Baptism: Did you know what you were getting into?

“Do you understand what you are undertaking?” It’s the question asked of parents and godparents before every baptism. And at every baptism, the young parents and godparents nod and say they do, and the sacrament continues.

In the second before they answer, though, I hold my breath and look around, trying not to snicker. I look at other more seasoned parents to see if they feel the same. The church should almost erupt in laughter at this question. Because, really, do any of us truly understand what we are undertaking when we agree to raise our children to be faithful people? Do any of us really know what we’re getting into?

Perhaps a better question to pose to parents would be: “We all know you have no idea what lies ahead of you with this child. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Will you go forward anyway?”

The promises that parents and godparents make at baptism extend into childhood, and each stage brings with it an opportunity to lead a child a little deeper into a relationship with Christ.

Early childhood. Small children are all about routine, and the best way to be true to those baptismal vows with kids under 6 is just to build faith and God into the daily routine. “We have stories about Jesus mixed in with all our other picture books,” says Carol, mom of four. “At bedtime, we may choose a Jesus story, or we might read a non-religious children’s book. The point is not that we read a religious book each night, but that we do occasionally, and it’s just part of the mix.” The same for music and videos—keep some Veggie Tales alongside the Rescue Heroes, and some kids’ Christian tunes along with the soundtrack from Tangled.

Middle childhood. Seven- to 12-year-olds have tremendous potential for faith development. For kids this age, action is paramount. They know the Jesus story and are looking for adults to show them how it fits into their lives. Andrew and Nikki, parents of two, have found that service work makes faith come alive for their children. “Our biggest faith focus lately has been service, and the foundations of Catholic social teaching,” Nikki says. “We aren’t doing anything formal, but we are making an earnest effort at living it. We try very hard to get our children actively engaged with service, with a personal investment in the world around them, making a difference.”

The two have taken their children, ages 5 and 9, to make sandwiches for local homeless people, to deliver goods to a shelter for women, to pull weeds for the parish garden. They also have stressed that stewardship for the earth is part of being a responsible Catholic. “Recycling, not wasting food, not buying things that we don’t need, donating items we no longer need are all part of what we need to do to care for the earth,” Andrew says. “Some days we don’t do so well, but there are lessons in that, too, and we try to talk about that.”

Teens. While young children might not have to struggle with the baptismal promise of resisting the “glamour of evil,” teens most certainly do. Everything a teen might be tempted by—from sex to use of alcohol and drugs to a fascination with all things “designer”—has a glamour attached to it. Parents can help teens see the false promises that peers or advertisers may be making. “The alcohol commercials on the sports channels are especially bad,” says Marina, mother of two teenagers. “When one comes on, I’ll ask my son what he thinks the advertiser is trying to say about beer leading to beautiful women. I’ll try to get him to feel smarter than the ad by finding the agenda.”

The adolescent years can be a time that kids take on their parents’ faith as their own. But a true adult faith comes only after questioning. “When my son questions the existence of God, I understand, because I went through that, too,” says Jeff, who considers himself to have a strong faith as an adult. “I’m glad he wants to talk to me about it, and I try to just share my experience of faith without telling him what he should believe.”

—by Annemarie Scobey from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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4 Responses

  1. When older children are baptized, they are the ones selecting that faith. It is important to make sure your child understands the process as well as what it represents before he chooses to be baptized.

  2. I loved this. Our pastor said something very similary during a baptism this past weekend, and it inspired what I’m writing tonight. I still don’t know what I’m getting myself into!

  3. […] Not at all. Maybe none of us do. […]

  4. I personally believe this particular posting , “Baptism: Did you know what you were getting into?
    At Home with our Faith”, fairly compelling not to
    mention it was in fact a fantastic read. Many thanks-Hester

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