Kara Lassen Oliver
Kara Lassen Oliver began her writing career with the hope of helping teenagers experience and build personal relationships with God through spiritual practices. As a parent she has strived to point to God in the ordinary and the everyday so that her children will see God as present and real in every aspect of life. Her latest book, Passing It On: How to Nurture Your Children’s Faith Season by Season, puts her experience and hopes into simple daily practices for families.
Q & A with Kara Lassen Oliver
What led you to write Passing It On?
Passing It On: How to Nurture Your Children’s Faith Season by Season was born out of my experience of walking with parents as a youth minister, my own parenting, and conversations with fellow parents about how to form our children as disciples of Jesus Christ.
My simple idea is that we are forming our children all the time through time, practice, and symbols. The pace that we live, weekly practices such as recycling or hiking, and the bumper stickers on our cars form our children as compassionate individuals, environmentalists, or Titans fans. Parents can be equally intentional with the time, practice, and symbols that point to God and form their children in the faith.
Why did you choose to provide suggestions for families for only 4 times of the year?
Passing It On honors the seasons of both the church year and the family calendar. Both the church seasons of Advent and Lent and the annual return of summer and back to school can often feel void of spirituality and holiness. I hope that during the seasons when families are overwhelmed by busyness or distracted by details, we can focus on God in the midst of it all.
While developing this book, you tested some of its content with families from your church. What did you learn from other families whose dynamics are different from your own?
Each family has different routines; there is no one-size-fits-all model. Our family prioritizes family dinners and goes to bed early. But some families have more children and more activities that make family dinners nearly impossible, so they gather as families later in the evening. Still others have more time in the mornings or homeschool their children and can make time for prayer and conversation to start the day.
The commonality is our desire to find time each day and even each week. We all want to talk with our children – to hear and be heard. And we want God to be at the center of it all.
How do you see people using your book? How will it work for families where both parents work? Single-parent families?
I have three hopes for every family – whatever the size or configuration.
- First, that as adults we intentionally look for God every day.
- Second, that we tell our children where we see God:
Maybe in the beauty of the moon bright in the night sky. Maybe praying with a sick friend. Or in a hug at bedtime.
- Third, that families take time once a week to sit down together, listen to one another and pray, sharing joys and concerns.
The symbols for each week serve as prompts, nudges to remind us all to slow down and look for God.
How did your children respond at first to the idea of structured Weekly Gatherings in which family members shared where they had seen/felt God’s presence that week?
No week is ever the same. At first there were eye rolls and, “Here goes Mom again.” But we persisted with the same pattern each day and each week. Some weeks we would give up after a few minutes. Some weeks we would hear stories from school and dreams of what our children want to be when they grow up, prayers for a teacher or joy about overcoming a challenge. And now our children often prompt us to begin the meeting and time of sharing.
Have there been times when your Weekly Gathering fell flat? If so, describe what happened, what you learned, and how you motivated yourself to keep on trying.
There are some days when my husband and I have bad days at work, my son is tired, or my daughter did poorly on a test. And no one wants to talk or even pray. On those days we don’t force it. Better to abandon the Weekly Gathering than for children to believe prayer is forced or that God can only be found at a certain time or place. The Weekly Gathering is not a rule or a mandatory “to do.” It’s an opportunity and gift. When it’s not that, stop and try again the following week.
Which of your family spiritual practices do your children seem to enjoy most?
“Sads, Glads, and Sorrys” as described in Jenny Youngman’s book, Scrambled Starts, is where our family started. We started when the kids were 2 and 7 years old, and we still do it 8 years later. We go around the dinner table telling each other what made us sad, what made us happy, and if there is anything that we need to say we are sorry for. It’s simple and beautiful, and anyone can get it started and lead it.
How do you handle the challenge of nurturing your children in faith when they are at different developmental levels?
My daughter is almost six years older than our son, so it can be a challenge to meet them where they are developmentally and in their faith formation. Attention levels are different. Their priorities vary and they can lose patience with each other. But there can also be sweet moments when my daughter has more sympathy for Carter than my husband or I. Or when Carter tells Claire Marin something she did that made him happy. We have found that when we listen deeply to one another and when we are honest about where we have seen God and how we need prayer, the age differences are less and less an issue.
Some key elements for us are eliminating distractions (no radio or TV on in the background; no cell phones), a time when kids, especially the younger one, are calm (not right after a soccer game or before he leaves for a birthday party), and how attentive Jeff and I are in the moment. When the kids feel our full attention and respect, they tend to respond with the same.
If you could offer one piece of advice to parents who wish to nurture their children’s faith, what would it be?
If I could offer one piece of advice to parents who wish to nurture their children’s faith, it would be to be honest with your children about your experience of God. Children know when you are faking. If you have more questions than answers, tell them that. If you find it difficult to pray, tell them that, too, and ask them if they will you help you pray more regularly. If you find God in nature, then take your children on hikes and tell them why the trails feel sacred to you. If you are desperately sad about an ailing parent or angry about a situation at work, be honest with your children about how you feel God’s presence or wonder about God’s absence. The Psalms and Paul’s letters are full of emotion and questions, joy and laments. Your kids will respond more to your honesty than to a forced image of eternal and unwavering faith.
I understand you have a seminary degree. How has it shaped your daily life and vocation?
I graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, TN, where they train “pastors as theologians.” All my academic Bible study, field education, late-night conversations, and reading in ethics and theology served to develop a lens through which I might look at the world. A lens of grace and compassion. A lens that focuses on mercy and justice and the kingdom of God come on earth. So in all my writing and work and mission and parenting and relationships, I hope to share that viewpoint with the world. Not as the only viewpoint or the right one, but as a perspective that informs and guides my daily decisions, conversations, and actions.
Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?
You’ve got this! If you are reading this book, this blog, or this website, then your desire to form your children is deep and genuine. And that desire, combined with prayer and a chosen community of even a few people to support you, will enable you to pass on your faith, day by day, season by season.