A friend of mine was talking about wanting her kids to stay in church when they get older, and I got to thinking. I was raised going to church, and I’m still in the faith. What did my parents do right?
1. A Loving Home – First of all, they always showed my brother and I unconditional love. No one ever yelled at us. We were always cherished and cared for.
2. Christian Teaching in the Home – While we didn’t have daily Bible study together or anything, there were occasional times during the year that we had prayer/devotions together, and my parents talked about our beliefs a lot, plus at different times they actually used curriculums to teach us about Nazarene beliefs, etc. (Anybody remember Preparing for Adolescence by James Dobson? Yeah, I had to go through that with my parents when I was like 12.)
3. Church Activities – Of course, since my dad was a pastor and later, both parents were missionaries, we were at church all the time. I think the only time I wasn’t at church was once when I was 6 and I had chicken pox. The rituals of church services were a timepiece in our lives – moments to attend to the spiritual in the midst of a physical life. It turns out that I made some of my lifelong friends at church, and especially when I was a teenager, the teen group gave me some fun people to hang out with that wouldn’t pressure me to do things I didn’t want to do (and probably shouldn’t be doing anyway.)
4. Open to Doubt – My parents were always very open to my questions and even my doubt. They answered me honestly and told me that some things cannot be explained and don’t really have an answer. Their ability to give me some space to figure things out was much better than if they had tried to shove beliefs or pat answers down my throat.
5. Exposure to Other Faiths/Backgrounds – While in many ways I grew up sheltered, there are so many ways in which I was exposed to the world at an early age. When we lived in the States, I went to public school, and found out that my friends were Jewish, Catholic, from other Protestant denominations, or nothing. When we moved to Thailand, I went to a Catholic international school. Most of the students were Asians. You did not have to learn Catholicism if you were not Catholic, and the teachers did not have to be Catholic, so it was not like I was in a Christian environment. I was in a school of Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and more! My friends were Thai, Indian, Filipino, Burmese, Taiwanese, Korean, Russian, German, and more! I am very thankful for that experience. I’m so glad I was able to learn how to get along with and understand people from other cultures and belief systems. I gained an appreciation and love for people of other cultures. Also, I was also challenged to keep my own beliefs and values in the midst of such an amalgam of world views. And I did! All my friends new I was Christian and accepted that. I did find a small group of Protestant Christians there, which was great, but I also found that I was able to keep my faith in the face of deep friendships and experiences with non-Christians.
I can still remember a couple of times as a teenager when I tried to do some soul-searching to see if I really wanted my beliefs for myself, or if I was just hanging on to my parents’ shirttails. I went through that again in college. After college, I ended up converting from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy (that’s another blog), but all in all I have still kept the faith. I still have doubts. I still wake up some days and wonder if it’s all real or not. But I make the choice to keep believing, and to equip my children with a system of belief and a sense of meaning in life as they go out into the world. I hope I can do as good of a job as my parents did.