“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with me…”
That’s how my daughter has begun praying the Hail Mary for well over a year. I’ve never had the heart to correct her, both because of the beauty of the sentiment – the Lord is indeed with her – and because I wasn’t ready to teach a four year old about the word “thee.”
On Easter Sunday 2015 I began my life as a single parent. Not unlike learning to be single again, learning to be a single parent means shifting from “we” to “I.” About ten nights a month, I walk my daughter through her bedtime routine. I pick out clothes with her for the next day. I read her stories. And I teach her the Christian faith.
After a few weeks of wrestling with the unique challenges of that situation, I came to a realization: this was also an opportunity. As a single dad with deep Christian, Episcopal faith I have the chance to be very intentional and deliberate with my daughter’s faith formation.
Over the months that followed, we built the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” into her bedtime routine. I began each night to slowly work through the meaning of some of the words of those prayers, line-by-line. We sang songs and hymns as seasonably appropriate, beginning with Easter songs. In December I taught her the difference between Advent and Christmas hymns and what makes Advent unique as a season. We read stories from her Spark Story Bible and tried to follow the lectionary so that her faith was shaped by the Church calendar. And as she developed from a four year old to a five year old maturing mentally, advancing in speech, increasing in memory, the pattern of her life was also shaped by the pattern of the Church year. Faith in Jesus is an ever-present part of our family, an incredible blessing, even if singing hymns can be an easy goto bedtime stall tactic.
All of this changed Pentecost 2016, a little more than a year after we began to develop these routines. My daughter and her mother moved to Maine.
We’ve only just begun to figure out what that means for us as a family, but I’ve already begun to think of how I can be as intentional about her faith formation, helping her develop a deep faith even at a far distance. She’s begun attending a local congregation near her new home, but I long to replicate the kind of deep intentionality that I was afforded when she was near by. And so I have been praying, and continue to pray, for guidance in how to be an effective, nurturing, Christian, single, long-distance parent.
My daughter and I continue to pray with each other over the phone and over Skype. She continues to replace the “me” with “thee,” though we are working on it. But I am also contemplating ways that I can continue to build her year around the Church year. One idea I plan to try is to send her letters that will (attempt to) arrive on feast days and saints days. These letters would outline some of the meaning of that day in the Church year or the life of the saint, and will include pictures of icons she can collect. The letter will include the prayer for the day, and if able, we can pray that prayer with each other on the phone when we speak.
This is just one idea I’ve had, but what matters is the intentionality. My daughter and I will continue to build time together for prayer and Christian instruction even at a distance. I’ll need to learn to partner with her mother in new ways when it comes to her faith formation as well as other aspects of her education and development. And for two months out of the summer, as well as other times of the year, we will have very dedicated time together in person to continue nurturing her faith.
When parenting at a distance gets difficult, and in the moments of deep pain which already have come and will continue to come over the years, I try to remind myself of something I deeply believe. My daughter is a child of God, and a Christian with a solid foundation of faith. That foundation will always be there for her as she grows. And wherever life takes her, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Lord is indeed with her.
How do you share faith at a distance?