Returning home one evening on a cross-country flight, my colleague and I began a conversation about our children. In a few moments the conversation turned to a turbulent area for many parents.
“Do your children go to church with you every week?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered rather flatly.
“Mine won’t go,” she said gazing through the darkened window. “If they do go, it becomes a fight and I end up crying through mass.”
“Well, I have a few that give me some tears as well,” I admitted rather slowly.
“They won’t go?”
“Two go easily and the other two need some coaching, but getting them to go is the easy part,” I admitted to her astonishment. “We’ve taken our children to church their whole lives, so they know as long as they are in our home, they will always go.”
“Tough love, heh?”
“No, not really. It’s kind of like seatbelts.”
“They never liked seatbelts when they were young but they learned the car doesn’t move without seatbelts.”
“My children go,” I said pausing with an accent, “but that doesn’t mean that they want to be there or that their faith is refreshed in the same way I experience.”
“So, they’re not resentful about not having a choice?” she asked, her voice conveying the suspicion that my children would spend their grown-up years in therapy. “I’m not sure giving them a choice is always wise. There’s a scriptural proverb which says ‘Start a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’ I think that suggests we are to give our children a faith tradition that may one day serve as a jump start and help them better understand the sincerity of their parents’ beliefs.” “So you’re admitting, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’?” she asked
“You might say that. They may not choose to drink from spiritual waters, but we do have an obligation to be sure they are close to the well.
“I’m not sure how parents justify giving choices about something as deep as spiritual education when they don’t give them choices about learning to read and write.”
“But in the end,” she stated, “We can no more choose faith for our children than I can fly this plane.”
“Exactly, because the hardest part is still going to be how you live between worship services during the week. If you’re not careful the message can get lost in the noise of church and I think children are especially tuned in to the hypocrisy factor.”
“So, if our lives don’t emulate the basic goodness we’re are trying to demonstrate and maintain each week, then requiring our kids to go church every week won’t help them live a life in which service to a greater good is a daily part of their existence. And I think it may be that last part that matters the most.”
The plane ride and the discussion ended that night as most do – safely and without any new solution to world problems.
Bringing your children to church is a good start, but it’s not enough by itself. We need to talk with them and explain why we go to church and thereby give them a glimpse into our souls.
Leading a good life where service to others is paramount does a great deal. We want our children to become the best people they can and we want them to be driven by more than habit. Children do not need to clone our faith, but in the end, parents need to be present with their child in their search for the meaning of faith and model that faith so that it can become the most potent and creative force in their developing life.