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.
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
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.