Over the last few days, I’ve gotten a couple of emails from readers that, for some reason, touch on the same theme — and it resonates pretty deeply with me. The question that keeps coming up is this:
Doubt is something I’ve gotten used to as an adult. But if I’m so uncertain about my faith, how am I supposed to pass it on to my kids?
I’ve asked the authors of these two emails for permission to quote them in this post, and they agreed.
From Glen Hoos:
I struggle with teaching my kids from the Bible, when I’m at a place where I no longer know exactly what I believe about it myself. Last week, I overheard my 8-year-old daughter’s friend evangelizing my daughter, which I thought was kind of hilarious actually. Her friend was explaining that “you just have to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, accept it, and ask him into your heart, and then you will go to Heaven.” And my daughter said, “I know… but sometimes it’s just so hard to believe!” I couldn’t decide if I was proud that she is examining things for herself, or sad that she’s already losing the simple, trusting faith that she’s always had.
He lists several questions, including “How do we pass on a solid faith when we may not have one of our
own? How do we teach [our kids] to question things and examine what they believe, when
this runs the risk that they will one day throw out faith entirely?”
Another reader, David Nilsen, identifies a similar parental problem:
I guess my biggest fear comes from the fact that this is all sort of untested. A large chunk of our generation has had the same experiences in the church, gone through some of the same crappy problems associated with it, and I feel like the last ten years we’ve been having one massive group therapy session. We’ve got families now, and we’re becoming okay with not being the Christian superheroes we thought we were supposed to be. We have doubts about the classic view of scriptural inerrancy, we think science probably hasn’t managed to get everything wrong for the last two hundred years, we’re not really sure how free will works or what the deal with heaven and hell is. All well and good.
However, I can’t help but wonder if much of my freedom and ability to question these things comfortably comes from the twenty years I spent NOT questioning them very much and just getting “truth” sandblasted into my skull. I may not agree with everything I learned in church growing up, I may think Bible drills and Awana quizzes were cheesy, and I may think Christian schools are a plague upon education (I graduated from one ten years ago…I’m doing better now), but I can’t deny that I owe much of my raw knowledge about Scripture and theology to that total immersion in the culture of belief.
David concludes that he doesn’t want his three year-old daughter to inherit the type of Christianity that he grew up with. But neither does he want her to go through life “with the ecumenical cynicism I feel doomed to carry till I die.”
This is the dark side of doubt. From a personal standpoint, I can justify and defend doubt as a necessary companion to faith, as something that strengthens and deepens faith, and as something that connects me to many believers throughout history, from biblical figures to Mother Theresa.
For individuals like me, doubt is manageable.
But what does parenting look like for doubters? I’m quick to give an answer when my kids ask me a question about dinosaurs or insects or Harry Potter. I feel confident in my knowledge, and when my knowledge is lacking on a subject, I can look it up. But when they ask me about God, I’m less confident. Do I tell them what most Christians believe? Do I tell them what I used to believe? Do I tell them what I’m learning to believe now? What do I tell them when my confidence is shaky? How do I help ground their faith?
Because David is exactly right: Like him, my biblical and scriptural and theological foundation was laid during my childhood of Bible Drill and Vacation Bible School and a lifetime of Southern Baptist Sunday school. I was at church all the time, and I am grateful for that. I know the Bible because of it. I am passionate about the Bible and theology because I was immersed in those things as a kid. That foundation — though I have grown beyond it in many ways — has nevertheless given me a solid platform from which to doubt…or from which to construct a new kind of faith.
I am OK with asking questions now. But am I able to ask these questions only because I was grounded in an unshakable childhood faith?
Is my freedom to ask these questions a result of the vast knowledge I gained as a child?
And if so, how do I give my kids the same knowledge without feeling like I’m indoctrinating them into a faith I struggle with?
How can I be honest with my kids when I lack confidence in the subject matter?
What do I teach them about faith when my own faith is mired in questions?
This is one of my biggest struggles, and as a parent, I don’t have much in the way of answers. I’m hoping you do. Can doubters pass faith onto their kids? Or can we only pass along our doubts?