Raising your kids to be Christians is, at the very least, tricky. I’ve seen all sorts of different outcomes and it can be pretty stress inducing. Those of us who have Jesus in the center of our lives and feel such strength and comfort and sureness in His existence can feel pretty desperate for our children to feel that way too. But it is a delicate balance. If we force our beliefs down our kids’ throats, they might feel like they have been released from prison when they head off to college – never to grace the door of a church again. You may be one who feels that way. Even members of the clergy can end up with children who are just not buying it.
Our four sons and their significant others are all in very different places from one another on their spiritual journeys. When your children are small, having them believe what you believe is natural. It gives them security and roots in a system of values. Treat this time as precious and let them see the glory of God through you. Bring God into your daily conversation - from pointing out a beautiful cloud in the sky to someone you know who was healed from a terrible disease. Pray with and for them.
As they get older, maybe once they hit the teenage years, they will need and want to make those beliefs their own – or not. Questioning is natural, normal and even important. I continually pray that living the best Christian lives we can; looking to God for help, solace, answers and direction and letting our children see my husband and me doing these things will inspire them to seek out answers for themselves once they leave home. We have always tried to let our children see and experience those times when we saw God at work in our lives and in others’. We feel that we gave our boys and girl a firm foundation and now they must find out what they truly believe for themselves.
We tried to make our children’s church experience a positive one. Some things were a given, others were their choice. For instance, we required attendance on Sunday mornings but made going to Youth Group their choice. Sunday mornings, it was not a problem; it is just what we did, no question about it. I think this is actually easier with lots of kids than with just one. We felt that Youth Group should be a choice and if it was fun, they would want to go. They usually did not want to go, for whatever reason. The boys were excited to be acolytes because they got to light candles and blow them out. They also saw, as the goal, the chance to be a thurifer, which is the guy or girl who gets to swing around a ball with hot coals and incense in it, with steam pouring out. Plus, acolyting was more fun than being bored sitting in the pew. We made a big deal of how they were serving the Lord – a good thing. Outside influences can be extremely powerful as well. Our boys went to Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, NC for years and the Christian formation there, from Godly men and cool Christian college kids, made a huge impact. Young Life came a critical time for them as well.
As your children grow up, you undoubtedly will be faced with tough situations. Your teenagers may argue that God is just a crutch for weak people or that their friend said……. Listen. Love your kids no matter what they believe to be true. Help them to tease out answers to difficult questions. Recall your own times of doubt. Recognize that a lack of faith might be temporary, a stage, a healthy questioning or it may be who they truly are for a period. Showing disappointment that they don’t believe exactly what you believe is not going to make them take up the cross – probably the opposite. Listen and try to understand where they are coming from and know that developing a strong belief system – in anything – takes a long time and there are a lot of twists and turns along the way. And remember that nothing is worth losing your kids over and your loving,accepting attitude may be just the thing that makes them want to be just like you and therefore explore your beliefs in depth.