An Inherited Faith

The other day as I was getting Sean ready for church, I stood him up on a chair so that I could comb his hair.

“How many eyes does God have?” he asked.

“Well, um, let’s see,” I stammered, caught off guard. Like many people, the image I have in mind of God is somewhat like Santa Claus in pajamas.

“The Bible says that we are made in God’s image. Since we have two eyes it would stand to reason that he has two eyes. So that’s what I think. But I don’t really know for sure, no one has ever seen God.”

He twisted his mouth to one side as he considered this.

“Well then how does he see everything we’re doing?” he countered. “I think he has 42.”

“You could be right,” I said.

And then he jumped off the chair and showed me how he could hop backwards on one foot.

As I watched this funny little boy hopping, wobbling, falling over and starting again, I realized that I didn’t want him to just accept what I told him about God.

I don’t want him to simply inherit my faith on a silver platter.  More than anything, I want him to have the heart of a seeker. I want him to wrestle with God. I want him to search for the truth, to be a critical thinker. I want him to challenge what the world will tell him about God. I want him to come to a decision about his creator on his knees, through his own reckoning, maybe through his own suffering and disappointment, as every generation must.

And in doing so, his faith may not look exactly like mine.

May God grant me the grace to accept that.

46 thoughts on “An Inherited Faith

  1. Wise, wise words. My faith was “inherited” and that became a problem of its own eventually. Now my parents have a hard time accepting that my faith is not EXACTLY like theirs. We are not really that different, but just enough that it bothers them.
    I suspect AD may have a harder time than you if Sean sees things a little differently than the two of you.

  2. I look at my older children and cringe. But the Bible promises that if we train up a child, they will not depart from it. It may not be in my lifetime but it happens. I have recently seen it with my older sister. She hadn’t walked into a church to worship in 25 years. Family situations forced her to look at her life & see what was missing. She realized she needed a personal relationship with God & now she’s in church. I just wish our Daddy had lived to see it.

  3. AMEN!! Very well said. That is exactly what I wish for my two teenage boys…their OWN faith, their OWN deep, personal relationship with our Lord. But may I be the example that causes them to seek that…

  4. I think this is a very healthy thing to do. Good for you, Mama.
    I think inherited faith is often meaningless. Of course, there are exceptions, but when we mature to the age of being able to make decisions like this on our own, we will go seeking and find what’s right for us. This could be around 16~19, however, and think about the things that influence young people around this age. Yeah, probably better to find God on his own sometime before the scary teenage years. 🙂

  5. I taught at a faith-based school for a number of years and saw so many of my students leave the faith when they left school. This truly saddened me but I began to realize it was because they had been taught it, but never lived it. How right you are.

  6. Amen! Like Happy Geek, I taught at a faith-based school, and I saw the exact same thing: kids that don’t internalize their faith will leave it. It’s such an important step. They need to make it their own.

  7. Beautifully said. My teens have each taken a different path, right now in opposite directions. I fully support them on their journey, and hope that their journey continues throughout their lives and that they grow throughout all of their days. My husband has a hard time with this–he does not understand their search. He accepted what his parents taught him and thought that our children would do the same. Boy, was he wrong.

    I recently heard a rabbi speak on “wrestle with God.” She spoke about how Jacob wrestled with God and his name was changed to Israel. And that is who we are, people who wrestle with God–that is the journey. There is where you find growth.

  8. You are a very generous mother. Your son will always appreciate that you gave him the free will to be his genuine self. And most likely, he will never fall far away from where you are today, because the faith you are in right now made you secure enough to be that generous.

  9. i couldn’t agree more with your words. i have a sister who i am positive, one of the reasons she fell away from the church, was because she had never searched and pondered on her own, she didn’t have a relationship with God, so when temptation came, she surrendured to it. it is so important to teach our children the principles we believe, but there is only so much we can do for them to gain a personal testimony (even though we need to do all we can do). we all have our agency. and if we truly want our faith to stand the test of time, it must be our own, not our parents, or anyone else’s. even though questioning is scary for us sometimes, it is the greatest way anyone can grow, to sincerely question something, then seek, and find an answer. that is really how you gain a relationship with God.

  10. You echo my heart these days. Especially as I watch my older children grow up and make this faith their own.
    It’s hard to see them go through difficult things, but it is awesome to see them turn to the Lord in the midst of it.

    You are showing Sean an honest and genuine faith (it seems that way to me anyways 🙂 and that will stick with him. Kids are excellent at spotting a fraud, he’ll see the difference as he gets older.

    It is however an awesome thing to hope and pray that we’ve put everyting in them that they need for this life- when of course we couldn’t have.
    Thankfully I know that the Lord loves them even more than I do.


  11. I oh so can relate to your desire for your son. I have ben comtemplating this issue for some time. I often catch my self realizing I believe what I believe just b/c my folks said so. Not that what they lived did not positively affect is just that I, too, think our kids must wrestle with their beliefs and even with God. Well said. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I volunteer in youth ministry. Today we will embark on a journey with twenty eighth graders to (we pray) help them understand their own faith and make it their own. I encourage you in your efforts to explore Sean’s faith with him while sharing your own. Borrowed faith beats no faith, and exploring faith will give him a frame of reference from which to experience a lifetime of great conversations with God.

  13. Each person comes to The Lord in their own time. The injunction to “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it”–Proverbs 22:6 remains just as valid today as when it was written. Even if a child sows some wild oats in his life, the seeds you planted in his four year old heart will germinate at the right time. I don’t believe it is ever wrong to let your children know where you stand on these things. I claimed that verse for my oldest daughter when she married (we thought he was a jerk) and though she is divorced, she still loves The Lord. Your relationship with Sean sounds just about perfect.

  14. Agreed with Sally. Just today our pastor was preaching on the fact that not everyone will even know when they cross the line from unbeliever to believer, and that’s okay. You may see what you think is fruit in Sean’s life, but he may not really “come into his own” faith until much later on. Of course, I think as mothers, we all pray that God will give them the grace to believe and follow Him sooner than later so that they can be spared (and spare us) a lot of the dirt and heartache that comes with an unregenerate soul. I guess that it’s a hugely sanctifying process for mothers, too!

  15. I was so thrilled to receive an email back from you regarding the comment to the soccer mom post. I told my husband that I felt like a celebrity had contacted me, thank you for spicing up my dull little part of the world!

    That same four year old boy I was speaking about yesterday has just begun attending church and sunday school this past fall. His attention span was somewhat limited up until that point. The pastor told them on the Sunday after Christmas that Christmas was never over, well let me tell you that he ran with that one. Just this past week he told me that he was going to ask the heaven guys to make sure that we would be put side by side in heaven. I asked him who he thought the heaven guys were, he replied he wasn’t sure.

    You are a very wise mother to realize we can teach and guide, but these children are God’s gift to us.

  16. That’s amazing! Please tell Sean I always pictured God having 42 eyes too
    Seriously, I like when they throw us for a loop on something like this. Makes us think as moms. It’s good for us.

  17. A really good post! You have hit the nail on the head!

    I echo what others have said. We have seven, now adult children. They have each come into their own faith at different points and in different ways. We may not all agree on some minor theological details, but all love the Lord and want to please Him and honor Him with their lives. They want the same for their children. I am so grateful to God for this, it is an answer to my heart’s prayer for them for so many years!

    I believe that the Parable of the Sower and the four soils is an excellent model to keep in mind: we fertilize, plow, remove rocks and toss seed until we see more than greenery–we see fruit. I see this fruit to be the fruit of the Spirit– evidence of new life and the new desires produced by the Spirit. Too often we parents are content with ‘greenery’ and hang our hats on the externals such as a ‘salvation prayer,’ verses memorized, church attendance, youth group activities, and so on which may just be conformity to (or enjoyment of) the church culture around them. A good thing, but not the real thing. The real thing is in the heart, between them and God.

  18. I grew up with nothing, no faith, no church, no rules, or at least not any my parents enforced with any regularity. I was showered with “let her figure it out for herself, let her make her own decisions about it.”

    It left me horribly worried and filled with anxiety. I had no center,no reasons why anything was right or wrong. I had no purpose. It left me afraid, insecure, and constantly second guessing everything. I was forced to rely on the television for guidance.

    I came to a very strong faith on my own, and so if the end result is all that matters I would suppose my parents succeeded, however, it came with a great price, and it took me until 40 to find my way.

    Give your son the truth, that’s a gift. It’s in the Bible. It’s the most loving thing you will ever do for him.

    I enjoy your blog. You are a gifted writer, and a loving, wonderful woman.


  19. Karen, thanks for the comment. I don’t disagree with what you are saying, however, if you think that I am suggesting that Sean should be given a blank slate and let the world fill in the blanks then you misread/misunderstood the post or are not familiar with my blog. Of course we provide Sean with the foundation of our faith, but one that allows room for and even provides room for questioning and seeking, one that combines the intellectual pursuit of faith along with the spiritual. My point was that I want him to own his faith, not to just inherit mine. To put it in banal terms, I think there is a big difference between inheriting a fortune and earning it with your own hands.

  20. You know, the actual URL of my blog is Borrowed Light, because at the time that I created my blog (and, well, actually still today to an extent) I was really struggling with what I believed, and just leaning on what my husband and family believed. Borrowing their light until I could light a fire of my own. I just couldn’t write about it. It was, oddly (since I seem to have almost no “too private” filter whatsoever), too personal to write about. But the URL remains, as does the struggle.

    You are a great mom. Your son will be blessed by your example.

  21. December struck and I haven’t had a minute to stop by to visit in ages. I read post after post and remembered how much I like the way you think and the way you string words and thoughts together so beautifully.


  22. This is a gorgeous post. I think that raising our kids up with a strong faith is such an act of hope: hope that they’ll keep their faith, that they will share our love and our passion. And of course they’re their own people right from their very first day, and so raising our kids is also this huge act of hope and trust – hoping and trusting in them.

  23. AM, thank you for this post. Would you mind if I linked it on my post for tomorrow? Just drop me an e-mail if you have time – I won’t post until I hear back from you.

  24. My mother has never gotten over her unbending Catholicism making all four of her children fall off the God-wagon. However, I’m trying to raise my daughter in my husband’s laid-back, small-town protestant church, because if she can find a faith that she believes in, I think it will make her all the stronger. I’ll try to let her make the choice herself (though I dread trying to come up with answers when she starts asking me stuff!).

  25. Having grown up with missionary parents I’ve always heard the line, “God doesn’t have any grandchildren.” We’re all children of God—adopted into his kingdom. I’ve heard my dad preach at least one sermon with this title.

    Since my kids are of an age that they are beginning to wrestle with faith–I hope–and outwardly saying stuff like–“I’m not going to church anymore, it doesn’t do anything for me.”

    I have become convicted that I do not pray hard enough for “our” teens. This really hits home as I see teens from our church and other teens very good CHRISTIAN families getting into serious trouble. I have had to come to God and ask His forgiveness for only praying for my teens.

  26. AM–You are so eloquent at expressing yourself. I wish I had half the writing skills you do.
    I feel strongly what you said, it’s a lot of why I feel strongly about where we live and raising our children here. I think it’s not only important for our children to have the opportunity to find faith in their own way, but to have exposure to many other faiths so that they can understand what they believe in context to other’s beliefs. (Did that make any sense at all?) Living in the SF Bay Area has so much diversity questions about what others do and why come up almost daily. I love that about here. In many respects we are learning and growing together.
    Because of exactly what Karen said about feeling lost, we go to church regularly now and DD1 is enrolled in “Sunday School”. I want her to find her own relationship with faith, but as a child I don’t want her to feel lost. It’s important to kids to have some good solid answers to things in their life. Until they become teenagers, when they start questioning everything, they need a basis in which to feel comfortable.

    Bridgette—I was raise Catholic (lite) and I know the church wouldn’t want me representing them on most issues, nor would I begin to think I could, since I don’t agree with many of the things they teach. However, going to Catholic mass is what going to church is to me. I like the formality of it I guess. Anyway, my point is that your mother sounds like she might be a bit fanatical about the practice of her faith; not all of us are like that. Remember there are fanatics in every religion. I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s really about faith & spirituality. Religion is the way in which we practice those things, and I think too many people consider them to be one in the same.

    Ok, I’m hijacking you comments AM, sorry.

  27. This is a beautiful post. I know you call yourself an antique, but it’s posts like these that make me wonder if we shouldn’t all have our families in our 40s. I know this is your story, and only yours, but it still begs the question in my head. 🙂

  28. My faith is not exactly that of my parents. . .close. . .but not exact. . .and my children CONSTANTLY amaze me when through asking me a question, they teach me more than I can teach them.

  29. I’m guessing that may be one of the toughest parts of being a parent. My parents aren’t so good with it. Sometimes I feel like they’d rather me end up losing my faith altogether, rather than leave the church I grew up in.

  30. I admire how you are teaching your son to be a critical thinker. I too always want my boys to critcal think about things and not to follow blindly. Through this they shall find their inner faith and what that is to them. At least I hope!

  31. I have some seekers, and I have some accepters. The seekers take my heart and wring it out regularly with painful twisting. It’s much harder than I thought it would be to witness the wrestling.

  32. I applaud you for your courage to allow your son to find his own faith. My faith journey was only deepened by rejecting the faith thrust upon me by my family at the age of 27. It took a long time and many paths to get to the point I am now, so close with my God. Same is true for all – to find God it must be on your own terms.

    Loving your blog!

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