Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is Your Child Leaving Church?

What is a Christian parent's worst nightmare?  Often, it is that their children will leave "the church".  For whatever reason, whether it is that they fear that their children won't be saved, go to heaven, end up in hell, or become a Democrat (please note I am not affiliated with any political party), parents do not want their children to leave the church.  My children are only 4 1/2 and 2, and I know that it would disappoint me too, but, it is not for the above reasons.  I want my children to be followers of Jesus too, and to know the life that he gives.  It is not because I am afraid of something that may or may not happen to them; it is simply that I want them to experience this life that I experience.

But I can't force them to believe; I can't force them to stay, and I can't force them pretend to be someone they aren't if that is what happens.  And, perhaps, leaving, doubting, and questioning will ultimately strengthen their faith.  It did mine.

I had a difficult time deciding on a minor in college, and the deadline for declaring it was looming.  After tossing around the ideas of education or psychology, as I sat in the Frontier Restaurant one day, eating my usual order of guacamole and chips and a carne adovada burrito, and looking through UNM's course catalog, I finally realized that minoring in Religious Studies was what made the most sense.  I was already very active in my church and loved attending Bible study to learn about the Bible.  With UNM's requirement for a Religious Studies minor to only have a certain number of hours without requiring any specific classes, I knew this was the best choice for me.  I could take as many Bible-related classes as I wanted (and I even supplemented them with Bible-related classes from the English Department).

I was warned by a very well-meaning person to just be careful because many religion professors were liberal atheists.  And, in this current political season, we have also heard that colleges are indoctrinating students with liberal ideology and they are leaving their Christian faith behind.  (I highly recommend all college students, or parents of college students, or anyone in their 20s, or anyone of any age, read  If Jesus Were a Sophomore by Bruce Main.  It is a fantastic book on discipleship and addresses how difficult faith in college can be, but he talks about how this is the time to really discover a personal faith, and not just continue with an inherited faith from one's parents).

It is true that I graduated from a state university.  It is true that while in college I started developing doubts and questions about my faith.  But the reason this happened was not due to liberal atheist professors, but due to the fact that I was reading the Bible in context.  Yes, it was the Bible itself that caused me to start doubting and questioning, because I wasn't only hearing verses here and there like I heard them read each Sunday in church or reading a small section at Bible study and wondering how it applied to me.

I will never forget when I first read Hosea 11:1 in the book of Hosea and not in the gospel of Matthew.

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." --Hosea 11:1

When who was a what now?  Israel?  But I thought this was supposed to be about Jesus!  Was Matthew wrong?  This was just one of many issues that I struggled through over a period of a few years, and eventually, I did come to an understanding of what this meant, and eventually my faith grew strong again.

Teaching our children what we believe is a good thing.  But we also need to be able to honestly tell them "I don't know" when they ask questions, and not just give them pat answers.  We need to be able to tell them that sometimes, yes, there are things that Mommy and Daddy don't know.  When they ask questions, we can ask right back "well, what do you think about that?" (I use this when I am not sure how to answer my 4 1/2 year old's questions).  We can even have conversations that lead to an impromptu celebration of communion with chicken alfredo pizza and grape juice (more on this another time; it isn't written yet).

There is a song I remember hearing a lot on the radio in the early 2000s by by Mark Schultz called "Remember Me".

Remember me when the children leave their Sunday school with smiles 
Remember me when they're old enough to teach, old enough to preach, old enough to leave

We need to remember God...we need to remember that as much as we love our children, He loves them even more.  

I find these words from 2 Peter to be comforting.  God is patient with all of us (much, much more patient than I am with my children!), and the poetic language used here shows that God has all the time in the world...and then some...for us.  So let's give our children that same patience and time and understanding.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. --2 Peter 3:8-9

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