This letter is for my daughter Natalie, because I love her very much, and because it’s not easy for us sometimes. It’s not easy to communicate, especially, for many reasons: age, experience, and education are among the obvious ones, but these days, one of the biggest challenges is because of the difference in what we believe about God.
Parenting a Child of a Different Faith
I recently blogged about My Faith – For Now, discussing my beliefs about the Divine Infinite. As I mentioned in the intro to that piece, it was prompted in part by some recent religious discussions in which I’d engaged with friends on Facebook. (As much as I actually like Google+ a lot more, I try to keep my Circles there restricted to science and photography.) Since then, I’ve been reading a couple books, including The Birth of Christianity, by John Dominic Crossan, and continuing to engage in some discussions about the historical Jesus, Jesus’ divinity, etc. Basically, though, while I still thoroughly enjoy learning about Christianity, I actually left the faith about 10 years ago and have zero interest in reversing course.
Well, Natalie texted me recently, saying that it was sometimes difficult for her to be my FB friend, because those discussions come up on her Wall, and given that I’m arguing against what she believes, it is very understandable that she’d be upset. Natalie was born and raised a Zoroastrian, but early in high school, she became involved with Young Life, and she eventually accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. Since then, her faith has only grown stronger and deeper, and while she probably doesn’t understand why that makes me happy, it is a beautiful thing to see Jesus change her life – ummmmm, even though I don’t believe in Jesus as she does. Kind of a strange Catch-22, isn’t it?
To Discuss Faith with Her, or Not?
Ever since Natalie chose to give her life to Christ, there has been a tension between us, as it were, and it has made talking about Christianity and her newfound faith rather difficult. We kind of dance around it; I try as hard as possible to listen openly when she has questions, or needs to talk about her faith developing, or a challenge she’s faced, and to just be empathetic. How well do I succeed? As any parent knows, that depends on the day.
One topic that we have never discussed, though, has been the question, “Why did I leave Christianity?” I’ve touched on the subject briefly in my post Why Do You Think What You Think?, but I have still avoided broaching this question with Natalie, and she hasn’t asked. Why? Because I don’t think either of us are ready for that discussion. 🙂
It can be great being so connected these days; when I was in college, it was a lot more difficult to stay in regular touch with our parents or my sister. No cell phones, less email, no texting, no Facebook or Twitter, anything like that; we had to arrange regular times for phone calls to be sure that both sides were around a phone. Now? We’re in touch at any given instant through a wide variety of methods – cell phone, laptop, tablet, desktop. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to get away! LOL And while it is wonderful, there are definitely times that both sides probably wish there were a bit more of a disconnect, or a way to separate certain things.
I understand Natalie’s difficulty, and I wish I had some answer besides telling her, “Well, just don’t read those FB discussions.” But how do I have the opportunity to engage in adult debate and discourse with people on topics that Natalie and I can’t discuss yet? Quite frankly, I don’t have an answer beyond that one. I want to stay connected with Natalie, but without hurting her or her faith.
I Love Natalie’s Faith
I’ve told her this before, but I’m not sure yet that she believes me completely, which is quite understandable. After all, why should I love that she loves Jesus if I don’t love Jesus in the same way? So why do I love her faith so much? For one very simple and powerful reason:
Ultimately, I believe that the Divine meets each and every one of us, right where and how and when we need to be met. Therefore, God has met Natalie where she is, and that meeting has transformed her life. What else need there be, but the transformative power of love that Jesus IS?
And ultimately, that’s also why I don’t want to have the discussion of WHY I left Christianity until Natalie is ready and asks. Quite frankly, I hope she doesn’t ask for many years, because I see what Jesus has done for her life, and in no way would I ever want to do anything to hurt her. If I share my story and my journey, especially at this time, as she is learning and growing in her faith, that could well be the worst thing I could do. What kind of parent would do that?
All I Ask is Respect
My dearest Natalie, as I close this letter, I hope you truly know how much I love you and want only the best for you. I know that you don’t understand, and that’s OK. I’ve been where you are and understand far more than you think I do. And that is why I try mostly to just listen. One day, if and when you’re ready, I will be here to tell you why. In the meantime, all I ask of you is respect. Not just because I’m your Dad, but because I spent 30+ years of my life as a devout Christian, and I’ve probably forgotten more about Christianity and Jesus than you’ve learned yet. Just as I could have never conceived of leaving the Faith back at your age, you may one day find a different path….or you may only grow stronger in your faith for as long as you live. Whatever you do – I love you and will always do my best to support you.