Here’s a thought experiment. What if we stop telling our teenage children about being religious? Stop telling them that they have to go to Church on time. Never be late, not even a minute. God loves the early bird.
What if we stop telling them to dress up for Church or put on a smile when shaking the usher’s hand or when the pastor walks by. And stop telling them to perk up, sit up and pay attention to the sermon.
What if we stop telling them that they must join the youth ministry, sign up for church camp, bring the Bible when they enter the church premises, and sing out loud during praise and worship - and not just mouth the words (or for that matter, remind them to raise their hands when prompted by the song lyrics to do so).
What if, what we have been putting them through over the years – the routine, the regime and the drill – is what we want for them and not what they want for themselves? What if our teenage children are beginning to see the authenticity gap between what is projected consciously in Church and what is projected habitually at home? What if they are beginning to see that the only difference between you and your pastor is that the latter hides his flaws (brokenness) behind the pulpit while you hide yours at home?
Your growing teenager doesn't need to know how visible your Bible is in your hand, how early you arrive in Church, how close to the pulpit you have chosen your seat, how many times you do your quiet time during the week, how God repeatedly tells you He loves you, how many years you have been serving in a ministry, how many ways you think God is real to you and only you, how cocksure you are about His second coming in your senior pastor's lifetime because that's all he preached about, how that pulpit sermon last Sunday or that latest Christian book is without a doubt God-inspired and is the real thing until the next real thing comes along, how you have been blessed by God as compared to the atheists, how God talks to you - and only you - in his still small voice, how God heals unconditionally and yet the world is still as it is, how God will bless their studies, career and marriage unconditionally if they believe and yet they are still struggling, and how they should follow God’s will even when you yourself haven’t the faintest idea what it is for them or yourself. Food for thought? Here’s more to digest…
Your children are growing in their own ways and their own time and they are discovering for themselves the grand mysteries/paradoxes of life. The last thing they need from you as their parents is to do a direct, context-deprived, experientially-lacking transplantation of your beliefs onto them and to insist that they suck it all up, unthinking. Most times, the ultimatum “mine house, mine rules” is a relationship killer, that is, a desperate attempt to put your foot down not only on the issue (because you can no longer defend the same with the same conviction as before), but on the poor young soul.
Now let's be clear. You are their parents. You have responsibility. You have to discipline them. You are a positive influence in their life, for all your life. That's all fine. That's given. That's candy-dandy. But my point goes deeper, if not a tad controversial. And it is this: Let's not be dogmatic about our belief. Let’s go beyond the form to the substance of it all. Let's dare to go deeper into the emerging core issues of their life where doubts, uncertainty, faithlessness, and unbelief are all struggling for an authentic voice, vision and ventilation, and not one blindly dictating the whys, the hows and the whens.
Let's give the growing plant some sunlight. Let's not avoid exposing them to occasional winds of doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity. Let's not shrink- or bubble-wrap their faith. Let them decipher/solve their own life-puzzles, faith-codes and divine-mystery. Let's give them room to grow, to question, to seek, to reflect, to make mistakes, to doubt their faith and to have faith in their doubts. Because by sight, you can't tell the difference between a body choke and an embrace. They all look the same at first glance. But on closer scrutiny, one suffocates and the other encourages. One constricts and the other empowers. And one inhibits freedom and the other liberates.
So, as parents, we should let go and let's have some faith in them to embrace faith in their own time. Let them explore, discover and learn on their own (on matters of belief and conviction). Don't assume more than you know. Don't try to convince them when you are not. Don't give the impression that you know better when you really don't (that is, on matters concerning miracles, death and afterlife, unanswered prayers, conditions of heaven, God's return in your lifetime and no other just because you are alive and the others are not, evolution of life, universe and time, the beginning of it all, and the physical proof of God). You may have your own opinion…let them develop their own.
The truth is - and this is difficult for the ultra-religious to accept - "you can't prove God in the flesh." Nobody can. And those who claim they saw (or heard) God are at best only able to "reproduce" Him in their deeds and not in the physical or tangible. God is highly personal, deeply subjective, and completely invisible to the naked eye. Nobody - and I mean nobody living in our generation or before - has been able to go before a crowd and proudly declare that God is with him now, and then God, the Creator of heaven and earth himself, gradually materializes out of thin air to the bewildered and speechless audience. At best, such feats are only captured in written ancient form in the long distant past and it is expected without question that the same should be taken with equal weight as empirical scientific truths.
So stop telling your children about being religious. Let them seek, knock, and find. Let them take this journey to their own crossroad or crossroads, and then unravel the mystery by and for themselves.
Your role is a facilitator, not a dictator. You inspire; not impose. You hold their hand; not chain it to your beliefs. You set the example; not cast the religious template in stone. They are your children; not your lost childhood made good or your stillborn dreams in the long forgotten past given a second chance.
I believe that each child is born with an innate spiritual compass and it points to the supernatural. It goes beyond the mundane and routine activities of their life. And it fulfills the core longing in their journey to discover and uncover enduring purpose and meaning over and above what the world can ever hope to offer.
Each of them has to take this step (their maiden voyage) to explore and discover for themselves when they come of age and this sacred quest cannot be imposed from the outside. It arises from within. It can only be nurtured at its own time. And the approximation of a lifetime may just be the duration it needs to come to full bloom. For how many descendants born of pastoral/parish families, religious strongholds and institutionalized faith communities initially seem fervor (and intransigent) in their practice of the faith (of their forefathers) that was foisted on them by the strictest of tradition, practice and indoctrination at the most innocent and vulnerable time of their youth where their personal autonomy is held as a ransom for unquestioned and compliant religious behavior just so that when they come of age and start to think for themselves, they also start to unravel and proceed from there with tormented resolution to reassess, resist and rebel against the years of indoctrination because they realize that they have been living the faith of their parents and not of their own and that they can call their own?
And when that time comes, when they have by their own choices (after painstakingly removing the overbearing weight of belief forced upon them in their youth) embarked on that journey to discover the meaning of all things, you can rest assured as their parents that they will be on time for church, dress up well, and pay attention to all things spiritual…because it’s what they want for themselves and that cannot be taken from them. That passion is inseparable from their conviction. And that is when they have truly grown in their faith, are unshakeable in their belief, and are resilient in the face of all doubts. Cheerz.