It doesn’t mean adopting someone’s child if they die, not anymore at least.That’s the first thing that always popped into my mind when I thought about godparents, but the godparenting role has seen some changes in the past few hundred years. The aim of this article is clear up any misconceptions related to the topic and give you a deeper understanding of what it means to godparent in modern times. So, without further ado.

Tradition holds that godparenting as we know it stemmed from the practice of ‘baptism sponsors’ in the early Christian church. In the church’s fledgling days under the persecution of the Roman Empire,Church gatherings happened in people’s homes. It was common for spies to claim conversion and then turn those small churches over to the government, so the baptismal sponsor was born out of necessity. Any adult pagan wishing to convert to Christianity and join the church had to have a practicing Christian vouch for them. Neat, huh? There’s your fun fact for the day.

It became common in the 2nd century for baptismal sponsors to extend to children converting to Christianity, the idea being that a child may not have a full understanding of the commitments they were making, so an adult with the knowledge and ability to help them keep their vows would be present. Simply put: if a kiddo wanted to become a Christian, he or she needed someone who promised to be there to help along the way. As time went on, the spiritual aspect of being a godparent fell by the wayside. Being a godparent became less spiritual and more physical. The godparent would help raise the child and occasionally take on all rearing responsibility if their parents passed away.

The role of godparenting varies through denominations in Christianity, as well as a select few other religions. Godparent type roles are present in the Yoruba religion Santeria, in Judaism during a child’s circumcision, and in the non-religious traditions of some Chinese communities which match a child to a relative without any children. So if you’re reading this in preparation for taking on the role of godparent, it’s best to find out exactly what will be expected of you, since the role can vary so much.

Now, if you’re reading, odds are you’re a practicing Christian of some sort, so we’ll focus on the general idea of godparenting from a Christian perspective. For the practicing Christian, I can’t state enough how important a role like this is. In a world that value’s personal expression and self-interest at the expense of all else, passing on the values of sacrificial love, selflessness, and a genuine concern for others is needed now more than ever. You don’t have to be an uber religious person to do it either, you just need to have the right heart and a willingness to help someone. You’ll be surprised at how much you end up helping yourself along the way, too.
A godparent is defined as a child’s spiritual mentor. The word mentor means ‘an experienced and trusted adviser.’ Spiritual can have a hundred different meanings depending on who you’re talking to, so let’s just assume we’re talking about Christianity in this case. To put it simply, you’re setting out to teach someone something. I can personally assure you that anyone may be suited for this roleif they’re committed to their beliefs. My uncle has served as a sort of godparent to me my entire life, and he’s been in prison for the last thirty years. He became a Christian behind bars and has been calling me and writing me letters since I was four. I consider him as crucial to my upbringing as my biological parents. He serves as a beacon of morality and wisdom in my life, and we’ve never met face to face. But for all the good advice he’s given me over the years, it’s how he’s lived his life in one of California’s worst prisons that has taught me the most. I think one of the best things a person can have is conviction, to truly stand up for what they believe, especially when things get dangerous. My uncle has been beaten for his faith, stabbed, and has challenged gang leaders for the right to proselytize their members despite having his life threatened again and again.

I saw all this growing up andrelay it to you to illustrate a single point: children see more than they hear. Since I’ve been watching my uncle live his faith from the time I was a young child, his words often carry more weight to me than that of any preacher.So if you’re setting out to be agood godparent, that is, seriously taking on the spiritual mentorship of a young child, make sure you’re walking the walk. That alone will speak so much louder than anything you could say. Now, I won’t sit here and try to give a crash course on how to be a better Christian—that’s not the point. However, I will leave some suggestions that I believe could apply to any aspect of rearing a godchild.

1. Know What You’re Talking About
I read this great quote the other day from an interview with Wendi Gu, a literary agent who represents children’s fiction. She said, “Children, especially teens, can spot truth a mile away.” She was speaking about truth in fiction, but I think the idea is just as applicable here, especially with how accessible information is these days. The average child will know if you’re just answering their important, existential questions off the top of your head. Take the time to do a little research on the big questions of life related to religion a child might ask. And if they do ask you something you don’t know, be humble enough to tell them the truth. And maybe add, “But we could find out together.” Honesty goes a long way with anyone, but you shouldn’t take on any task imparting knowledge if you’re not willing to learn yourself. No one likes a lazy teacher.

2. Quality Time
There’s no better indicator of where our passions lie than what we do with our time. The master angler will stay on his boat from sunrise to sunset and be in paradise the entire time. Fishing is his passion. Likewise, if you mean to impart knowledge effectively, you can’t do it without spending time on someone. Notice I said on and not with. We lead busy lives in this age. You won’t be expected to go spend an hour at your godchild’s house every day, and if you did, you’d probably wear out your welcome quickly. But what about writing them a letter? Showing up to a birthday, school event once in a awhile? Sitting next to them in church? Sending them thoughtful gifts related to passions they develop? Such things show genuine love for a person, and anytime someone knows you care, they’ll be more apt to listen to you

3. Consistency
I’m probably one of the most inconsistent people in the world. How I feel from day to day holds a heavy sway on how I react to things, but I’ve gotten better over the years. My parents were very consistent people; my wife’s the same way. They have established routines and you can count on them to behave a certain way. You can rely on them. We’re all instinctively drawn to people we can rely on. If your godchild lives in a home where their mother or father isn’t the most reliable at times, they might look to you to fill the void. The good news is reliability, like anything else, can be developed. The human mind is amazingly adaptable. You put anything into practice long enough and it’ll eventually become part of who you are, hard as it might be in the beginning.

If all that’s too much to consider, try simply taking ‘god’ off godparent. You’re left with parent. What is a parent? A teacher, a provider, a nurturer. A parent is someone who has accepted the sacred task of rearing a child. A parent literally creates a life in all its fullness, and not just in the physical aspect. Emotions, experiences—everything that goes into making a person who they are. It’s never something that should be taken lightly. The child you influence today could end up ruling the world tomorrow.
Make sure you’re doing the things you’d want someone else doing for you. Try to love them in ways you wanted to be loved as a child, while being aware of their own individual needs. If you do godparenting right, you’ll leave a legacy that will never be forgotten. It’s a marvelous opportunity to make the world a better place. You’ll be showing a child how much you care about them. You’ll be showing their parents how much you care. You’ll be doing a good thing that you won’t regret.