“From keeping nativity scenes in public buildings to keeping “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, defending America from the perceived takeover of secular humanism became the purpose of the modern church… Evangelicals read Christian books and listened to Christian music. They sent their kids to Christian colleges, where they received Christian educations. Apologists and theologians talked about the biblical approach to homosexuality, the biblical response to global warming, and the biblical view of parenting…
It was within this social context that I and an entire generation of young evangelicals constructed our Christian worldviews. You might say that we were born ready with answers. We grew up with a fervent devotion to the inerrancy of the Bible and learned that whatever the question might be, an answer could be found within its pages... To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn’t need to be born again; we simply needed to be born. Our parents, our teachers, and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.”
– Rachel Held Evans in Evolving in Monkeytown
If there were a sentence in the above quote about the Evangelical homeschooling movement, it would perfectly describe my upbringing. I grew up hearing the story of how I would tell people, when I was only four years old, that Jesus climbed down a ladder from heaven into my heart. God was a character in my life who was always there. I did not, in any serious way, allow myself to entertain the notion that God might not exist or that God might not be who I was told he was until after I had graduated from (Christian) college and gotten married.
The absurd thing to me now, is that I honestly, with all my heart, believed that I knew God existed because I believed I had considered all the evidence and come to that conclusion myself. I would hear other people talk about their experiences with God and I would incorporate that language into my own talk about God, not really understanding that I was equating believing the right answers about God with believing in God.
I think I’ve come a long way since then. I wrestled with my questions and discovered a faith that is entirely different from what I was taught, but one that I embrace with all my heart.
One of my biggest struggles now is how I teach my kids about God. All that stuff that Rachel Held Evans explained happened because parents wanted their kids to know God in the way they had come to experience God. They thought they were doing what was best for their kids. With the homeschooling and the Christian everything, my parents thought they were doing what was best for me. But I do not want to indoctrinate my kids into my faith; I want to help my kids understand God in a way he is real to them.
Yet, what if, by attempting to discard most of what my parents did and take a different approach, I'm just screwing my kids up in a different way than the way I was screwed up?
What if embracing their questions and not forcing them to accept my answers leaves them wishy-washy and completely unsure of anything?
What if not insisting they attend church with me every Sunday leaves them without a love for The Body of Christ?
What if allowing for discussion and not expecting immediate, unquestioning obedience undermines their respect for authority?
What if teaching them to respect other religions leads them away from Christianity?
What if I’m doing it all wrong?
These are only some of the questions that keep me from going back to sleep when I wake up at 3AM.
I realize that raising kids is a process, not a project. Some things I will certainly mess up no matter how much I don’t want to and some things I will get right on accident. I keep coming back to these words from Brian Zahnd that give me hope that allowing my kids to grow up in the way that they should go, will at least be less damaging than the heavy-handed approach I was raised with:
Perhaps we will have to believe that the gospel story itself, faithfully told, still has the capacity to astonish. Perhaps we will have to believe that the risen Christ can still make himself known in astonishing ways. When we take it upon ourselves to explain the gospel so we can promote its benefits and get people to sign on, we unintentionally but inevitably diminish the mystery and beauty of the gospel.
I had to realize for myself that even though I’d known about God my entire life, my faith was not my own. It was indoctrinated into me and wasn’t something I understood for myself.
It wasn’t until I discovered for myself the astonishment, beauty, and mystery of the Gospel that I was able to know in the depths of my being that I wanted to be a Christian. It may sound somewhat reckless, but I don’t even care if it is true. It is faith. I cannot prove it. The acknowledgement that it may not be true in no way diminishes my hope that it is or my certainty that this is the way I want to live my life.
If I try to make anyone else, my kids included, experience God my way, I’m not leaving space for them to be astonished by God in their own way. Drawing again from Zhand:
Christianity is not a science; it is a faith…. Christianity is a confession, not an explanation. We confess Christ; we don’t explain Christ. We confess the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, though we cannot fully explain these mysteries. We leave room for mystery. We honor the mystery. We recognize the beauty in the mystery.
Perhaps I’m not doing everything right. Perhaps my kids will have to spend years unraveling the way they were raised and will have to find their own way that looks nothing like mine, just like I had to do. I hope not, but I acknowledge that it is possible.
All I can do now is to keep raising them in the most loving way I know how and continue to confess Christ and Incarnation and Resurrection and all the other mysteries in my daily life. I can leave room for them to be astonished by the beauty and mystery of the Gospel in their own way and remind them it is okay if we don’t always come to the same understanding.
And I can trust that if it is true – that if God is who I believe he is – that it’s enough.