More importantly, the lesson that I gleaned from him was that it is important to be a well-rounded person. I have tried to pass on the same lesson on to my kiddos. For instance, we encourage our kids to participate in sports and the arts. It is important to engage the body and the mind in different ways, learn different skills and lessons, and be just as comfortable on the lacrosse field or in the swimming pool as in an art studio or as a member of a chamber orchestra.
And I have the same hope and expectation for well-roundedness with regards to our lives of faith.
Saint Stephen was one of the “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). These first deacons were tasked with distributing food and caring for the widows of the community. In other words, Stephen was the leader of those who cared for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community. Not only was Stephen a servant leader, he was also known as a powerful preacher and one who performed many wonders. He was described as “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8).
What I see in Stephen is the embodiment of one of our promises in the Baptismal Covenant. With God’s help, we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Life in the way of Jesus includes proclaiming the Good News through both our words and our actions. A life of faith is to be well-rounded with grace that flows deep and wide.
I have wrestled with how to cultivate this both in my family and throughout my years as a youth minister. The proclamation through action part was always the easier of the two. We have rebuilt homes, washed laundry, sorted food in food banks, served food at soup kitchens, and more. The other piece hit me in the midst of the summer heat while renovating a home for an elderly woman.
The youth group I worked with at the time partnered with a ministry that helped make repairs to the homes of those who could not afford to pay for the repairs. Some repairs were minor, but many were quite major. We were encouraged to take breaks from the work and spend time talking with the homeowner (and any family present). I more fully discovered the value of hearing another’s story, of telling your own story, and finding Jesus in the midst of the encounter.
I became fascinated by these encounters, but I also feared that I had not prepared my youth, or my own kids, for these encounters. From that point on I began to explore and experiment with how to help kids tell their own stories. The next step naturally evolved into connecting their stories with the stories of scripture. Eventually, we progressed to sharing how God was present or working in our lives. We explored all of this through a myriad of ways: art, music, photography, storytelling, and more. This work helped increase the likelihood of an enriched and powerful encounter with another person in the midst of serving. The actions of service became saturated with the depth of our stories, and then encounters marinate with the potential of true relationship.
Saint Stephen was equally comfortable tending to the community of widows as he was equipped to preach the Good News to those who needed to hear it. I want to cultivate in my kids the same potential for a well-rounded life of faith. I want them to be tender with the vulnerable and disadvantaged, serving their neighbor with compassion. I also want them to be able to share the Good News of how God is working in their lives, how they have experienced the risen Jesus. This is a rich and powerful path to journey.
As we celebrate Saint Stephen today, we are reminded that we are called to help our kids grow into people full of grace and power who proclaim the Good News of God in Christ through word and deed.
How do you tell stories with your family?
How might you connect the stories of scripture with your stories?
How is God present or working in your life right now?
How might you share that with your family or others in your life?