|photo by Shelly Gibbons|
Earlier this year, I had to remove my kids from a family service because the pastor kept talking about ultimate death. My 5 year old son, with a very concerned look on his sweet little face, turned to me and asked, "Mom, what's ultimate death?". My husband immediately took them to the bounce house area, as Ben is the type of kid who will ruminate on ultimate death every night before he goes to sleep, for weeks. That was the first time I felt like I needed to protect my children at church.
So a few months ago, while we were eating dinner, Ben asked, "How do you get rid of your fears?" We talked about how courage means facing things despite our fear. With that same worried look he had about ultimate death, he asked, "How do you get rid of your sins?" Brian and I looked at each other and explained how God had taken care of them already and that if we make a mistake we say we are sorry. He then asked, "What if I forget to say I am sorry?" And we explained that you just have to be sorry in your heart, there are no magic words.
Later that evening, Ben was playing in the living room. He was obviously still troubled and asked, "But how do I wash away my sins?" If only you could have seen the look of concern on his sweet little face. We reassured him as we did before that he did not need to worry about that.
Can I just tell you, I was ANGRY! At myself, mostly, at churches, all of it. HE IS 5! He should not be worried about his SIN! He should be thinking about bugs, and Star Wars, and fighter planes. He should be dreaming about what he will build next with his Legos and if he will get to play at his friend's house this week. He should be confident in the LOVE of God. He should not be burdened with SIN and DEATH at 5 years old. I find this cruel, and it will take time for me to forgive myself for allowing this to happen.
I do know that Brian and I have not burdened our young children about SIN and DEATH. It was at that moment that I started questioning...
Do I even want to be an evangelical?
Do I trust Sunday school teachers not to load him down with a bunch of legalistic guilt and shame?
If I would EVER want to subject my kids to this?
Jesus, yes! Fear, guilt and shame in His name? NO! Parenting always seemed so cut and dried...and there are thousands of Christian books on how to do it properly. The very thing I trusted to give me a framework to raise "good" kids had become suspect.
I know so many pastor's kids and adults who grew up in the church, and guess what? They are human, with sins and issues just like every other person. There are no guarantees. I have learned that those who were raised to see God as a scary guy in the sky, wagging his finger at us, usually walk away completely or spend the rest of their lives trying to perform well, only to walk around with a sense of pervasive guilt.
I am all screwed up from the legalistic guilt and shame I learned as a kid, and I am just trying to unravel it at 35 years old. What if my kids didn't have to do that? I worry that if they are subjected to the guilt and shame a lot of Christians like to dish out in the name of God, (especially the popular Calvinistic view right now), that they too will become slaves to it.
A friend of mine, Christine, asked me:
"So, if the framework you had before to raise good kids has proven faulty, can you trust yourself to build your own framework?"
Most of us leave childhood with a lot of things we want to emulate, and many things we hope to do differently. I ruminated a lot on this question. I wasn't sure I could trust myself (that is a whole other topic), and as most parents do, worried that if I didn't have a plan to follow, that I would get it all wrong.
"Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome." ~Hope Floats
I can definitely see why the plethora of Christian books touting, "Five easy steps to great kids!", and a set of black and white rules has been so attractive to me.
Brian and I spent a lot of time talking about this.
What if instead of loading our children down with guilt and shame and telling them how and what to believe, we respected their journey, and gently guided them as they wrestle with these questions, with God?
What if we actually admitted that we don't know all the answers, that it is confusing to us as well? What if we presented them with all the information? This is what some people think, this is what other people think, and here is what I think and why I think it?
What if we respected the person-hood of our children and encouraged them to explore their ideas and questions, instead of making sure they come to the exact same understanding we have?
What if we taught them that they are basically good (Genesis 1) and sometimes, they will blow it (Genesis 3) rather than teaching them total depravity and the sucks-to-be-you gospel?
Do we trust that we indeed have the indwelling Holy Spirit of God living in us? Can we trust that Spirit to guide our decisions in parenting?
Do we think God is pleased if our children choose to be Christians out of fear, guilt, shame and being manipulated? Or do we think that God would prefer that they came to him with a sense of awe, appreciation, wonder and love?
The truth is, each of our children have their own journey and developing relationship with God. We can try to control it and them through fear, guilt and shame, or we can nurture it. We can encourage them to make mistakes and be wrong as they explore the nature of an infinite God.
Brian and I don't claim to have all the answers. We do know that our goal is to allow our children autonomy in their spiritual development. We want to teach them to love without limits or conditions. We do not want to teach them to go to church, we want to teach them to BE the church. We want them be the kind of Christians that have true friendships with people of all religions, sexual orientations and races. We do not want them to be afraid of people who are outside of the Christian sub-culture.
We want them to know that Love trumps theology...
EVERY SINGLE TIME.