Are your kids’ favorite activities crowding out their faith life? It doesn’t need to be that way. Here are four strategies for balancing faith with kids’ favorite activities.
by Ryan Langr
As a youth minister, I constantly see families choose sports and extracurricular activities over church participation. Whether it’s a game scheduled on Sunday or being too busy to attend a youth group, the desire to experience as much as possible often leaves kids’ faith life neglected. Of course, this isn’t always the case, and activities like sports and music can teach young people things that they can apply to their faith life (discipline, community, etc.). But these activities should not come at the expense of participating in the life of the Church if our teens are to have vibrant faith lives.[Related: Do you play sports the Catholic way? Take our quiz]
Strategies for Striking a Balance
Here are four ways that parents and teens can try to integrate faith into their sports and other activities.
1. Pray before and after events
Your kids don’t have to be part of a Christian team to put prayer into your activities. You can make a point of praying with your children before a practice, competition, or concert. Pray that their performance glorifies God and shows that a Christian always acts with virtues like honor, humility, dedication, and teamwork. You can also use this opportunity to show that God cares about all the little things going on in your kids’ lives. Your kids can pray after the event, too, thanking God for the outcome or just expressing their feelings about it.
You might also find other parents and teens who are willing to join you in prayer; praying as part of a group (even if it’s just two people) will help the kids hold one another accountable to be Christian witnesses to the rest of the group.
2. Join faith-based programs
Encourage your kids toward activities that mix their interests with their faith. If they’re interested in music, for example, they can join the church choir or music program. If they love drama, they might organize a Living Stations of the Cross during Lent. The beautiful thing about ministry is that any gift, talent, or interest can be used to evangelize.
Young athletes can join a group like Fellowship of Christian Athletes that isn’t afraid to mix faith and sports, and who will hold each other accountable in their faith. The John Paul II Foundation for Sport is another organization worth connecting with; based in England, it doesn’t have a significant presence in North America, but its website provides lots of resources. And the foundation does sponsor overseas clubs; maybe you could start one in your area.
3. Set priorities
Balancing sports and faith is an excellent opportunity to learn time management skills, something which our prayer life depends on. Making time and setting priorities for church functions will help your child learn that it’s important to make time for prayer as well. If they can’t make time for the occasional church event, can you expect them to take fifteen minutes a day in prayer? As parents, we should be making the effort to show that church functions sometimes take priority over sports and other events.
4. Be a witness to teammates and other parents
Sports and other activities are a great opportunity to witness to your family’s Christian faith. This doesn’t involve standing up and quoting Bible verses, or taking a “holier than thou” attitude towards others. Rather, by forming relationships with people in your sports, music, or dance program, you initiate conversations about what you believe and why.
Sometimes, being a witness for Christ is as simple as simply declining to participate in practices or events on Sundays. This may be hard, especially for your kids, but it is a great witness, and can lead to good discussions about what it means to honor the Lord’s Day. If your kids are familiar with the stories of the Christian martyrs, you might even be able to frame their sacrifice in terms of a “soft martyrdom”—suffering for the sake of Christ and the Church.
A Win-Win for Faith and Activities
As difficult as it is to balance the demands of your kids’ activities with their need to maintain a strong faith life, helping them find that balance teaches them a larger lesson: faith isn’t separate from the rest of life. In fact, faith ought to shape every aspect of our lives. Moreover, as they learn to bring their faith into their favorite activities, over time your kids will experience firsthand how it can enrich and support those activities. The benefits run the other way, too, as your kids learn to translate the positive skills and lessons of their favorite activities into their faith lives. It’s truly a win-win situation!