Back in December, Liesl Jurock was writing about the holidays on Mama's Log, and the question arose of what to say when her son asked, "Who's Jesus?". She talked about how her child's questions awakened a dormant topic: religion, something she had intentionally put at arms' length as an adult.
I sent her this email in response:
I am long, long past telling people how or why I think they should be involved in organized religion. I spent the summer after high school knocking on strangers' doors, with a "script" to lead them through regarding being saved. No more of that.....
But I do, from my "parent of an 11 and 14 year old" vantage point, encourage you and Kevin to think about this now. I am heartbroken that my kids have stopped coming to church with me (hubs goes rarely, which is its own issue), but at some point gave up -- it simply wasn't worth the agony of forcing them.
It won't get any easier as Lucas gets older --- if he starts thinking of church/worship as a "habit" instead of an "option" it's all the better in the long run!
I have to hope God is doing His/Her own work in them (my kids) ..... and I would be very flexible up to taking them to a different church/denomination if something set a light afire in their little hearts -- and to give them some idea of the fact that the world is not just about them but about something bigger.
I have thought and thought about how to expand on the response I sent Liesl.
(She wrote about her expanded thoughts on religion here.)
For my expanded response, it is going to take more than one blog post, but here is the first.
When I encouraged Liesl to bring her son up with worship as a "habit," I hoped that she and her family would find a routine way of worshiping that edifies them as a family, as opposed to the kind many adults remember, a rote "showing up" each Sunday to a place that was not necessarily welcoming or edifying. I suppose the proportion of "obligation" to "enjoyment" that I feel children (and adults) should get out of worship is a topic for another day. My main point was that it's probably easier to introduce some type of routine worship experience now, when her child is three, than it will be when he is older.
Between this afternoon when I drafted today's post and now, when I am adding the finishing touches, I listened to an "On Being" podcast about Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet whose words are timeless. I am paraphrasing a bit here, but three concepts from the podcast really seemed relevant to the discussions of spirituality I have been having with my friends recently:
1) To be searching and restless is to have arrived. This idea partners well with good advice given to me years ago by Father Gil Crosby, who told me that Jesus came to take away our sins, not our intellects. Good thing, for it appears that searching and restlessness characterize much of the faith journey.
2) "The ground will get hard if you don't till it." To keep soil fertile you must turn it occasionally and give it a chance to get air and nutrients; the same is true with our attitudes and values about spirituality.
3) Staying centered while moving around. Rumi is associated with a Sufi order that believes in worship incorporating music, poetry, and dancing (the Whirling Dervishes are their best known manifestation). Isn't that what those of us parents trying to help our children (and, honestly, ourselves) find some type of spiritual mooring are trying to do -- stay centered while moving around a world of facts, influences, and options that seem to whirl around us in a blur?
I believe children need to know they are part of something much bigger than them. By whatever name it is called, they need something to be in awe of, to feel comforted by, to plead to, to scratch their heads at when bad things happen.
In Elizabeth Edwards's book "Saving Graces," she talks about how her theology was influenced by several things: growing up as a Navy kid and being exposed to buddhism and other theologies in Japan; facing the lowest of lows after her teenager died; talking to countless other families on grief chat boards and the like. One constant for her is Bill Moyers's statement from "Genesis" - "You get the God you have, not the God you want." Little kids shouldn't be expected to parse the difference between the God they "want" and the God they "have," but I do believe that one of the most long-lasting gifts we parents can give our children is the gift of openness to God's presence.
It is my hope for Liesl and her young family that the restlessness that Lucas's questions has created will lead them to an "arrival" of sorts -- an arrival at a family spiritual "center" in the midst of the whirling world.