When trusting Jesus more, leads to questioning traditional lore

How Do We Foster Our Children’s Faith?

christmas photoI recently read a good article by a mother on a blog called ModernAlternativeMama.com called “Finding My Way as a Christian Mom” .In the article, one of the things the author was wondering, is what activities or things to do with her children to best pass on her Christian faith to them. She was not raised in an evangelical “Christian home” and she was not familiar with the habits, songs, prayers, evangi-speak (lingo), bible memory training schedules or trappings of the evangelical homes of some of her acquaintances. But she was intrigued by them. She wanted to know about and possibly emulate the child-rearing habits of the well-meaning parents in this particular sub-culture (in which I might include myself). She mentioned wanting to immerse herself in them to learn how to raise her children to be “on fire” for God. Her good intentions shine through.

I’m familiar with the kind of Christian upbringing she is curious about. And this all sounds fine and good until, like me, you grow up and become acquainted with how much your friends who were raised in these intense Evangi-homes just plain didn’t like the sub-culture or pressure to be “on fire” for God all the time. In fact, it made many of them cynical about it as adults, especially if they feel that who they were, or where they honestly were in their journey, wasn’t accepted in that paradigm, or if their questions and doubts were “off limits” for honest discussion. Then you begin to hear how often the efforts of the most zealous Christian parents had seemingly little bearing on whether or not their kids retained a genuine faith when they got out into the world. Many of the kids who were raised in this subculture write books and blogs about how they appreciate their exposure to the Christian faith by their well-meaning parents, BUT they’ve moved beyond the cultural evangelical style of their parents. That the intensity of all the things one should “do” for God kept them from understanding God’s love and grace. The focus on actions felt like a focus on performance and a concern about “what people think” and didn’t cause patterns of thought, belief and actions that led them into feeling accepted in God’s eyes. Instead, they had a conversion away from the evangelical trappings and into a more genuine faith where QUESTIONS, wonderings, doubt and even seeming contradictions or paradoxes are allowed to linger and just be there and be ok with God. That, in fact, maybe they are an essential part of a deeply real and living “on fire” faith in God.

Last generation, we had so many new ways to use various forms of media, and a trending dichotomous view of Christian culture with ‘worldly’ culture, and other things to bombard kids with Christian training that I wonder if many parents overdid it. I wonder if we didn’t listen enough, just ‘be’ enough or sit with their QUESTIONS enough. I suppose that even without any other excuses, parental worry in itself drives many of us to ‘overdo’ things with our kids, to want to present God in the best light and to have all the answers to their simple yet incredibly deep questions.

I admit to feeling this, I want to give the best answers about God and present him in the best light, to welcome all questions and yet be honest about when I just don’t know a good explanation. For example, just yesterday my 4 year old son asked me, “Is God a boy or girl?” Both, I said. “Then does He have two heads?” Um, no. “Why? How is He both?” Great question. Because he is a Spirit. You’ll understand this better someday. “Is He up in the sky or by me?” Um…both. “Why can’t I see Him with my eyes?” Hm. That’s a hard one. We can see God with our “spiritual eyes” [confused look on his face] but remember we talked about how, like the wind, we can feel God more than see Him? For now, anyway. Someday when we become spirits too, after we die, then maybe we can see God with our eyes in the spirit world. “But what does He look like?” I don’t know. But maybe He is very bright, like the sun. Then he switched gears and threw in the question that seems to be plaguing him and which I apparently am not giving satisfactory answers to, “Why did Jesus die on the ‘cwoss’?” [Oh boy]…Well, good question. He died  – and remember he rose too – to help connect us to God. Because God loves us and wants to be with us now and after we die, forever.…and it begins! I mean, how do we expect these questions and answers to even make sense to a child? They barely make sense to adults. I can’t blame him if he ever thinks this is all just totally crazy!

And by so doing, in our many attempts at passing on our faith in this song, answer, verse, prayer, teaching when we rise and when we sit and along the way, we communicate something unintended (like that they must constantly work to achieve God’s favor and get ‘rid’ of their badness instead of resting and living in God’s loving presence and being thankful for His – and our – goodness). I will and probably am making mistakes in this realm and in my attempt to do what I believe is best to introduce my children to God. Like many parents, I, too, deeply desire to help them foster a loving relationship with God. So I’m thankful to be in a community of friends, both from my church and beyond, who are seeking to learn from the mistakes of the past and who will help me attempt this monumental job with more JOY than worry, more FAITH than fear, more LOVE than disappointment. Good luck with that, I know, right?

Here is my response to Modern Alternative Mama’s post:

Your deep desire to do what is best – in every area of your family life – including your children’s spiritual shepherding shines through! What an inspiration you are. Its great to hear the ways you let your children lead in prayer and spiritual things. Can I give you a word of encouragement? Don’t worry too much about doing all the “right” things! Your focus on fostering your relationship with your children will carry you far and your example of desiring Godliness for them will speak volumes more than doing this or that extra christian cultural thing (like enveloping them in christian music or praying one more time per day or after a disciplinary situation – its amazing that you even attempt this!). In your zeal from trying to overcompensate from what you did not have growing up, be careful not to overdo it. I, too, was curious about what happened in those Christian family lives who had it all figured out. So I went to Wheaton College, that bastion of Christian leaders, most of whose parents raised them in very Ev Christian homes. And MANY kids there were just happy to get away from it all! They had it with having it shoved down their throats, all the pressure to be perfect Christians, all the “trying” to get it into them that their well-meaning parents did. This seemed to communicate that we aren’t “good enough” for God and it created a stressful atmosphere of self-judgment (am I doing enough?), others-judgment (how many devos did you do today?) and even self-hatred (God couldn’t possibly love me after x mistake). For many, it just became annoying, and they couldn’t wait to get away from it and simply rest in God and find their own way apart from the burden of this well-meaning form of law, rules, expectations and bible memorization programs. It seemed to communicate a sense of worry or anxiety, like that resting in God’s grace and doing what kept us connected to him somehow wasn’t enough, that we had to “DO” all these other things (multiple devos per day, only listen to CCM, memorize verses and entire books of the bible, talk evangelical all the time, be a perfect proverbs 31 woman, or a modern day knight, etc). And these things are not bad in and of themselves. But NOW that we’re having our own kids, it is interesting to see how we’re doing things differently. Many of my Wheaton friends who grew up immersed in that christian culture (and it IS very cultural! think about how for 1500 years of Christianity, lay-people weren’t even allowed to read the bible! what were those successful christian homes like? they maybe heard a sermon once a month at their local parish, yet God drew and kept them in faith…), many from that cultural upbringing you’re curious about (I had some of that too), we are stepping back quite a few steps from the intensity of it all. We’re focusing more on fostering a loving and grace-filled relationship with our children, letting that and our example of devotion speak volumes about what we believe about our heavenly father God, his love, grace, and our trust in him. We all want to know the best way to pass down a legacy of alive faith to our children (and not simply indoctrination or works based religion) and to keep the communication lines with our kids open (even if and when they come to believe differently than we do). For whatever its worth :) this is a long way of saying don’t worry too much about it! Or be discouraged about not doing “enough”. Plenty of well-meaning christian parents are doing “too much”! God has equipped you with everything you need right now to serve him in your calling at this stage of motherhood with the particular children he has sent to you to shepherd and grow into people who will continue to communicate His love in the world in new ways.

Also, on this topic, some of us at church recently read and discussed this older book: Will Our Children Have Faith? by Westerhoff http://www.amazon.com/Will-Our-Children-Have-Faith/dp/0819218367

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