A letter from a relative recently asked me this question with regards to my daughter: “Are you teaching her about Jesus?” The trouble is, this is an older relative that I love deeply. She has never been anything but kind to me. I really don’t want to hurt her. But when I eventually answer that question, and truthfully – I don’t feel I can lie – I know that I will hurt her, a lot.
Now for the moment, I am planning to just not answer her question. It was one line in a newsy letter, and I don’t see this relative that often anyway (or talk to her on the phone). So I’m just going to let it go by unanswered. But the thing is, I’m starting to see my daughter as a ticking time bomb.
Eventually, it will be come obvious that my daughter is not being raised a Christian. I don’t know when this will become impossible to hide, but it will. She’ll make some comment, or she’ll be ignorant of some fact, or there will be a question I can’t dodge. If I weren’t raising children, I could probably keep my atheism under wraps around my extended family long term. With children…I don’t see that happening.
My relative asked the question in a letter. But what if one of my parents, or some other relative, asks me to my face? I can’t lie. I mean, I could, but I don’t feel like that’s a good idea – or a good precedent. I could hedge of course, or give an answer that is technically true but doesn’t really answer the question asked (“I am teaching her about Jesus” does not have to mean that I am doing so in a devotional sense). But eventually there will come a day when hedging and avoiding will be impossible.
Or, of course, my extended family could learn from my daughter herself, when she makes some comment on accident. But is that really what I want? I look at my lovely, curious, courageous little girl and I don’t want her to get hurt. I don’t want her to have to see my relatives’ shock or find herself the subject of sudden questioning. I don’t want to make her the front soldier in my battle.
When I was a kid, I thought grown ups knew everything. Well, we don’t. I thought grown ups knew how to handle everything, deal with every circumstance, and keep everyone safe from getting hurt. But we don’t. There is no right move in this chess game that is my life. I can’t see what’s coming up. I can only deal with what I have now and hope for the best. I can only put one foot in front of the other and hope that when the time comes I find the right thing to say, the best choice to make, and a way to walk in love despite spite of pain and division and misunderstanding.
I said in the beginning of this post that I don’t want to cause this dear older relative pain, that I don’t want to hurt her, but that ultimately I don’t know how I can avoid that. I think it’s important for me to remember that the pain I will cause by choosing to live my life differently from so many in my extended family is not necessarily my fault. The pain is a result of beliefs – the result of the fear that my daughter will end up in hell or will lead a joyless and meaningless life without Jesus. I didn’t create these beliefs. I can’t make them go away. And the conflict between these beliefs and the life I lead is such that those I love will be hurt regardless of what I do. And knowing that hurts me too.
One of the things I find most problematic about so much of religion is its ability to divide families and cause this kind of pain. And this is one of the things that makes me resolve once again that I will not do this to my children. Their beliefs are up to them, and I am not going to create a situation where they feel they must hide what they believe from me. Because, quite simply, family is more important than all that.