Nurturing your kids’ faith when you haven’t figured out your own yet

Recently I’ve been making my way through Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Yeah, it’s been out for a while, but you know… life.

I love this book for a number of reasons, not least of which is the sometimes startling honesty that permeates Rachel’s writing. Startling, because this kind of honesty… well, it’s not the norm for Christian authors.

cover-image1One example: when Rachel shares several reasons for being terrified of having children — something which, as she notes, can earn scorn from Christians who seem to think the whole point of being a woman is to churn out babies.

I waited eight years before becoming a parent, partly because I had many of the same fears that Rachel describes, especially this one:

I’m afraid that I have to figure out my own faith before I can pass it along to a new generation.

Today, I have a three-and-a-half year-old daughter who has captured my heart. A few weeks from now, I’ll hold my son in my arms for the first time.

And I don’t have my own faith figured out.

It’s not for lack of trying. I keep searching, wondering, fumbling in the dark. I used to be more certain in what I believed (and in the importance of being certain in what you believe), but then, you know… life.

The pressure to have it all figured out affects parents, would-be parents, and not-sure-if-they-want-to-be-parents alike. It’s real. I’ve felt it.

I know the pressure to be the perfect Christian parent who raises perfect Christian kids who have all the answers, pray the sinner’s prayer as soon as they can talk, and never question anything.

We’ve been told good Christian parents instill rock-solid faith in their kids, the implication being that if we project even the smallest doubt or the slightest hesitation when they ask difficult questions, their faith will melt away faster than you can say “evolution.”

We’re afraid they’ll see uncertainty as weakness, as a sign of something deficient in the faith we (aspire to) profess and live.

But what if our fear is misplaced? What if they see something else in us when we admit to not having all the answers? What if they see authenticity? Honesty?

What if we don’t have to figure out our own faith before we can pass it on to a new generation?

What would happen if we modeled a different kind of faith, one that leaves room for uncertainty? What if we gave our kids permission to be inquisitive, to wonder, to even doubt?

Would it really be the end of Christianity as we know it? Or is it possible our kids will find an inherently inquisitive faith to be more attractive than the kind that insists on having all the answers?

To be honest, I don’t know. If you’re looking for a foolproof model for passing your faith to the next generation, I don’t have one. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist.

Faith is a risky venture. There are no guarantees. There are no foolproof models. (Isn’t that one reason why we call it faith?)

One thing I’m sure of, though: a faith that leaves no room for doubt, one that insists on having it all together (or pretending to) — that kind of faith doesn’t have a future.  That kind of faith leads to disillusionment and even loss of faith when kids suddenly face questions they can’t answer.  

So I won’t pretend for the sake of my kids to have it all figured out. Then again, maybe you don’t have to have everything figured out in order to belong. Maybe belonging is what really matters — being part of a community of people, none of whom have their faith completely figured out either. Maybe belonging can help us overcome our unbelief.

I want my kids to know they belong, no matter how much or little they think they’ve got “figured out.” I want them to know it’s OK not to know everything. Uncertainty is not the enemy.

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul urged his friends to work out their faith with fear and trembling. That doesn’t sound to me like the posture of someone who has it all figured out.

For Paul, faith wasn’t something you possessed. It wasn’t something you mastered or acquired. It wasn’t the end of the journey but the beginning of one. It’s something we have to keep working at, something we get to discover and rediscover anew every day.

That’s the kind of faith I want to pass along to my children: an inquisitive faith — one that never stops wondering, never stops asking. A faith that’s OK with not having every detail figured out.

In the end, it’s up to each couple whether or not to have kids. And choosing not to have kids doesn’t make you any less of a family than those who do. But if you have kids, or are thinking about having kids, the fact that you don’t have your own faith figured out is not a liability. It’s a gift.


8 thoughts on “Nurturing your kids’ faith when you haven’t figured out your own yet

  1. I really enjoyed your article Ben. It’s obvious that you are a conscientious parent and your children are very fortunate.

    My father was an Atheist/Agnostic when I was born. His big hang up was ‘where did God come from?’ No one could ever answer that question for him, therefore, he was unable to believe. When I was a toddler he decided to delve into the Bible and really analyze it (btw my father is a genius). He spent years doing research, and read and cross referenced the Bible daily, and came to the concrete conclusion that the Bible is, without any doubt, the inspired word of God.

    Did his question: Where did God come from ever get answered? No! But he didn’t need that question answered to be 100% convinced that the Bible is the word of God. He analyzed Bible prophecy and would mathematically correlate events down to our day. He created elaborate Biblical charts and would mesmerize my sister and me with his Biblical knowledge. By the time we were young children (under the age of 10) we too were convinced of our belief in God. I will be forever grateful to him for that.

    The two biggest problems Christians face today are: (1.) Knowing enough about the Bible to convince their children and even themselves that the Bible really is the inspired word of God (it requires a lot of research and effort) and: (2.) Taking the time in this busy world to teach and instill moral values in their children based on Bible principals, and setting good examples themselves. Most people become so bogged down with trying to financially survive in every day life, that they become too tired, or feel they don’t have the time, but, their children are their greatest assets, and to ignore their spiritual needs would be their biggest mistake.

    You are one of those rare people Ben who take the time to care. You are and will be an excellent parent. Congratulations on your soon to be son:)


  2. Wonderful post. I’m having the same problem with my faith. I come from a Muslim background, and married a Jewish man. So I’m trying to figure things out while raising three kids.

    I wish you the best of luck.


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