Let me start this post by saying that I write with an open heart, and I hope you read with one as well. We're all searching for comfort and purpose, no matter which lens we use to look at life. ***
Here's a brief synopsis of my relationship with religion and faith — My parents were both raised super-duper Catholic — as in slap-happy nuns ran their school classrooms, with long rulers and stern warnings. They told us ridiculous stories about the terrifying nuns — like how they tried to correct left-handed penmanship because "the devil lives in your left hand." My parents didn't seem too traumatized, however, because I started life in the Catholic church — CCD and all.
We left the Church when I was around 6 years old. My dad was divorced prior to marrying my mom, and he always felt judged and shamed while sitting in the pews. We went "church shopping" around the area — an experience that exposed me to all sorts of religious sects, including the hands-in-the-air, touch-your-forehead-and-faint type. It was an eye-opening experience, albeit a bit discouraging for my parents who were searching for a healthier religion to raise their daughters.
They settled on a Reformed Church, and I don't even know what that means except it was a chill, happy place that gave me a sense of community more than faith. Throughout the years, my parents and sister slid into the "holiday congregant" category, but I stayed pretty active in the church until graduating high school. Again, it wasn't the religion that kept me coming back (I played handbells — total nerd alert), it was my friends (who, to be fair, were equally embarrassed about playing handbells. It was the best-kept secret of our teenage lives).
But I was and continue to be fascinated by religion. On long car rides home at night, I'd prompt Bible stories from my Dad as I sat in the backseat, my faint 9-year-old reflection staring up at a splattering of stars, trying to make sense of it all. I went on to study religion in college (through the context of culture and politics), and then I continued more informal studying on my couch, devouring Netflix documentaries.
(Fun fact: My husband and I are all about Netflix documentaries, except he chooses nature documentaries and I prefer religious documentaries. We meet in the middle with the social and history genre. We're way cool people.)
All of this is to say that I'm utterly fascinated with theology and spirituality and the Big Questions — whether it's ancient beliefs or new-age futuristic theories.
But being fascinated with the questions doesn't mean I have the answers, and Noah wants answers. He isn't emotionally or intellectually developed enough to really talk about these things, of course, so it's just comfort. He needs comfort. And I don't have a script for that —
When my uncle died, and then our cat died shortly after, he started to wonder where they went. We used the standard God and heaven explanation, but I had this gut-wrenching uncomfortableness with it because I didn't totally believe what I was saying. I consciously knew that my trepidation was pretty transparent and would do nothing to ease his anxieties, yet I kept finding myself answering his questions with "Well some people believe..."
It was like a nervous tic — an uncontrollable hiccup — that I couldn't stop saying.
Around this time, a young-mom writer Brandy (remember her guest post?) came to me with a project she was working on: Wild Goslings — a book on how to teach our children about God in our modern world. I tried to contribute an essay, but my thoughts were messy and each draft took me further from any resemblance of a traditional God. (The book is now available on Amazon, so take a peek if you're interested!)
Then I started reading about how more Millennials are disassociating themselves with organized religion or at least feeling very uncomfortable with traditional Church doctrines.
THEN I had a really open-minded, in-depth conversation with a Christian young-mom friend of mine, where we compared notes and feelings. I said to her, "You're so lucky you have a set script to teach your daughter, I feel completely lost." And her response was, "Yeah, but on the other hand, I have to worry about what she'll be exposed to" — referring to certain social aspects of the church, as well as assumptions about her social views. She believes in Jesus, not so much everything the church stands for — and she's been having a hard time finding a balance.
AND THEN I discovered that there are plenty of other young Millennial moms who are struggling. Gemma wrote a beautiful essay about her struggle, and my friend Heidi has been talking about it on her blog and in our personal emails. (Coincidentally, both Gemma and Heidi have signed on to be regular contributors here at Early Mama.)
Before I had Noah, I never thought these were questions that should or could be answered. I assumed the issue of religion-and-parenting would be tricky for our (far, far in the future) children — considering Justin isn't religious, either — but here I am at 26 years old, parenting an inquisitive 4-year-old boy, more unsure than ever.
I'm wondering how you feel about this topic. Is it something you struggle with, too? What do you teach your children, if you aren't religious? Or are you happy to have found a comfortable, unwavering faith? I'd love for you to share, in the comments below.
And stay tuned for a post from Heidi about the soul-searching books that changed her life.