By Michael Theisen I serve occasionally as an overnight volunteer at a local homeless shelter in Rochester, NY. It keeps me grounded in reality and affords me a meaningful response to what my faith asks of me. Problem is I travel a lot and it often comes down to a hard choice between being with family or spending yet another night away from home to help out at the shelter.
Until recently, I continued to view the commitment through an “either/or” choice of family vs. service. Then one month I found myself scheduled during a school break and asked the family if they wanted to try doing this together, you know, “just this once”. Once has now turned into always. Shelter time is now family time and the blessings have been many.
When we serve together our teens not only show a different side of themselves, they manage to bring out a different side to the guests as well. When the family is present, conversation is livelier, more stories are shared, more games are played, and cleaner language is used.
One night, due to family scheduling problems, I showed up alone. As some of the regular guests made their way in, one turned around as if he was looking for something and said, “Where’s the rest of you?” Indeed, after serving together as a family, it was hard to go back to serving solo. There is a special ingredient added to the recipe when service is done “family style”.
Recent research on young people, their parents, and their faith showed a striking and definitive correlation between service and other faith-based involvement, enhancing both the well-being and the faith maturity of young people. It comes down to a simple equation: more = more. The more we invest and involve our children and youth in living their faith out loud, the deeper their faith roots grow. It’s a rather obvious and simple equation that is founded in one critical given: the most powerful influence on a young person’s faith, is the faith of the parent (National Study of Youth and Religion, 2005).
If we want our family’s faith to be at full strength, then parents must lead the way. And one of the best ways to live one’s faith out loud is through service to others. Consider that in John’s gospel account of the Lord’s Supper, the message about Eucharist is not just contained in the bread and wine, but in the towel and basin. Jesus gets on his knees to wash his disciples feet. Why? Because it’s what disciples do. We are asked to not just receive the Eucharist, but to be Eucharist for others, and that means stepping out of our comfort zones, even as a family.
Sure, there are dozens of reasons for not doing something that makes us, or our children, uncomfortable. But it is exactly within those uneasy moments where we often look back and see most clearly the hand and face of God. What better way to embrace the grace found in those moments than together as family.
Michael is a work in progress, enjoying his journey as a husband, father, author, and national youth ministry leader. He resides in Rochester, NY.