Raising a Spiritual Child

 Meet Cheryl S., a friend and sometime-blogger over at Sunveiling. (She also has a Facebook page here.) I’m stealing the following post from her, a lovely portrayal of talking to one’s child about self, heaven, and personal truth.

I send my boys to a private school down the road.  It’s a Christian school.  In all honesty, my decision was mostly based upon the fact that the kindergarten is all day, which I thought would benefit my son.  Surely, the moral foundation couldn’t hurt–I thought.

At my parent-teacher conference last fall, Mrs. Zimmermann* gave my son, Drew, rave reviews.  She told me that he was excelling academically, that he had a passion for learning and was a positive influence on his peers.

Then she continued…

“I’m just so proud of Drew.  He is one of 3 other kids in his class that have accepted Christ as their savior.”

I think my face must have contorted a bit when I thought,  “SAY WHAAA?!?!”

Here’s why:  First of all, the official acceptance of a savior was news to me.  And I’ll be honest, it took me a lil’ off guard.

My mind raced. At 6, was it really possible that any child could truly understand the depth of what it means to accept a savior?  Maybe. Could this just be Drew following direction and doing what he believes it takes to earn Mrs. Zimmermann’s approval?  Perhaps.

I sat speechless, unsure how to respond. The best I could muster was a nod and a smile

***

For the rest of the afternoon, I felt conflicted.

I wrestled with the thought that maybe I didn’t give Drew enough credit.  Perhaps he did understand the gravity of his commitment to Jesus.  He surely is spiritually sensitive and connected–always has been.  What if, even at his young age, that was what he had chosen to subscribe to?

If it was, I would fully support him.

But something felt off to me.  I was skeptical about Drew’s motivation.  When he was younger, he had an interest in all the holy books and all religions, which is rather uncommon for a 3 year old, no doubt.  He had an insatiable curiosity about how our souls connect with our bodies, what they are made of and how they find their way back to ‘God’.  I remember having long and profoundly mature conversations with him–back when he was so full of wonder and fascination with all the possibilities of who we are and could be.

I felt sad and concerned because this was not the case anymore.  Now, Drew memorized and recited–verbatim–what he learned at school.  His deeply spiritual questions were now canned responses, the obvious result of the praise he received for his obedient absorption of the doctrine.

It became apparent to me that, at the ripe old age of 6, I was witnessing an innocent and inquisitive open mind slowly shutting its doors.  I knew I needed to wedge my foot in there.

***

That night at bedtime, I snuggled up next to Drew on his pillow and asked him to tell me what guided him to accept Jesus as his savior.

He sat up and catapulted into explanation. “Jesus is the only way to eternal life, Mom.  If you don’t ask him to be in your heart, you will be in a fire in hell after you die!”  His eyes bulged.

“Oh my goodness,” I said. “Go on.”

“The devil makes you sin.  I was born a sinner.  I need help,” he said in quiet concern. “It’s easy to sin.  It’s hard to be good. It’s so hard to get to heaven, Mom. I want to go to heaven.”

When it came to accepting Jesus as his savior, it surely appeared to be the only logical option for him.  This decision was born from a place of fear!  I have no doubt that this would not be the terms that Christ would have preferred.  It definitely didn’t come upon the terms that I preferred.

Now, I’ve never once told Drew what to believe.  If I’ve ever forced any agenda onto my kids, it’s to question things for themselves, explore what their hearts tell them, and listen to their intuition. I’ve let Drew do this his whole life and you’d be amazed at the connections he began making on his own, very early on. Even when he asks the hard questions, I try to make sure to never give him the answers of anyone else.  I lead him down the road to uncover them for himself.

So I asked him, “What is heaven, Drew?”

He had his answer immediately.  “Heaven is a beautiful place in the clouds where your family waits for you.” Then he paused.  “What if I can’t see you and Daddy and Nana and Papa there because I was made wrong?”

My heart physically hurt.  If there was ever a time Drew needed to hear my opinion, I knew it was now.

No.  ‘GOD’ MADE NONE OF US WRONG, buddy. We don’t struggle because we are weak or broken.  We struggle to learn.  That’s why we are here–to feel, to experience, to grow.

“The truth is that the beauty of Christ…’God’… ‘heaven’… are here.  Right now.  All around us.”

I smiled and squeezed his hands.  He patiently waited for me to continue.

“We look to religion because this is where we’ve been told to go. Religion is the only place most of us know to go when we feel afraid, or lost, or weak, or small. But things that are popular, come easy or feel safe, aren’t necessarily solid or something we can count on, sweetie.”

I kissed his head.

“What we can count on is the adventure though.” I smiled.  “Setting out to find ‘God’ in our own, personal ways.  Not relying on someone else to provide the answers. Please never allow yourself to be defined or limited by others.  The answers vary.  The place you will find them is ALL your own.  This place is called ‘your truth’. That’s where you will find your greatness, where you begin to find ‘God’.”

He looked up at me, confused.

“Is ‘my truth’ in my brain?  How do I know the answers?”

I shook my head and placed his hands over his heart.

“It’s here, bud. Your truth is in your heart.”

I knew he was grasping my message because on his face was a full, all-knowing smile.  He looked empowered.

“Never stop being YOU. Never give up exploring, creating, learning, and asking, and allowing life to be an exciting adventure!  Your innocence, curiosity, and imagination are the keys to heaven.”  

Drew stated, “I don’t need a key. I have a CODE.”

“Oh really?”  I laughed, wondering where the heck this was going.

“Yes, the code is L – O – V – E,” he stated proudly, then giggled.  “That’s the code to God’s home.”

Out of the mouths of babes.  Wouldn’t his Jesus be happy with that.

*Name changed

Rape in the Year 2012

“If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar haircut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind. I watch these guys and I’m, like, ‘What is happening? Am I a secretary on ‘Mad Men? What’s happening?’”  

–Tina Fey

In light of the latest caveman orating about rape, here are some bits that haven’t gotten as much news, from Jill Filipovic at The Guardian:

  • Sharron Angle, who ran for a US Senate seat out of Nevada, said she would tell a young girl wanting an abortion after being raped and impregnated by her father that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and that she should make a “lemon situation into lemonade“.
  • Douglas Henry, a Tennessee state senator, told his colleagues:  “Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse.”
  • Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly declared that marital rape doesn’t exist, because when you get married you sign up to be sexually available to your husband at all times.
  • And when asked a few years back about what kind of rape victim should be allowed to have an abortion, South Dakota Republican Bill Napoli answered:  “A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.”

A final thought, from a friend of mine:  I wonder if all of the politicians, MALE politicians, telling American women that rape is “legitimate” or “God’s will” would tell that to the boys Sandusky raped? Perhaps they could explain the implied irony of God’s will to the boys raped by priests? Or if they were raped themselves–you know, God willing?

Whaddup, Jesus?

We’ve covered abortion and race. Why not round it out with some religion?

I recently found out my friend, Olivia•, is quite religious–by my standards, anyway. She attends weekend religious conferences. I attend church when my children are baptized.

“What?” I said to myself when I found out. This is someone I’ve changed diapers next to, had drinks with, and who actually fell on the floor laughing one time when she saw the shirt I planned to wear out that night. (She is not a nice person.)

I don’t know if it struck me simply because it was noteworthy, or because she didn’t fit whatever box I placed religious people—or my friends—into. Or maybe it’s just another striking example of how people don’t talk about religion.

So I decided to talk about religion.

Just like my friend, Melanie, Olivia was sweet enough to let me interrogate her for a while online.

Olivia

  • scared… lol
Jessica
  • We’ll start easy.
  • How do you feel about gay marriage? 🙂  I’ll save that for later.
  • What religion are you? I don’t even know.

Olivia

  • Well, I grew up Catholic. I still consider myself a Catholic, but the church we attend as a family is technically Baptist.

Jessica

  • Are Baptists and Catholics similar? I grew up Catholic, too, but I can only tell you the basics.

Olivia

  • Hmm… I don’t think they’re too similar. To me, Catholicism is very strict. A Catholic mass is very organized. At the Baptist church we go to, it seems more based on interpreting the scripture.
  • Also, they’re big on fellowship…something Catholics are not known for. 😉
Jessica
  • Ha, yes. My mother was excommunicated for getting a divorce.

Olivia

  • Yeah, stuff like that.
  • Very “rules & regs.
Jessica
  • But you still consider yourself Catholic. Why?

Olivia

  • I think it’s been indoctrinated in me to feel guilty about going to a church of another denomination.
  • I don’t think I would ever convert.
Jessica
  • So, we’ll just call you a Catholobap. Or a Bathlic.

Olivia

  • Bathlic is cute
Jessica
  • It’s a nice reminder that it’s hard to define religion. It’s different for everyone.

Olivia

  • It IS hard to define religion.
  • I think it’s funny that there are so many different religions & many of them are against a member going out & attending other denomination’s services. Is that what God had in mind?
Jessica
  • So what does your religion mean to you? What do you like about it?

Olivia

  • My religion (my religion conglomerate) simply means I trust in God. He is a power higher than myself—the highest power, and I look to Him in times of sorrow, confusion, anger, joy, helplessness. God is always there when I need a question answered or just to thank Him for the great things He’s placed in my life.
  • I find peace in knowing my family and I are protected on this earth and we will also find eternal happiness when we leave it.
Jessica
  • How do you respond, then, to the skepticism some people have about your belief–that if there is an all-powerful being, he can’t be interested in each individual’s daily life?

Olivia

  • I do realize this is a difficult concept. I think God may mean something different for everyone. I think that if you believe [there is a] God and you have a connection that positively alters your life, you believe in God.
  • It’s tricky to navigate around the ideas in the Bible and pin them up against science sometimes…
Jessica
  • Yes, I can see how you can define your own belief in God but also not have all the answers. I admire faith. I wonder, sometimes, whether it takes away from people’s own strength. For instance, you say that he is there with an answer when you have a question. Do you think the answer doesn’t, then, come from within yourself?

Olivia

  • Good question.
  • I can’t say that it doesn’t come from within myself, but I choose to believe that He guides us toward paths in life.
Jessica
  • Everyone thinks her life or beliefs are normal. Do you consider yourself, as a Christian, the norm or on the fringe?

Olivia

  • I do think my life is the norm. I do realize I’m probably more “religious” than most people my age, but I’m fine with that. I want my kids to grow up knowing I am sure of who I am.
Jessica
  • Do you ever hide your religiosity from people?

Olivia

  • I do sometimes hide it because I think it can turn people off or distract them if the situation is not right. But mainly, I’m fine with putting myself out there.
Jessica
  • Why do you think it distracts people?

Olivia

  • I think it distracts people if I were to, say, make a presentation on art wearing a Jesus t-shirt.
Jessica
  • Good point. Making a religious statement is like making a political statement.

Olivia

  • Right. (…Or…Left.)
Jessica
  • It’s hard to talk about religion. It sort of sets boundaries, or so it seems. “I’m religious,” so people could assume you are drawing a line that excludes non-religious people. I’m a Democrat, generally, so if I saw someone with an elephant t-shirt, I suppose I could, and would, draw some unfair conclusions.
  • Regarding the t-shirt anyway. But I do wish people would talk more about religions, and politics, and race….

Olivia

  • They’re touchy subjects, but that’s probably why they’re so touchy—people are afraid to rock the boat. And it makes it worse.
Jessica
  • I really do think most people don’t mean to offend, and most people won’t be offended.

Olivia

  • I agree.

Jessica

  • Back to gay marriage, and other socially conservative beliefs associated with religion on topics such as abortion, do you mind letting us know what you think?
  • These are areas, obviously, that create a divide, and many people have only the opinions of the talking heads on TV to listen to (on both sides).

Olivia

  • Although I’m conservative in other areas of my life, I believe in gay marriage. I find it demeaning (and weird!) that the government can shut out a group of people and deny them happiness because of their sexuality.  People say, “In the Bible, God declares a man and a woman should be married,” but didn’t he also say, “Love one another?”
  • Oh boy. Abortion. It disgusts me and I believe it’s completely unnecessary most of the time, but I can’t say I’m in favor of the government’s control of it. I know someone whose fetus was developing without the vital parts of the brain.  I am not about to put myself in this situation, hypothetically.  One could never fully realize what that position feels like.  Also, in the instance of rape and incest, there’s no way to know which would be less harmful to the victim: bearing the child from some awful event or going through with the abortion.  I just don’t feel like I (or any politician—especially male) is qualified to make that determination.  So yeah, this is a tricky one for me because God states, “Thou shalt not kill,” and that children are blessings.  …And, I totally agree with those, too!
  • Let me know if this is too “nut-job.”
Jessica
  • It doesn’t sound nut-job. It’s thoughtful and demonstrates what a tough issue it is. I think you go a bit against the grain of what people think of when they think, “religious.” And I love that.
  • Speaking of, is there anything you think is misunderstood about religious people, in general?

Olivia

  • I think people who don’t have a religious affiliation might assume that “religious” people are very one-sided and prude. Well, coming from a large Catholic family, I see many different sides to religion. We’re gregarious and silly and like to drink. We’re not Amish.
  • We’re normal, I mean. lol
  • “Normal”
Jessica
  • Ha – you can stereotype just like the rest of them.

Olivia

  • Yep.
Jessica
  • Okay – so what we’ve learned tonight is that, a. you are normal with quotes, b. you have created a new religion called Batholicism, and c. apparently, you like to drink.

Olivia

  • Sounds about right.
Jessica
  • I so appreciate it! What do I say–mazel tov? Just kidding, I know that’s Islam.

Olivia

  • You’re welcome! Your ?’s made me think!
Jessica

  • Amen, sister.

Olivia

  • Hallelujah!

*Name changed