What will your children believe when they grow up? They probably won't believe in Santa Clause, but they might believe in Aliens; they won't believe in Cinderella, but they might believe in "Happily Ever After"; they might not believe the Pilgrims did a good thing or were good people (depending on who teaches them)--will they believe Jesus was a "good person"--or that he is God Incarnate? Or maybe they'll believe all religion is mythology designed to dull our thinking, and that only
Science can reveal what's true. What will they believe?
In a recent article entitled "Keeping the Faith", published in the May 2021 edition of First Things magazine, sociologist Christian Smith says, " . . . among all possible influences, parents exert far and away the greatest influence on their children's religious outcomes. Stated differently . . . nearly all human responsibility for the religious trajectories of children's lives falls on their parents' shoulders."
Read that again: "nearly all human responsibility for the religious trajectories of children's lives falls on their parents' shoulders." That's very sobering. Every parent who is serious about passing on their beliefs feels the weight of it.
Smith goes on to explain, "What makes every other influence pale into virtual insignificance is the importance (or not) of the religious beliefs and practices of American parents in their ordinary lives--not only on holy days but every day, throughout weeks and years."
Do you have this kind of faith, the kind that shows up in your normal, everyday life? Do your kids know that your faith is important to you? How can they tell?
" . . . among all possible influences, parents exert far and away the greatest influence on their children's religious outcomes. Stated differently . . . nearly all human responsibility for the religious trajectories of children's lives falls on their parents' shoulders" --Christian Smith
If you feel weak in this area, it's time to get stronger. Begin by regularly attending a physical church. You've had bad experiences in church in the past? Join the club. No church is perfect, but neither are you. Find someplace where truth is being taught and learn to deal with the quirks and irritations inherent to anything in which human activity is involved.
We need church--it's where we find other people of faith, receive instruction and encouragement, meet people who can challenge us to grow, and learn about the richness of the history, rituals, and celebrations of Christianity. It's also where we check our own personal feelings and beliefs against orthodoxy--for over two thousand years men and women of profound faith have wrestled with the same questions and ideas we have, and have come to agreement on the basics of what defines Christianity. Relying on our own judgment will lead us into error--if Christianity is true, I'm not free simply to make it up based on what I'd like for it to be or what seems right to me!
Make church a non-negotiable part of every week; show your kids it's important to worship and learn with other believers, and help them establish lifelong friendships and a lifelong habit of continual growth and worship.
At home, set aside some time to quietly read and think about the Scriptures. Pray. It's hard to start if you've never done it or are out of practice, but it only takes a few minutes to begin. Be serious about it--remember, part of why you're doing this is so that your kids can see that your faith matters to you enough to make it part of your everyday life.
"What makes every other influence pale into virtual insignificance is the importance (or not) of the religious beliefs and practices of American parents in their ordinary lives--not only on holy days but every day, throughout weeks and years." --Christian Smith
When your kids tell you about difficulties or frustrations, listen carefully, and pray with them, asking for help and guidance. Ask questions to help them think through how to deal with difficult situations in the light of what your faith teaches.
Do you have a conversion story? Tell your children! Tell them ways in which you've seen God answer your prayers, times you've been strengthened by Scripture, and how your faith has carried you when things have been difficult. This helps them connect faith with life, instead of just as a Sunday morning activity that's designed to teach them how to "be good"; that would be a sad lesson, indeed.
When they ask you hard questions, don't be afraid! Encourage the questions, and lead your children to the source of the answers. Sometimes it has to be enough that we don't fully understand everything just yet, but that we trust in the goodness of God and his love for each of us. Having faith doesn't mean we never face doubts and difficulties--to have faith is to recognize that this world doesn't hold all the answers, but to trust that God does; He is, in the words of the Nicene Creed, the "maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible;" he has a future for us that we cannot yet see.
Don't forget that you also have the primary influence over the other things your kids believe (see the first paragraph). If your family consumes media of any kind (in other words, if you live on this planet!), be thoughtful about what the media is saying--what are the messages in that Marvel, Disney, or Pixar movie?
What are the lyrics to that Country and Western song, or that "great" old rock and roll music--what are you encouraging them to sing along to? Do you really want those lyrics or images going through their head for years to come? Why not choose more age-appropriate stuff for children, and leave the adult stuff to when they're actually adults?
Ultimately, of course, your kids will choose their own path, their own media, and what they believe. But they are always watching, always imitating, always responding to the things you encourage. Learn to think and live in a way that joyfully reflects your faith, and your children will be open to fully embracing it when they are grown.
These simple things are just the beginning of what's possible in ways to begin living your faith. In the next couple of blog posts I'll be sharing the ideas and practices of some of my readers--you won't want to miss them! If you'd like to share your own thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! Click one of the buttons below to get in touch!
You only get a few years to influence and shape what your children love and believe; take advantage of those years, and experience the joy of seeing your adult children live their faith, and pass it on to your grandchildren!