My Daughter is a Christian – I’m Not

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

Faith in the Infinite for AllI recently blogged about My Faith – For Nowdiscussing 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

Chip & NatalieI’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.  

  • steve schwam

    wow, wow, Chip. Inside you is “the love of Christ” you express it in your concerns of love, compassion, desire to not hurt people and especially you own children. What I think will eventually happen, and will continue to pray for this is that thru Natalie and her witness to you you will have that same experience she has felt/seen/experienced and loves . You are a great Dad/father. I had a long conversation with my older daughter many years ago about Christianity , She asked me if I was saved (i was not a believer in Christ, thought there was something greater then just “being” but had no desire for religion , raised a Jew, did not practice, (love good Bagels though) So when she asked be if I was born again I went into this long discussion about things she did not understand, long winded , Sorta Like this’ Well Mandy, there are many different beliefs of God and different religions blah blah. ) sound great at the time since I was older and smarter then her. years later, looking back I felt like an Ass. Better and smarter then her. instead of only being concerned for her. This I do not see U doing. I love ya man. mean that. Give it time, everything will come into place. And you never know, it could be Natalie that is the reason that you change note her. We just don’t know that stuff. If it was not for Mandy’s Bible that she needed for the Christian school the Jew was putting her in. the day I asked a real serious question late at night to someone that I respected regarding the “Christ stuff” I would not have had the Bible he asked me to get if I had one. That night I had what Mark M talks about. An Encounter with God.
    Again. I admire your love for your daughter and concern. don’t get tooo deep if you feel the need to discuss why you left the church ( little C) just listen to her and wait , time will work things out.

    • Charles Payet

      Steve, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and our dialogue, both here and on FB. Thank you.

      In the sense that I believe Christ truly taught universal love and forgiveness, without all the dogma associated with Christianity, then yes…….I am and always will carry the spirit of Christ in my heart. Yes, I try to live my life every day, in the ways that I believe Christ taught. Do I believe much, if any, of the Bible? Nope. Could I ever again say ANY Christian creed with integrity? Nope. Do I feel even remotely comfortable in ANY church? Nope. So it is highly doubtful that I will ever become a “Christian” again. I don’t want to be a member of ANY faith/religion, because all of them are built up with so much dogma.
      I have had multiple encounters with the Divine Source of Being – encounters of such infinite peace and love, that I have no doubt of their nature. But they were never encounters with “God” or :”Jesus.”
      Simply put – I am far happier and more at peace as a non-Christian than I ever was as a Christian. But in the sense that we are all creations of the Infinite…….we are all one; we are all “Children of God.”

      • Tammy Jakubik

        Chip, have you read “Evidence that Demands a Verdict?”. BTW, thank you for being cool enough to support Natalie’s spiritual choices.

        • Charles Payet

          Tammy, I have read a fair amount of it many years ago. It didn’t convince me – and that was even when I was a Christian.

          And of course I will support Natalie; she’s my daughter and I love her. What else need there be? My parents taught me as much as faith did, that true love is unconditional, especially for our children. Even when they do drive us nuts sometimes, right? 😉

    • 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.

      you may someday find a different path….

      Chip, The second quote shows you want Natalie to be open to God and faith. The first quote says you have closed doors in your faith experience.

      Chip, understand that when I was younger like you I believed what you believe, but some life changing experiences brought me full circle. I am glad I did not shut any doors. Tom

  • You really told your daughter who has immersed her life in Christ that you have forgotten more about Christianity than you’ve learned yet? How patronizing! And you have this in the “all I ask is respect” part. Why would anyone enter dialogue with you under the posturing you are doing.. To what end do you need her to know why you abandoned Christ. Is it for her, or you, Chip?

    If I were Natalie,, i would feel that Satan was alive and well in your life and your need to tell me about how peaceful and correct your views of faith are satanic recruitment. I would not want to subject myself to that.

    Just love her Chip, and let the need to be heard and understood go. It is your issue, not hers.

  • Charles Payet

    First, I don’t “need” Natalie to know why. If she never asks, that’s OK. If she does, that’s OK. That’s why I said “IF and WHEN she’s ready.”
    Secondly, I have no need to tell her that “my” views of faith are correct. They are only correct for me. I have zero need to convince ANYONE to believe what I do; this is simply me sharing my journey and beliefs. Don’t like them? Cool with me.
    As for “satanic recruitment,” well…….yeah, I have little use for that. i don’t believe in Satan or hell, either. If Natalie chooses to believe that I am part of that, that’s her choice and belief. Most of what people believe about “hell” isn’t even accurate, even within the Bible.
    As for doors open or shut? You somehow missed that part of my response to Steve – I know the door of Christianity is always open, sure, but I’m much happier having walked out of it and into others.

    • Mark Metternich

      Never confuse a big dose of messy religion from a personal encounter/relationship with the living Christ. One is counterfeit designed to drive away and best to throw away. The other life.

      • Charles Payet

        You know, Mark, that is a very frequent response, but it’s one with which I have a big problem. To respond properly, however, will take a lite more than a reply space here. If you’ll give me a week or so (because I have some work-related blogging and social media work to do, with a Friday deadline), I will tell you why I think that is a false dichotomy, or at least, a dichotomy with the other side usually ignored, or put another way – a dichotomy not recognized for what it is.

  • Thanks for responding Chip. This blog is not about your religious beliefs but how to relate to your daughter, am I right?

    I mentioned the repect thing because you put conditions on the respect in a patronizing way. The reality is you deserve that respect and honor because you are her dad…period . The rest of the telling her how you EARNED the respect just doesn’t matter.

    New bible based Christians are more black and white in their thinking and if you are a gray area you may not be where they want to venture… so I like the fact that you support her journey and that you told her so ..that should make it safer to venture to you. Just remember that you are in the “he who is not with Me is against Me” category.

    Facebook and other social media is not the place to relate to your children, or to spy on them : ) Facetime (video phone) is awesome however as you can really get body language and facial expressions and communicate on more levels.