Religious conversation, and the meaning of Faith

We were heading out the door for a Good Friday dinner with a church family, and Ms Action wouldn’t stop asking questions.

“Who’s birthday is it?” (If we are going to a “party” it must be someone’s birthday right?)

“It’s not anyone’s birthday. Today is Good Friday, the day when Christian’s believe that Jesus died.”

“Jesus died on the cross?” (Must be info from Sunday school, because I don’t remember talking about this with her.)

“Yes, Jesus died on a cross.”

“Why did Jesus die?”

“Jesus died because some people didn’t like what he taught, so they killed him for something he didn’t do.”

“On a cross?”

“Yes. It was a long time ago, people don’t die on crosses anymore.”

While we were heading to the car, she stopped and drew on the deck with a piece of chalk.

“Look Mom! It’s the cross where Jesus died! We have to tell everyone that Jesus died on the cross.”

On Sunday, she was asking questions again.

“What is Easter Mom?”

“Easter is the day Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” (Why does it sound so weird, like I’m telling her that Sleeping Beauty is real?)

“Why did Jesus rose from the dead?”

“Jesus is alive again, because he conquered death, for everyone. So that when people die they can go to be with him.”

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My daughter is already asking so many questions about faith, and sometimes it makes me nervous. I don’t initiate talks about God, but I don’t want to shut down her questions and curiosity. How do I answer honestly about something that I’m not even sure I believe in some days? How do I teach about religion and faith without the old tapes of fear and condemnation?

I’m not afraid of God anymore. I’m not obsessed with my sins or freaking out about my eternal destiny. I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy when I pray, I know that most prayers aren’t answered, and I’m OK with that. I think that the Bible is a bunch of humans attempting to explain their belief in God in their context and time. I don’t think that it should be taken literally word for word and used to attack others. I go to church, and I continue to plan on taking my kids to church because I am not a god unto myself and I refuse to isolate them from religion just because I don’t like it all that much. I don’t dress a certain way, eat a certain way, or avoid certain books movies or people because of religion. I don’t have a whole lot of religious “experiences” that convince me of the reality of a God, or make me feel loved by him.

I’m one of those Christians that some people (including myself in past days) would point out as someone who “doesn’t have a personal relationship with Christ”.

The old me would say that I am trying to make it to heaven on my own, in reality I’m not sure if there is a literal heaven, and I don’t really care if I go there. The old me would say that I am closing my ears and my heart to the truth, in reality I’m not sure there is a definite truth. The old me would doubt my salvation and say that I am headed for selfishness and unhappiness, in reality I have never understood my value as a person more, never loved my spouse more, never been able to love my children this much, and never been this happy.

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In short, religion is nothing of what it used to be to me. And yet I struggle to understand religion outside of the fundamentalist box in which I always understood it. So I am still tempted to see myself as a “really bad Christian.” When are you Christian enough to call yourself a Christian? What exactly does it mean to live a life of faith?
I’ve written a bit about what my religion is not, and here I’m trying to think out loud about what my religion is right now.
Religion can have a richness of liturgy and ritual, a way to mark the milestones and the passage of time.

Religion can have a way of drawing your attention off of your own obsessions and focusing it towards serving others.

Religion is community. And it sucks sometimes. But if we only hang out with people exactly like us, do we really have the capacity for true compassion and empathy?

Religion is a way for you to feel cared for when no one else gives a rat’s rear end about you. Maybe, just maybe, there is a greater being who gives a crap.

Religion is a way to explain the the inexplicable. A way to express gratitude and thankfulness in those moments in life that are beautiful. It’s a way to let go when life hurts and there really isn’t anything you can do.

Religion is a way to cope with death and loss. It can give you the tools to cope with suffering when there is no reason on this earth to hope. And sometimes, that hope is all you need to keep hanging on.

Jesus said… “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25
Do I believe this? Some days I don’t know. But it’s beautiful, and I want it to be true. I see no problem with living my life with the idea that it could be true, and I don’t mind if my daughter believes it.
If God really is worth serving, I don’t think that he is waiting for me to get every little thing right to achieve that exact formula for “truth”, or believe every moment with complete certainty. If God is a being that I will grow to love, then he will be patient with me.

What is the meaning of faith? Why do you believe?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    regarding kids and faith- you might like Montesorri's 'Catechism of the Good Shepherd'

    in any case- Christ is risen!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    My short answer could be "just because I always have". I can look back on my life now as an adult and see that Jesus was always there with me through some pretty bad times. And now, I believe out of necessity…my life's purpose is derived solely from my belief. I could write a lot more, but don't need to fill your combox. :) But thank you for this question because I think I will have a blog post on this topic. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00597012674027878494 rain

    i really appreciate your willingness to dive deep into the hard questions.

    truth withstands hard questions. so let the rains fall, the hard winds blow… and that which is founded on the rock will stand. everything else will fall away ~ and this is good.

    here is a post written by someone who has also questioned and faces similar questions from his children: http://jeromyj.com/mendingshift//2011/04/20/to-hell-with-my-kids/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15991265512226039592 Like a Child

    Those questions from our kids can be so challenging to answer when you are doubting yourself. I also doubt to the point of not knowing yet wanting it all so desperately to be true. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Emily

    Quick correction: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed by Sofia Cavalletti who was highly influenced by Maria Montessori.

    I HIGHLY recommend the works of both Maria Montessori and Sofia Cavalletti. I think you would really appreciate them, Young Mom. Both of them taught profound respect for the child, the extent of which I have not found elsewhere (even the links you post regarding respect for children pale in comparison). "The Religious Potential of the Child" by Cavalletti and "The Secret of Childhood" by Montessori are my favorites.

    P.S. Sorry to kind of go off topic…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15092147829864412847 God’sPoliticalTeenager

    one reason I believe in Jesus is because of evolution vs creation. I'm not a scientist in any shape or form and no doubt Richard Dawkins would have a lot more brains that me but I personally can not see any scientific proof for evolution to be true. for me, the creation story in Genesis is true simply because no other story makes sense. and if Genesis is true why not the rest of the Bible?

  • Anonymous

    These posts of yours are so honest and make me so sad. Not because I have a fantastic rock-hard faith that is the best thing since sliced bread or anything. I daresay I'm as disgusting a sinner and nitwit as the next one down the line. But you seem so bereft and lost. Like the child of a patient who's just died (I'm a nurse). It's really heart-rending.

    I'm a revert. I was half-heartedly raised a Catholic (ie, we went to church most Sundays and never talked about it otherwise), poorly catechized, etc. I fell away from it in my teens and didn't even care enough to be an atheist, I just never thought about it. Most of my opinions about hot-button issues were formed by the media where liberality=correct. In my twenties I began sort of lamely seeking for something. I even tried to be a pagan, having always felt an affinity for nature. Ironically it was a lone Catholic on a pagan forum who had the amazing ability to explain Catholic teachings in a non-confrontational, intelligent and rational way that started working on me. After a year or so of that I up and went to Mass. I'm still going to Mass. I love it. I love coming there among everyone else (people I wouldn't notice on the street) to celebrate this awesome thing. The internal logic of the catechism is amazing, and I also really, really appreciate that the burden of analyzing and interpreting every theological detail of the Bible, of Tradition, of whatever is not on me, but on a horde of scholars who devote their lives to it. Also, once I let myself believe it I did. It was a relief.

    BTW, have you ever heard of a book called Good Goats: Healing our Image of God by Dennis Linn? It's small, and illustrated as if for children, but for adults, and I think you might appreciate it.

    R.

  • Edita

    I've commented before and mentioned I'm a bahai'i. Even though that's derived from islam, it doesn't follow islamic rules and believes in christ as a 'manifestation of god', so it works well with my christianity before my conversion.

    Why I believe – I've had serious struggles with faith all my life. it seemed so unlogical. so unlikely. A guy born to a virgin who is god and gods son at the same time (wtf?) and died but then didn't die and now we can all go to heaven? sounds weird to me. Objectively, people who believe jedis exist aren't much weirder. I found religion disgusting. People so consumed to follow a set of rules and rituals in order to gain something for eternity. OCD anyone?

    A lot of bad things happened to me in my life and my prayers weren't answered most of the time. And if christian say they're the only true ones, then why is the dalai lama so happy? and if christians are the only ones in favour of god, why are muslim prayers answered? What happened to that angry god who would simply destroy everyone who acted up?

    I believe that the obsession with rituals and prayer is plain stupid. So why believe then?
    Because we CAN. Because we have the mental ability to believe. I believe in creation and nature (or the creator!) hardly ever invented unnecessary stuff. Everything has it's use and so does faith. I believe because I can believe, and that's good enough for me.

    Unfortunately, too many people focus on being "right" and can't accept the possibility that people of other religions might all have their very own relationship with god. As long as you're a loving person, you're in a good place.
    And if god made us all different, why wouldn't he give us different ways to find him?

  • http://seitenichtgefunden.blogspot.com Sabine

    Why do I belive? Well, not because the faith offers me first and foremost a community. Small caring communities can be found in social or sports clubs. Rituals and festivals are celebarted in completely secular societie as well. Equi Nox, Midsummer, Labor Day, Birthdays, Graduations, World Cup …keeps every one busy enough, I think.
    I think there is no really clever explanation for faith. It is itself a mystery.
    Maybe I believe because I've seen the cathedrals. It makes no sense to build a cathedral, unless it's true what the church claims. Maybe I believe because of the Saints. They seem to have access to a power that has not only changed their lives but entire societies. I would like to have a formal proof for the one true faith,too… but God is not a thing, and faith is not a substance that can identify with laboratory tests. So the only way to find out what is truth, is to live your life. I'm sure you'll find out. You found out that the God of your parents is a chimera, so I am confident that you will someday find truth.

    Since you ask yourself questions about the education and faith, perhaps, the "teachers of the Church" helpful, such as Aporti Ferrante, Alessandro Teppa, Philip Neri, Francis de Sale, Don Bosco and Adolf Kolping. Like Maria Monessori, they try to develop the talents of children, without stress and spanking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    I just saw priest's wife recommendation of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd…and I have to completely second that! My children ALL do that program and it has been one of the best things I have done for them. The program is done on their level, explaining matters of faith in terms appropriate for them and keeps them asking questions (oddly enough, LOL). I LOVE that program. My Helen got two years of it since they just started doing it at our parish…she loves it. Anyway…just saw that comment and wanted to support that if you can find it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    Thank you for sharing your inner life with us. I get bogged down by the word "religion," though . . . it's so easy to separate love from that word, and love is the heart of what draws me to God and Christ (and others who believe). On my very best days as a follower of Christ, I have the "feeling" of love and his presence. The rest of the time I stumble along, reminding myself intellectually of who I believe God is.

    Today, I'm going to the funeral of a 28-year-old man, a husband of less than one year, who died inexplicably in his sleep early Easter morning. I hope I get to feel God's arms wrapped around us today, but if I don't feel that, I will be reminding myself through my tears about the God I've made a decision to believe in. That he knows the reasons why, and the as-yet-unseen ripple effect of a tragedy that he can somehow redeem.

    The point of being part of Christian community, for me, is having others walk beside me and hold me up — and doing the same for them. But I wouldn't call that religion, necessarily.

    All the best to you as you continue to sort out what you believe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08129509609170344883 Leah

    I highly recommend books by Sandy Sasso for facilitating conversations with children about God. They're very open and encourage kids to explore their own ideas. Her interview on NPR a few years ago was also really good: http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2009/spiritualityofparenting/index.shtml There's a transcript you can read, or what I usually do is put on a podcast while I'm doing housework.

    I struggle with the same issue of wanting to let my kids have access to religion, but not knowing all the answers. It's perfectly okay to say, "I don't know," or to adjust answers so they're age appropriate, the same way you would if they ask where babies come from. I personally don't want my children hearing all the gory details of the crucifixion story just yet!

    They know that their dad is an atheist and doesn't believe in any sort of religion or spirituality at all. I like to think that gives them some freedom to question, to know they don't have to believe just because other people do.

  • Anonymous

    So helpful, THIS – "Do I believe this? Some days I don’t know. But it’s beautiful, and I want it to be true. I see no problem with living my life with the idea that it could be true, and I don’t mind if my daughter believes it."

    AND THIS – "If God really is worth serving, I don’t think that he is waiting for me to get every little thing right to achieve that exact formula for “truth”, or believe every moment with complete certainty. If God is a being that I will grow to love, then he will be patient with me. "

    Such a very helpful post, and those last two statements that I quoted above sum things up perfectly! I am afraid that I cannot genuinely answer your last two questions right now, so you are certainly a step ahead in the process. Thank you for writing – your expression of thoughts help me have direction with organizing my own thoughts. I am afraid that the "God in a box" Christianity with all the certainty and dogma is what ironically brought me to this place of UNcertainty, if that makes any sense!

    Dawn
    p.s. – I LOVE the parenting book!! I hope you continue an ongoing discussion of it as well. You are a blessing.

  • Anonymous

    “Easter is the day Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” (Why does it sound so weird, like I’m telling her that Sleeping Beauty is real?)

    It doesn't sound that way to me; quite the opposite, you're not saying it's real you're saying "Christians believe that…" which is true.

    How do I answer honestly about something that I’m not even sure I believe in some days?
    It sounds to me like you're doing great. Make it clear that the context is beliefs that some people hold and others might not. And if she asks about your own beliefs then you could honestly say "I'm not sure".

    @GodsPoliticalTeenager : the theory of evolution isn't about Dawkins. Nor is Genesis the only creation story out there for that matter.

    – Caravelle

  • http://nowealthbutlife.com Rae

    So I've been thinking about this post for a few days, and now that I see all of the other comments I realize that my thoughts went way off from what you were asking.

    Sort of off-topic: I know that young children often want answers when they want answers, but can you deflect a lot of this to your husband if you're not comfortable answering your daughters with adult lost-ness?

    And I LOVE this: "If God really is worth serving, I don’t think that he is waiting for me to get every little thing right to achieve that exact formula for “truth”, or believe every moment with complete certainty. If God is a being that I will grow to love, then he will be patient with me." So very true, and perhaps the most important thing to remember!

    I believe because I believe. And that is a huge part of why I don't feel the need to directly convince anyone else to believe. I believe in a God who draws people in differently at different times, and I have been drawn in. So it is one of those things where sometimes I act in a specific sort of way because I want to believe, but most of the time I just do believe, and I don't believe that my belief originates with me (as confusing as that sounds!).

  • love the questions

    Keep seeking and asking questions young mom. the healing and understanding will come.

    Excellent questions but I'll highlight this one:
    Community is good (but is sometimes painful and hurtful) "If we only hang out with people exactly like us, do we really have the capacity for true compassion and empathy?"

    So much of what I see in my church community and hear on the internet from Catholics involves isolating from and separating from the rest of the evil world. I am mostly surrounded by fundamentalist Catholics who believe EWTN and Steubenville have the correct and only theological interepretation of everything and they carry an air about them that they are the chosen ones. Everyone else is a cafeteria catholic. They really know the truth. They homeschool their kids or send them to a private orthodox Catholic HS and then send them to an uber-Catholic college. After the first 18 yrs of indoctrination they are not confident their kids will stay with the truth so they must go to a "real" catholic college lest they actually live in the world and be led astray. I think that is an easy way to live–always surrounded by those who never challenge your faith or beliefs or never to have to learn how to love people who don't vow their obedience to the Magisterium of the Church. Always reinforcing how good and holy you are and how evil everyone else is.

    Confession: I was once like this myself. In part because I did not have the social skills to live in the world and really thought I was "holier" by not living in the world. It has been quite a journey to get to where I am now. Both my husband and I agree if we can name only a few people we hang out with who do not hold our beliefs them something is wrong.

    Why do I believe?

    I find grace in the sacraments of the church. I have many unanswered difficult questions. I no longer accept magical thinking and do not agree that we must believe in creationism and a literal interpretation of scripture. I do not agree that we must ignore our conscience when it tells us to do something against church teaching (ie in the case of someone close to me using birth control due to life threatening pregnancies and an inability to use NFP)

    I find redemption, forgiveness, mercy and peace in my relationship with God. I know I have a soul and I know there is an Eternal Being.

    God (however you want to define that) is present in all that is good. I can see how much you love your kids, seek joy, and have compassion on others (notable gay/lesbian individualswhich you have touched upon). Keep asking the questions!!!

  • http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    When my son was 4, he suddenly asked me, "Did Jesus really rise from the dead, or is that just a believing?" I said, "I believe it, and our church teaches that it is true, but I don't know for absolutely sure because I wasn't there; I didn't see exactly what happened. I believe it because I can feel that Jesus is real and alive. What happened then isn't as important as what is true now."

    The next day, my son asked, "Is everything in the whole world made really of tiny dots, or is that just a believing?" Well, hey, the idea of atoms is about as unbelievable as the idea of the resurrection, isn't it? :-)

    I agree with Caravelle that "Christians believe that…" distances you from that belief, even if Ms. Action identifies herself and you as Christians. In the case of Jesus being killed on a cross on the Friday of Passover week, that probably is a matter of historical fact rather than belief. I have always said to my child, "We are remembering when ___" about each of the events of Holy Week; if I were less certain, I'd say, "We believe that ___", but I reserve, "[name of group] believe that ___" for beliefs I don't share, for example, "Jews believe it's wrong to use a light switch on Friday night," and similar rules which may give us an opportunity to help our neighbors as we live on the same block as an Orthodox synagogue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02614822971755761394 Rebecca

    I like how you said you are not a god unto yourself. What I appreciate so much about faith is that it coheres to the reality of sin that I see in the world, the brokenness. I love the verse in Romans 8 that says that "all creation groans." For me, it's in seeing the Scriptures as a Word outside of myself that I have hope. I know that inside me is a lot of confusion and brokenness. I need a Word outside of me to bring me truth and redemption.

    Thank you once again for sharing in an honest and vulnerable way. I think a lot of people struggle with these doubts. They just aren't honest about it. My life verse is, "I believe. Help Thou my unbelief."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15454965172669677301 Bethany

    I'm sorry I'm weighing in so late on this, but I couldn't not comment. You've put into words one of my hardest struggles right now–how to nurture my daughters' faith while my own is a heap of rubble. Honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing. When my six-year-old asks me questions about God, I do my best to answer her with my genuine beliefs rather than churchy answers. I don't know exactly where God is, but we can see the beautiful things he made all around us. No, I don't hear God talk, but when I get a sudden idea of how to love someone better, I think that's God communicating with me. I think heaven is a special word that means God will make everything right here on earth one day. I don't know, but the most important thing we can do is love.

    Despite feeling so muddled on these things, I don't want to just defer my girls' questions to my husband. I want them to grow up with a more open-minded view of religion than I did, and the last thing I want to do is teach them through my own actions that doubt and spiritual struggles aren't okay. If Jesus is the true representation of God, then he welcomes those of us who are feeling lost, who don't fit into the religious community, who need help to believe. "If God is a being that I will grow to love, then he will be patient with me." Exactly. And if God is real and loves intentionally and and can be trusted, then he will meet my girls in their own journeys whether or not I instill "correct" theology in them along the way.

  • Anonymous

    My faith defines who I am as a person. I grew up Catholic but it wasn't until my later teen years that my faith became personal to me. I'm not just Catholic because I was raised that way, I choose everyday to dedicate my life to Christ. I choose everyday to live for a "Yes", a yes like Mary in trust and love.

    Recently, a priest friend of mine was saying we have to be careful not to reduce our belief system to a no. "Who wants to live for a negative?", he asked and I feel like your life is an example of how right he is. It sounds like you were raised with a belief system centered around negatives. I can only imagine how hard it is to totally change how your
    approach to your faith without experiencing many doubts. Don't forget that faith is a free gift and grace from God, all you have to do is reach out and ask for it. Ask Him to show you how to live for a "Yes". How to see the beauty of His love and truth. Know that you are in my prayers as you seek the truth and always remember that the truth will set you free.

    -A fellow traveler on this earthly journey


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