Certain conversations have a way of staying inside my head.
One such conversation was about faith and its meaning. We were speaking with Duncan, a Chinese man who was visiting my parents’ home in West Michigan. I was in high school at the time. It was 2003.
Duncan was the father of our exchange student and visited to spend time with us, the hosts, and with his daughter, who we had supported during her time in America.
During his brief stay, we delved into the topic of faith.
Amidst the conversation, Duncan told us that one of his biggest regrets in life was not having imparted faith to his daughters.
That’s the part that stuck with me.
And now, over a decade later, having witnessed the first six months of our son’s life, I have become convinced that imparting faith to one’s children is vital.
Why? Because I have experienced God. I have witnessed God’s work in the lives of others. Jesus Christ is my role model yet also my Savior. He is also a friend. I really do want people to know about this, and our son is one of those people!
Now let’s take a step back.
Various families take various approaches when it comes to parenting. Some families allow their children to sort of “make their own way” and figure things out. Telling themselves they don’t want to restrict their children, they allow them to explore and encourage them to check out all kinds of faith systems, allthewhile making sure they assure their kids that no religion is superior to the other.
That’s one approach. Here’s another.
Some families are terrified that their kids will question their faith. They’re scared that another faith system will become attractive, so they make sure to create barriers against those other faiths. They may emphasize the negative aspects of other faiths and underscore the truths of their own beliefs and the significant leaders in their own theological and spiritual leaders.
Both sets of parents care about their kids and desire for their progeny to flourish. That’s not in question. What’s in question is this: how should a family guide their children spiritually?
This NPR interview tackles this question. I end up thinking much like Kara Powell, author of Sticky Faith, an influential book [and blog] on the process of imparting faith to the young. Listen and check it out if you have time.
Anyway, as a Christian, I think of Jesus as the ultimate. His teachings are true, and his provenance is divine; he’s God’s Son. But how should I communicate this to my children?
Here are several key steps I feel compelled to take ::
- Trust God.
When Silas was baptized, it was a mysterious way for God to say, “I’ll take care of Silas.” We took him to the feet of our Savior, and we trust that God will work through his power to bring Silas to an awareness, first, then a simple trust, and then strong confidence in his Creator. And we trust that God will use us in this process.
- Model the spirituality that I desire for my child to eventually own.
It starts very close to home–in my soul, actually. My wife and I need to be the kind of people who embody faith in every aspect of life. It’s how we treat strangers. It’s how we talk about people who aren’t in the room–especially people with whom we may not fully agree. It’s our deeds and our words and our inner predisposition.
- Connect to a community of faith–in my case, a church–where other people are doing the same thing, and allow them to help with the parenting process.
Asking other Christians to intentionally mentor our son is one way to mitigate the problem of family systems. See, no matter how hard Kaile and I try, we will unwittingly pass on our bad habits to our son. In our tradition, it’s called “sin.” When we humbly admit our own issues and permit other people to speak into our child’s life, there are new opportunities for transformation, and we trust and pray that God will work through our community.
We cannot foist faith on our children; instead, we invite.
And the alternative is terrifying. Think about how many systems for understanding the world exist! Peruse a newspaper or Flipboard or Instagram or turn on the tube and you’ll be greeted with a host of organizations seeking to disciple your child and offer their spiritual wisdom:
*Exercise is the key to happiness!
*Money is the goal, for it brings about so much opportunity for relationships!
*The right job will bring you the sense of purpose your heart longs for!
If we are unintentional with our childrens’ faith formation, we leave the task to the next most attractive influencer. Maybe their peers will be the ones who guide them in uncertain paths. Maybe it will be a really nice group of people that get lost in mind-altering substances. Maybe it will be a questionable website. Maybe they’ll stumble into Zoroastrianism. Hard to say, isn’t it?
I think we’ll introduce Silas to Jesus.