Faith5: A simple routine that boosts faith formation in kidsWritten by Catherine Wilson
What's inside this article
A year after her classmate was murdered, a first grader finally sleeps through the night. Two young daughters are able to focus on the positive things in life – even after their daddy committed suicide. Three teens start to open up to their single mom and pray for each other.
What made a difference for these families? In every situation, the parents attribute the positive change to Faith5.
Developed by Dr. Rich Melheim, a Lutheran pastor and the founder of Faith Inkubators, Faith5 is a five-step nighttime ritual that’s being applauded across the U.S. for instilling a sense of security and optimism in children.
And it’s not just great for kids. The Faith5 plan helps mom and dad too by demystifying two weighty responsibilities that have long intimidated parents: how to nurture their children’s faith, and how to create a caring, close-knit family that even the Waltons might envy.
In essence Faith5 does for parents (and grandparents) what Bill Bright’s The Four Spiritual Laws does for sharing the gospel – it’s an easy-to-follow formula that covers some important basics and empowers even the least confident discussion leader.
It doesn’t hurt that Faith5 loads in a huge fun factor as well, a strategy that gets kids up the stairs, into their jammies and ready for "sharing blessings" in (pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming) no time.
The Faith5 formula
Stated simply, these are the five steps in the Faith5 nightly ritual, as laid out in Melheim’s recent book Holding Your Family Together: 5 Simple Steps to Help Bring Your Family Closer to God and Each Other.
Step 1: Share your highs and lows (high points and low points) of the day with each other.
Step 2: Read a Bible verse or a Bible story together.
Step 3: Talk about how your Bible verse or Bible reading might apply to your highs and lows.
Step 4: Pray for one another’s highs and lows.
Step 5: Bless one another before turning out the lights.
Yes, that’s it! The plan may sound almost ridiculously simple, but don’t be tempted to dismiss it. Faith5 works for families because it is so simple. It’s a 10-minute discussion that families actually do get around to every night. And even teens will join in.
To really understand the power of Faith5, however, I recommend you grab a copy of Melheim’s book. Melheim has thought long and hard about how to build robust, faith-building strategies for families. He backs his solution, the Faith5 ritual, with compelling insights from the fields of psychology and sociology, and from research into memory and learning, all of which makes great reading for parents.
Even the single first step of Faith5 – sharing highs and lows – does a host of good things for kids. As Melheim explains in detail, sharing our joys and frustrations with one another not only fosters active listening skills and compassion for others, it fast-forwards kids into some great skills for coping with stress. And make no mistake, kids are under tremendous stress in today’s world.
For starters, sharing highs and lows steers kids away from hopelessness and toward a balanced view of life, helping them see that no day is ever all bad. There’s always something to praise God for. For kids who tend to be pessimistic or even depressive, it’s a chance for family to help them learn to reframe negative thoughts into positive, hope-filled solutions.
Sharing also eases kids – and particularly boys – into the healthy habits of expressing how they feel and asking for help when it’s needed.
In a fascinating caveat to this point, however, Melheim cautions against forcing boys to share a lot. The male brain is simply not wired to give guys a buzz from personal monologues. Melheim speculates that forced deep sharing might even induce stress in males. Though most times your son’s words may be few, the Faith5 ritual allows you a priceless opportunity to hear the hurt in his voice on a really rough day.
If you stick to the rules for sharing – no interrupting and no judging – Melheim reassures that even "minimalist" participants will benefit from every discussion. "As your children practice sharing feelings out loud and learn to listen to the feelings of those around them, they literally grow more brain tissue in the areas that process sympathy, empathy, compassion and deep care. Sharing a low literally rewires your child’s brain."
What works so well for the kids is also a romance booster for mom and dad, according to many couples who already use Faith5 in their home. "Sharing a low breaks down lonely walls," says Melheim. "The sharing and caring that surround the hurt open up the possibility for confession, absolutions, forgiveness and reconciliation." In short, Faith5 fosters the connectedness so many families desire, but so few know how to achieve.
Reading and talking
With obvious passion, Melheim stresses how desperately kids need regular reassurances from God’s Word to counteract what he calls a steady diet of "sawdust and manure" – the empty promises and hope-destroying messages the world serves up to kids each day.
And when it comes to leading kids into God’s Word, Melheim clearly takes the view that a little action is better than a host of good intentions. Accordingly, his plan makes reading Scripture and reflecting on it together dead easy. Simply read one verse a night, he suggests, or read a Bible story or revisit a key passage from Sunday’s sermon. Then make it a fun challenge to compare the verse or story with your highs and lows, and see if there’s a connection. You can simply ask the kids, How might this Bible verse connect to our highs and lows? Sometimes there won’t be an obvious connection, Melheim admits. If you prefer, simply ask, What might God be saying to us tonight?
In the Faith5 plan, the fourth step involves praying a short but specific prayer for each person, offering thanks for their high of the day, and asking the Lord’s help for them in dealing with the low of the day. Melheim also encourages parents to lead their children into listening prayer by re-reading the key verse, then allowing silent time for meditating on it and listening for thoughts or ideas that may come from the Holy Spirit.
Here, once again, parents have an opportunity to teach their kids another valuable stress-busting skill. Melheim urges parents to model faith and trust by laying down their problems before the Lord in prayer, and resolutely leaving them with Him for the night. What a blessing we’ll impart to our kids when they learn to do the same!
Are you beginning to see why Melheim favours doing the Faith5 steps just before bedtime? In addition to helping children sleep peacefully right after committing their concerns to God, Melheim adds another intriguing argument: praying about problems right before bed invites the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s subconscious mind and provide solutions while they sleep.
Here’s one final and compelling reason for making Faith5 a bedtime ritual: it ends with a blessing. The gift of your blessing – your nightly "farewell" to your child – makes a beautiful bookend to your child’s day. But more importantly, the final ideas planted in your child’s mind before they go to sleep are most likely to be committed to long-term memory.
So choose a blessing, Melheim urges, that will send your child to sleep with a reinforced sense of security and self-worth, and a reminder that they belong to an awesome God who loves them and will never abandon them. You could use a Scripture passage like Jeremiah 29:11 or Psalm 121:7-8, or simply say something like this: Mommy and Daddy will always love you, and Jesus will always love you. There is nothing you can ever do that will make Jesus or us stop loving you.
Reflecting his Lutheran background, Melheim also favours marking the sign of the cross on each child’s forehead as you say your blessing, and "sealing it" with a kiss.
Making it fun
So where’s the fun factor? Prepare yourself for this one: Melheim recommends that parents preface their Faith5 ritual with a good ol’ pillow fight! Were my children still young enough, I wonder if I would be brave enough to make winding them up part of their bedtime routine. But Melheim does make a persuasive argument for it, explaining in detail how a fun physical workout reduces stress, gets the wiggles out, and kicks kids’ brains into an optimal state to learn new information. And it’s hard to imagine kids rejecting any ritual that begins with laughter-inducing horseplay.
Regardless of how you feel about the pillow fight idea, there’s loads of great stuff packed into the Faith5 nightly ritual. Call it what you will – sharing time, Faith5 time, blessing time – but do try the Faith5 formula. You might just find that even the rough-housing component profoundly blesses your family!
A note about teens
Although parents of teens and young adults may need to adapt the Faith5 plan a little, particularly in terms of when and where to do it, Faith5 provides a great alternative for kids who have "aged out" of traditional family devotions. And for parents struggling to connect with their teen, Faith5 is a fabulous on-ramp to closer communication.
"Adolescence is the absolute worst time to abandon your child to their peers and their own devices," warns Melheim. "Yet this is the time when many parents shy away and allow their children to all but disappear from the communication radar screen. . . . Love does not abandon."
For more face-to-face time with your teen or young adult, try Melheim’s Faith5 routine. I’m confident a six-week trial will get you from "This is awkward" to "This is awesome!"
To learn more about Faith5, visit Faith5.org, or read Dr. Rich Melheim’s book Holding Your Family Together: 5 Simple Steps to Help Bring Your Family Closer to God and Each Other.
Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.
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