says something about the God we believe in. When we choose to live in ways that embody hope and faith and courage, we can change the world.The hopeful family, 175.