Last night and today I’ve been thinking about how we pass our faith onto our children. I was a part of a message board discussion started by a professed “non-believer.” The question posed was aimed at Atheists/Agnostics and asked how to answer God questions that arise from children. I weighed in on the discussion, not because I was trying to “save” anyone, but because I think the concept of how to pass along beliefs to children is fairly universal. And how we explain differing beliefs to curious children – without being disrespectful or full of belief-bashing – can be fairly similar in approach.
My thoughts about answering questions about differing faiths is this: at a younger age, when general questions such as “Why do/don’t some people believe in God,” it is simply okay to answer with a general response like “Well, some people believe one way and other people believe in other ways. I believe that…” When the inevitable “why” comes, I think that’s the time to share an experience that is personal that has helped you form your beliefs.
As children get older and ask more specific questions, we as parents must be ready to help find the answers they are looking for. Whether that answer lies in faith, scripture, science, or nature, we must be able to help them see more specific reasons behind different beliefs. It may feel uncomfortable. We may need help. We may need support from like-faith friends and family. But I think it’s important to allow the questions to be answered. If we as parents don’t help them find the answers, someone else may. Someone else who is not respectful of the belief system from which I as the parent come. For me, I would rather my children learn about faith from me and those adults that I trust to answer their questions in a way that is respectful, fair, truthful and as much as possible, in accordance with what I believe.
So as I’ve continued to ponder this question of how to pass beliefs onto my children, I thought of this scripture – “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19). The passage talks about how the children did not experience the God-moments that the parents did. The children were not first-hand witnesses to the miracles, thus it is the parents responsibility to tell those stories and share those truths. I’ve always thought that sharing our stories is vital to our faith. But how do we do that with our children exactly?
Regardless of what we believe, we share our beliefs with those around us through the way we live. Particularly for those who live life with us, who we are when no one is looking is vital. For me, as a Christian, if I say that I believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – and the commands that go with those beliefs – I should be living that out in all fabrics of my life. Being a Christian is not just a “church building” thing. It doesn’t start and end when I walk in the church doors. The same can be said for those of other belief systems – Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, Wiccans, Mormons, etc. We can claim to be whatever we want to claim, but if we don’t live it out, are we really what we claim to be?
So how do I pass my faith along to my children? I specifically teach it to them through reading Bible stories/scripture together and discussing it. I teach it to them by incorporating Sunday School and mid-week ministry activities into our family schedule – trusting capable fellow believers to help me in the responsibility of discipling my children. I talk about my faith with my children when we are playing, working and living life. I don’t box God into Sunday’s, the church building or meal time prayers only. As opportunity shows itself, I talk about how what I belive about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is infused into my daily life – our daily life as a family. And as we go to sleep, I pray with my children – thanking God for the day, confessing wrongs and verbalizing any needs for that night or the next day. As I go to sleep, I simply breath and meditate and know that my Creator knows my heart, my joys, my struggles and my needs. It is like a conversation that continues throughout the day and through my dreams.
For me, my faith lies in a Creator greater than myself. For others, their faith may lie in their own inner-strength and the laws of science. Either way, how we go about teaching our children that faith is very much the same. We live it, we teach it, we infuse what we believe into the way we function and conduct ourselves. Our children are going to learn much more from who we are than what we say we are anyway.
So tell me, how do you leave a legacy of faith to your children?