Our family was driving down the highway on a late summer trip to visit cousins. An email from our priest registered on my phone, prompting me to open it immediately, if for no other reason, then to drown out the children in my rearview. They were arguing over something that was simultaneously critically important and forgotten in an instant. Their father kept his eyes on the road, peacefully oblivious to it all.
The email discussed confirmation opportunities for my oldest child. She completed the required confirmation classes a few months prior, but the bishop was not scheduled to return to our parish until the following year. The opportunity was enticing; the bishop was coming to our local retreat center for an outdoor service in the height of summer. Personally, I was excited by the chance for her to complete confirmation. Maybe I was little nervous her new high school surroundings would sway her resolution and minimize the joy she finds in our parish community. My excitement was tempered by the thought of sitting outside for an extended period in late August in central Virginia.
Our daughter reviewed the email with haste, and confidently delivered her decision. “Nope.”
“Really? You don’t want to think about it?”
I paused, hoping for a longer response. I did not receive it.
A few weeks later, we viewed the pictures from this beautiful retreat center just down the highway. The confirmation service was stunning, in the outdoor spaces under the trees, far from the distractions that take our gaze away from our true priorities. The Virginia weather, somewhat out of character, avoided being stifling hot, if only for a moment. Friends from church looked joyful and content, and I asked if she felt like she missed out.
I tried letting silence give a moment for clarity to rise to the surface, and it finally did.
“I want to be in our church. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
I have struggled in recent years to find the peace that once radiated from our sanctuary. I was struck that my daughter, with her modestly developed pre-frontal cortex, knew exactly where her peace lies. The building, this hallowed space, was sacred to her. If she was going to make the adult decision to affirm the promises we made at her baptism, she insisted that she be surrounded by her cloud of witnesses.
The older my children get, the more I feel we need to bring the church to them. Sports competitions, volunteer commitments, and pure physical exhaustion stand in the path of our family spending each Sunday morning in the sanctuary, as we did when they were in preschool. I am determined to minimize the guilt I feel, knowing that we really are working to find a balance in each season. We know that God is present whenever two or three are gathered (Matthew 18:20), and in our hearts, our spiritual home is with our parish.
My mind was still rotating around this concept three months later, as we walked through our backyard mountains at the height of the fall season. This time of year always brings peace and stunning beauty, and maybe just a small amount of magic. This is the season when I fell in love with the place I live, twenty-two years ago. Looking back, it is remarkable to see God’s work through it all.
It is my prayer that God’s work continues through the lives of my children, as they search to find their sacred spaces as they journey through life. And whether they choose to be confirmed in our parish, in the woods, or even choose to demonstrate their faith on the side of the basketball court, that they will know God’s hand is at work in their world.
On the crest of the Advent Season, God works to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child. In the waiting, may we find God’s hand at work in the holy spaces around us. It is nothing short of magic.