We are living in what most sociologists refer to as "The Post Christian Era" meaning that, for many people, the Judeo-Christian practices of the past centuries are fading from view. I believe that there is still a deep faith within most individuals. How can you and your child share a foundation of faith without all the baggage we often associate with institutional "religion"? Read on!
My husband was "raised in church" as the old folks used to say. I was absolutely not. He and I had two very different upbringings and yet here we are: two people of deep and abiding faith. Christian ministry is our mutual vocation. We love everyone, feed the hungry in our community, nurture neglected children, help the homeless find shelter and offer hope.
This was how we lived with our children and they naturally took it up as they became adults. There were never any stern sermons or hard lined edicts placed before them. God was never presented as an angry overseer watching for faults. We instilled in our children that we are each responsible for each other and that true religion is love.
We are Christians, yet we join parents of other faith practices as they live their faith before their children and gently teach the ways of their ancestors. The longing for faith in a being beyond ourselves is deep in our human DNA.
The power and the concept of God is one that seems to be universal across time and cultures. There seems to be a part of our humanness that reaches out beyond ourselves into the vast universe. We wonder about our connection to all other life in the heavens and earth. For many people of the earth, that answer is found in their faith beliefs.
I am all about young children. One thing that I see in every young child I have ever known is a sure and natural knowledge that there is a greater existence. Children are perfectly comfortable referring to this existence as God. Children who are loved at church love church and this gives them another place to be loved. This is healthy and right.
A healthy faith community is a stabilizing presence in the lives of children. It connects them to adults who demonstrate a way of living that is generous, kind, joyful, and loving. Children, and adults, all yearn for this level of connection with community. A regular practice of gathering with people of faith and celebrating that faith is an act that will bond you and your children more than you may know.
If you are not in the habit of practicing your faith openly with your child and you really are not sure how to begin, let me give you some ideas to get you started.
Ask your children what they know or believe about God. If this is not a topic openly discussed in your home, your children have still developed some ideas. First of all, they really are hard wired to have faith. Second of all, there are other voices in their ears and they have picked up some information that they may have interpreted or misinterpreted. They want you to clarify this. They crave your input in the deeper things of life. They look to you for guidance in all things. Provide this for them. You don't have to be a theologian to tell your child what you believe.
Don't paint all churches with one big negative brush. The vast majority of clergy are not child molesting monsters. These people are typically humble, kind, thoughtful souls who give themselves sacrificially to their communities. In every city, town, and hamlet there are churches filled with kind and generous people who faithfully work to make the world better for all of us. You probably have a friend or coworker who attends a church that they really love. Ask them about their experience, and try it.
Attend regularly. If you are part of a faith community that you attend every now and then, step up your game and commit to regular (weekly) attendance. With this practice you and your children will become comfortable. Become familiar with the practices of celebrating and honoring a faith that has stood the test of time. Across the millennia billions of faithful have set aside a bit of time each week in their busy lives and have been strengthened by it. You really have nothing to lose by doing this.
Be Aware. There are so many options for worship. Find a community that is recommended by people you trust, attended by people who are responsible about the children, and led by a learned pastor. In the mainline denominations the leadership is required to hold at least a masters' degree in theology or a closely related subject. Many of these go further and earn a doctorate. This gives them great discernment and the ability to put the ancient scriptures into a structure that is applicable to your life. In addition, in the mainline denominations, pastors are held tightly accountable by pastors who have authority over them. In non-denominational or independent churches there are no such fail-safes in place. A great charismatic leader with a congregation of thousands can easily become an autocratic tyrant if there is no accountability or authority beyond him or her self. Just ask the people of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Don't know their story? Google it. Don't look for a Rock Star Pastor or an ex sports celebrity, find a learned and humble pastor who will know you.
If you have been hurt by a church, please accept my most sincere apology. I, myself, been deeply wounded to the point of brokenness by church people. Yet the messenger is not the message. There are still people of faith serving a God that is real and living in them. Hold fast to this truth.
Most of all take this with you today: your child is more than just a body with a brain and emotions. There is a third part to your child: they are a spiritual being that will thrive in an atmosphere that encourages spiritual things. Pray with your child. Worship with your child. Talk openly and casually about the deep things of faith.
Allow your child room to develop this third part of their beings at their own pace. Give them opportunities so that they can make an informed decision about faith. Saying that you will "let them choose for themselves" and then providing no information to use as a guide is ridiculous. It doesn't even make sense. Provide your child with all they need to be truly whole.
Be blessed today. Enjoy your child and show them your love by giving them time.