Caring Conversations

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself".

In his sermon last month, Father Parkin reminded us that loving one another is a way of "putting skin" on God's love for us. What a great image! His sermon reminded me of one summer when I was working at our diocesan church camp in Arkansas. There was a little, second grade, boy who had been home sick for days. One night when he was crying and having a really hard time getting to sleep and feeling lonely, his counselor told him that he was never really alone because Jesus was always with him. Through his sobbing the boys paused and then whispered, "Well, sometimes I need Jesus with skin on." That little boy was looking for more than a sentiment. He was looking for the real thing! Aren't we all!

Life can be full of challenges. We need to know and experience the presence of Christ in another in order to tangibly remember that God is always with us and never leaves us to make decisions or face challenges alone. The presence of Christ in another can best be realized in the simple, yet caring, conversations we have with others.

One of the four keys for nurturing and passing along our faith to our children is engaging in Caring Conversations.* There are many ways to think about how a conversation is a caring one. Caring conversations are those that lead us back to our faith in God, our Christian values and our sense of Christ's love for us.

That camp counselor opened the door for a caring conversation by reminding the young camper of Jesus and his love for him. Faith was at the forefront. But sometimes, caring conversations can be a bit more subtle. Eli, my nine year old, is always in great NEED (not "want" from his perspective but NEED) to have the latest electronic gadget. He gets a particular passion and urgency in his voice. I know it well. There have been times when he has tried to satisfy the desperate need by buying the game or whatever with his own money or pleading to have it for a birthday. The rub comes when, just moments after he has obtained the life changing item in question he HAD to have, the newer and improved version comes out. AGH! As Eli's mom I am trying to help him learn the difference between need and want. As a Christian mom, I am trying to do this by reminding him that our values include such things as giving to others as much as getting for ourselves. I try to teach him about getting his self worth from Whose he is - God's - and not from the things he has. These are not one time caring conversations. They will happen again and again and they are often met with a fair amount of eye rolling. Still, I know they are working. Last week as he looked through a Lego magazine Eli said, "Mom, you know, I don't really NEED this set. It's cool but..." A small step, but a step nonetheless.

As an over-achieving mom my first response to the idea of caring conversations is to get busy trying to find ways in my day or week that my family can have one, at least one! I begin thinking about how we will gather every Sunday evening around our fireplace and reflect on the past week, share what we have heard in Sunday school, or recall the moments we knew Christ was with us at school or work. I have planned that evening MANY times in my mind and it is lovely. Ah.

The hiccup in my plan comes...well, regularly. Sophie has a science project due Monday that takes all of Sunday. Eli had much rather play than talk. David is ready for alone time after a long Sunday at work. Watching a movie wins the family vote.

Besides, even if all the players are up for a night around the fire, the conversation may not happen because it has already come up at another point in the day. Eli is famous for what I call "backseat deep talk." He loves to ask me theological or philosophical questions while I am driving, he is sitting behind me and NO eye contact can be made. "Mom, church is really boring, but God is okay. One thing I don't get though is why God just doesn't get rid of all the bad guys? Wipe them out!" Sophie is ready to talk and think about her day and all that matters to her right before bed. She has washed her face, brushed her teeth, is in comfy clothes and is now ready to just be. "Mom, what did you do when your friends were talking behind other kids' backs? How can we love those who are mean to us?" David and I have our best conversations about God, our children, and our marriage first thing in the morning as we sip our coffee and watch the sun come up.

I am not giving up on my ideal Sunday Caring Conversation evening but I am learning that I cannot wait to PLAN when a caring conversation might happen. I must be ready for them whenever they come. If I only stick to my plan, I may miss the conversation all together.

Having a caring conversation does not mean we have all the answers. It only means we are committed to staying present through the questions and sharing our faith as best we are able. I know this from being a daughter more than from being a mom. I have asked my mom on occasion, "How did you do it? Being a mom is challenging." I cannot tell you any of her answers but I do remember her smile, hug, laugh that let me know she got it, that she is there for me, that she will forever be Jesus With Skin On for me. As our faith grows so will our conversations. As our relationships evolve so will our conversations. Wonderful.

Skin-ful living - living as the Jesus With Skin On for one another. Loving each other in such a way that we point one another back to our God, our center. I like it. May our conversations be a means of doing just that kind of living. May they be caring. May our faith grow and be passed along to another.