Navigating hills covered in gorse or When to press on and when to re-route

This weekend I went on a 3 hour walk with a friend and our five children. At one point we found ourselves hiking up a steep, bogey hill, which was covered with very spikey gorse which was taller than three of our children! It was tempting to turn back, but that wouldn’t have taken us on our circular walk, so it was definitely best to move ahead.

My friend said we should aim for the one tree on the horizon where there was a good path, so we encouraged the two eldest children to take the lead in finding good paths for us. We scrambled up slowly, sometimes lifting the smaller children over particularly bogey or gorse-y parts, encouraging them with shouts of, “You have such powerful legs!”

When we reached the top, there was a lovely view and a chance for a snack. It was a glorious moment, and I thought how precious it was to have encouraged our children to press on through a difficult challenge and thus give them the experience of overcoming.

Recently I’ve been wondering if the core of all parenting is experiencing resistance and knowing when to push through and when to re-route.

I’m sure if you’re a parent you could name hundred of ‘battles’ with your child when they’ve resisted a path you wanted them to take, be it brushing their teeth, making their bed, flushing the loo, not styling their hair with Sudacreme and Vaseline (I’m looking at you, Annie!). It’s all part of them growing up into independent people.

As Christians, we can meet resistance against habits or activities we want them to be involved in to help them to grow in their faith, such as reading the together Bible each morning or praying before bed. Keeping going with somethings every day or every week can be exhausting, but it becomes extremely difficult, and perhaps even counterproductive, if our determination makes our home a place of battle instead of one of peace. What I need when this starts to happen is to take a step back and reflect.

I ask myself:

  1. What am I aiming at?

When we climbed the gorse hill, the first thing we did was to agree on our goal – to reach the tree at the top. When we’re struggling with faith at home rituals or activities, it’s time to ask or remind ourselves of our faith at home goals. What sort of people do we long for our children to become?

It’s helpful to chat about this together as parents, and, if you haven’t already, to write down some ideas you have. You might look back at things you hoped and prayed for when they were babies, or words other people gave you. You might look at people of faith you admire and write down characteristics you’d love for your children to also have. It’s not an exercise which needs to take long, but it’s helpful to keep it somewhere safe so you can continue to add to it and remind yourself about it in the future. (The resistance is unlikely to be a one off, sorry!)

  1. Why did I choose this path / activity / habit?

With the gorse-hill clamber, our goal was a good dose of fresh air and exercise together via a long, circular walk. The path we chose up the hill was part of this.

Hopefully, once we’ve reminded ourselves of where we’re aiming for, we’re able to see why we picked the habit or activity we’re experiencing resistance in.

Sometimes, on reflection, I discover I’ve picked something for a reason which doesn’t relate to our goals, for example, I might use a particular Bible to read to my children because I found a nice version in a bookshop. This isn’t a bad thing, but if I didn’t intentionally choose this Bible to achieve something in our faith at home together, maybe if it’s not working for us in this season, I should just use that Bible in my own private Bible reading.

  1. What might be causing the resistance I’m experiencing?

It’s always worth praying about things, asking God to show us where the resistance is coming from, and what we might do about it.

Sometimes resistance is due to difficulty, as with our gorse hill scramble. Our response to this can be to change the difficulty of the activity, to assist in such a way that the difficulty is overcome, or to recognise that our child is finding this difficult at this time and leave it for another time.

Sometimes it’s that the activity isn’t difficult enough! Our older children were completely capable of climbing the gorse hill, so we gave them the task of finding us all a good path. In our families this could be asking them to read the Bible for us, or choose the passage, or lead the discussion or find a video about it.

Resistance can be because they are bored, that is, that the way we’re presenting the Bible / faith activity isn’t right for them and where they are right now. As out children grow, we regularly buy them new shoes to fit their ‘new’ feet, but sometimes we forget that as our children grow in faith, we might need to provide different things for them.

Sometimes we’re not providing things which suit our children’s spiritual or learning styles. Sometimes it’s basic needs which are interfering, such as lack of sleep or hunger. I often find providing food or changing the time we do something can completely change the level of engagement.

  1. What direction could I take to keep the essence of what we were doing but do it in a different way?

When looking for an alternative route to the same place, it’s great to:

  • ask God
  • be creative
  • ask the children for ideas
  • ask friends what they’ve tried (I find Facebook groups like Captivated great for this).
  • look for new resources or, even better, make our own. (I find what we lack in finesse is made up for in that it’s perfect for us!)

Let me share one example from our family: I’m keen for my children to be able to explore the Bible themselves, asking questions of the text, finding their own story in the stories of God’s people. To this end, I want to explore the Bible every day together, but sometimes it turns in me reading it and asking questions, and them giving silly answers or no answers at all.

At this point, I need to remember why I choose to read the story each day, and perhaps find a different way of presenting the story and maybe also a different way to invite their response to it, for example, I could play an audio version of the story (I often use the YouBible app) and provide some Lego for them to play the story along with the story. This takes just a little bit of prep, but usually yields a much better result.

What area might you review in your faith at home? Try using these four questions and see where which new paths it leads you to.