my kids went back to school last week. all five of them, out the door by 7:30 am. ah, a little bit of quiet & freedom back in my day, although i always hate to say goodbye to summer & oh, yeah, i always forget my refuge life is far from quiet. my oldest is a junior this year. my daughter starts high school as a freshman and my next son is starting middle school. the twins are now in 3rd grade & every day i am more and more thankful that they have each other since they will have four years alone in the house after the other 3 graduate. all 5 are finally in public school together & i’ve just been thinking a lot about just how much we’ve changed over the past few years when it comes to faith & our kids.
sometimes, i’ll admit, it’s a little scary. the shifts jose and i have made as christians are one thing, but where does that leave our children? will they survive the lack of “knowns” that we used to hold on to so dearly? what will it mean for them to be raised in a wacky eclectic “community” instead of the typical church structure that delivers the kinds of programs that we used to thrive on? how has our cynicism affected them? does Jesus supersede language & systems? what will their faith journey really look like?
oh no easy answers here, i am sure of that, and i know from talking to a few others on a similar path as us that we’re all a little nervous. and when it comes to being christians who are pretty sold on the beauty & power of the body of Christ we are sort of in a weird spot. sure, lots of people i know have shifted their beliefs about God & life but when it comes to their kiddos, they are still quite adamant about making sure somehow they go to youth group & “real church” and learn about God in the typical ways. i can’t tell my kids story for them, but our oldest two exited the system when they left their conservative evangelical school. the hypocrisy, the legalism, it all just got the best of them and now, youth group, typical church, anything that smells of organized is just not on their radar. and i definitely can’t blame it all on their old school. i know we have contributed to all of it, too. seeing all my church politics & hurt a few years ago didn’t help. our own doubts & questioning about how wacked out the system has become has added fuel to the fire (trust me, they have elephant ears). and as we all well know, kids & grownups alike have a hard time untangling Jesus from the structures built on his name. but it is what it is and now we just have to make the most of it.
so is all lost? have we royally ruined them in this process? i don’t know, i really don’t. but now, a few years into all of this, i am beginning to believe that even though it might not look like it now, maybe they all have a better shot at freedom in their faith than they ever would have had before. (or maybe i am just trying to make myself feel better, i’m not sure?)
here are a few questions we have been wrestling with when it comes to the kids & faith:
what if we never again hear the “right” words? those “right” words used to bring me so much comfort! this is the same for kids as it is for grownups. we all feel a little better when we hear certain words from people. we used to breathe a little easier when we knew they could spit out right thinking, spiritual language, scripture that make us feel better. so my kids no longer say the things that used to make me beam as a “christian parent” but they say & do other things that make me think “oh, there is something really beautiful about their character, their heart, who they really are that just got revealed right there” and there wasn’t one bit of religious lingo in the mix!
what if they already have more questions than answers? it’s almost like it’s okay to ask questions once we lived a life of having all the answers, but what happens when you start out with just the questions & not the answers? that is what is feeling so foreign. and because the older ones rub off on the littler ones, all my kiddos are asking some wing-dinger questions that my old-school God cards just can’t trump. this would be no big deal if we were from a different kind of christian tradition that embraced the mystery a bit more, but we used to be good “because the Bible says so, that’s why” christians & so it just feels weird to communicate to kids the tension of strong faith with unanswered questions.
what if they never get the spiritual high we used to be so addicted to? i really do think most are addicted to the spiritual high & it’s easy to pass that on to our kids (think about how much pressure so many youth pastors are under! their job is always on the line if they can’t deliver the goods.) what if church was really just about hanging out with people who knew you, loved you, and challenged you to pursue your dreams, your passions, to notice needs? what if that superseded the need to learn a bible story or play a fun game? my kids haven’t had a spiritual high in well over two years, but when they are around the refuge family they have grownups that look them in the eye, love them, hug them, and care about how they’re doing. they love & play with the other littler refuge-ees whenever we’re together. with a bit of loosely organized stuff here & there, that’s pretty much what they get in terms of “church”. is that really enough?
is all of this honesty too much for them or will it help them in the end? our kids are exposed to a lot of topics & people that we used to protect them from. we are now surrounded by addictions, mental illness, gender stuff, domestic poverty, divorce, oh it runs the gamut. you name it, it’s just in the circles we now run in (it was in the other circles, too, just more hidden). i am sure there are positives & negatives involved with this kind of openness, but i do know this, they are forced to reckon with things that i think need reckoning with like: how could i possibly reject our lesbian friends when i know & love her heart? how do i feel about the mean things abortion protestors are saying when they are talking about my mom? how come we have insurance but a lot of other people don’t? why do we live in a nice house but our friends are about to be homeless? i want the kids to be able to think through some of these hard things & always, always, always associate these issues with real people, real stories, real struggles so they aren’t as quick to jump on the judgement bandwagon. still, sometimes it scares me, especially when i look around at so many people we used to know who are protected from these harsh realities; their life just seems simpler, sweeter, easier.
can we live with their own creative journey that looks nothing like what we might have originally thought? the old ways had old measures. now, with a lot of that stripped away we sometimes wonder what it’s going to be like for them. i don’t know what twists & turns are ahead for my kiddos. i know we will keep living out the gospel as best we can and they will just have to continually make some important decisions for themselves over time. my hope is that regardless of the language they use and they way they express it, that the spirit & ways of Jesus are under their skin & into their heart & are reflected in ways that might not be noticeable to the religious system (or even us) but somehow, some way show up in relationship with people.
when it’s all said and done, i think we are learning to let go of what we always expected of ourselves & our kids in this much-more-complicated-than-we-ever-imagined-mainly-because-we-changed department. bottom line is we’re trying to hold on to what Love (note the caps!) really means. and yep, the whole thing is messy & complicated & beautiful & scary. i know we have & will continue to screw it up, but we will keep praying for God’s grace & mercy & for our kids to have it embedded in their hearts, too. plus, we’re definitely, without a doubt, banking on “love covers a multitude of sins.”
please, make me feel a little less vulnerable here & tell me some of your thoughts, questions & fears when it comes to kids & faith.
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SIDE NOTE: on the topic of kids, i do have a recent addition to my small contribution to the kingdom–making other mommies feel better. you’ll have to read the other post for it to make sense, but here’s a worthy addition to my “top 10 humiliating things about me that will make other mommies feel better”:
# 10 1/2: during the summer we don’t really worry too much about showers, etc. because we are always at the lake, pool, etc. it’s kind of gross but we don’t really care, it’s summer, right and everyone’s clean enough with all that water around. well the night before the first day of school i told the little ones “hey, you guys need to take a shower”. our friend who lives in our basement was like “when WAS the last time you took a shower?” and jonas, my 8 year old, goes “ummm, i am pretty sure it was in JUNE!” yeah, we’re good parents.