Finding your faith for your kids
Growing up with faith has its benefits — the sense of community, the belonging, the feeling that there's something more.
When you've fallen away from your faith, it's hard to give that experience to your kids. Do they need it? And how do you find the right place of worship for you?
For some adults faith is a complicated thing. So many people that I know have fallen away from their religious origins and aren't sure how — or if — they should recapture them. And some have abandoned their faith entirely.
But when you have children, everything you do impacts them so things like faith become a heavier issue. Do your kids need faith?
The blessings of faith
If the idea of faith makes you cringe, look beyond the rules, requirements and yard stick-wielding nuns. Faith is much more than that (and doesn't have to include any of those). "Faith helps children recognize that there is more to life than just what they see around them. It is the basis for hope in something more than what obviously seems possible," says Karen-Marie Yust, author of Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children's Spiritual Lives and associate professor of Christian Education at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.
What's more is that faith underscores ethics and values that you probably want to instill in your child. "Religious traditions offer stories, rituals, values and communities that surround a child with imaginative ideas and encourage ethical decision-making," Yust explains.
Furthermore, the right faith environment can foster critical thinking skills, says Yust. "Although not all religious communities maintain such open engagement with children (or adults for that matter), those that do welcome the curiosity and critical questions of young people foster the integration of head and heart, as well as a sense of communal responsibility."
If you are ready to reclaim your faith, then your next step is to find your tribe, so to speak. "While families can pursue faith on their own, they will find the process easier if they share their spiritual journey with others," Yust notes. "A vibrant community of faith provides diverse perspectives that provoke debate and intellectual challenge, reinforces individual commitment to ethical action, demonstrates a way of living together that respects the gifts of all, and connects children with those who have gone before them and those who will follow in their footsteps."
Look for a congregation welcoming to families. "Parents should look for a faith community that genuinely appreciates children as participants in the congregation's life and shares the basic beliefs and values of the family. They should also seek a community with robust observance of rituals and holidays and a strong commitment to telling the stories of the faith in engaging ways," says Yust.
For those who've left the religion they grew up with for whatever reason, faith can be an even murkier subject. "For parents who are unsure about their own faith or disillusioned by prior experiences with religious communities, it can be helpful to remember that faith is not about assenting to a particular set of doctrines or championing a specific moral platform. Rather, faith is a gift from God, a way of being in the world that begins to shape every aspect of our beliefs and actions," Yust says.
In other words, you don't have to believe in every story, ritual and tradition to have faith. "Becoming faithful is a lifelong process of questioning the meaning and purpose of life, exploring the beauty of creation and human relationships, suffering through disappointment and loss, wondering about who God is and what God hopes for the world, and trying to make a difference," says Yust.
Believing in something — that there's more than what we can see in our limited view of the world — is important. It's a buoying force for kids and adults alike. "In an age when depression and suicide rates among youth and young adults are rising, nurturing faith in children provides an alternative way to see the world and their lives," notes Yust.
It may not be the magic solution to problems, but faith can help your kids in hard times. "It can be a way of life that helps children imagine new possibilities and hope for their realization, whatever happens," says Yust.