“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” -Buddha
This is a quote that resonates so deeply with me. In the current wake of so many injustices among Blacks (and other Ethnic groups), Homosexuality, Crime, etc., I find that this quote by Buddha sheds the light on our need for spirituality more than ever. In addition, as a Mama to a 2 year old boy (who is Black as it relates to today’s current of events), who is constantly growing and gaining more and more insight on everything around him; I find myself worried about how I will one day (very sooner than later) explain some of these issues without compromise to any side. I realize that many of these issues are not “Black and White” and cannot be so easily wrapped in one reason, so how do you explain it? The Good, Bad and Ugly of introducing Religion to your Child begins…….
Being a Christian, who holds steadfast to many of the Bible’s systems and beliefs, I constantly struggle with the idea of explaining Homosexuality (one of the biggest controversies) to my son in particular. Living in NYC (where it has become legal for Gay couples to be married) you see Homosexual more vividly and outwardly. Personally, this does not bother me because I love everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, etc. However, I’m a bit hesitant with having to explain this to my son, because although I am accepting of people, I am not so much thrilled to have to explain the differences to my son as it relates religious views/values (in terms of the Bible’s standpoint vs. reality), who will inevitably and innocently wonder about it. But the main question lies—when do you introduce religion to your child?
Personally, I’m not religious at all. I don’t attend church every Sunday. I won’t quote a scripture to you during every meet and I won’t declare my religion to you at the first chance I get based on making you feel inadequate, etc. Granted, there isn’t anything wrong with those who do this (except for those who do it maliciously as a way to belittle others of course), however, being raised in a Church environment my entire life, I’ve seen so many people use Church as a “cover” or veil instead of as a trans-formative place of being. I love church. And I love the truth that it brings, along with the openness for everyone to be on one accord, giving reverence & praise to God. For me, sometimes it just feels like that “purpose” of Church is often missed and it becomes a place of competition, need for recognition, and a whole lot of other stuff. But that’s for another post! Anyway, I’m a big believer in having a spiritual relationship with God and we strive for this in my house. My little guy has been exposed to several sermons on TV since he was born (by default to us watching), and there are a few that we watch religiously, which he’s very familiar with and would sometimes sit and watch for a few moments with us. At this point, he knows the Preacher’s voices on site (i.e. Bishop T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Noel Jones, Joyce Meyer, just to name a few!) and understands that this is our norm.
He even understands that we pray before every meal. He enjoys listening to Christian/Gospel music (he even has 2 or 3 faves!). That’s our other norms. However, I’ve ever so often thought about the idea of introducing him to more once he’s able to fully grasp other things (such as praying before bed, reading a kid’s version of the bible, etc.). Some people bring their child to Sunday school once they’ve reached a certain age as a way of exposure. In Sunday School, your child can learn about the bible, sing songs as it relates to God, etc. That’s great! I don’t mind it. But I’m not sure how I feel about it, truly. It’s a tough place to be. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m trying to do things differently. Not so different that it’s ridiculous of course, but different enough that it makes an actual difference. I don’t want my little guy to feel like God is only present in Church and that you can’t access Him outside of Church doors. While at the same time, I don’t want him to be wrapped up in the idea of being “religious” and not effectively walking in Christ. I want his understanding to stretch beyond the “place of being” to just “being”. I want him to fully understand the bible and actually walk in love and be a light for others to see. I want him to help others and understand the importance of loving those that don’t love you (not for their comfort, but for your character). I want him to further understand that it’s not about the type of Church you attend, what you wear, or how often you go, that makes you a Christian, but it’s your relationship with Christ outside of the Church doors, which reflects that when others have an encounter with you. Far too often, I’ve seen people attend Church all their lives and simply never effect change in another life, all the while, our main purpose is to do so.
According to Lisa Miller, Ph.D, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, in New York City, “When it comes to spirituality, we parents are just our kids’ ambassadors. We can show them around, but we don’t need to know everything.” Miller also believes that exploration is well worth the effort. Miller’s research indicates that personal spirituality results in much more than just a nice warm, fuzzy feeling. She says kids who develop a sense of a loving higher power or a guiding force—whether they call it God, creator, Allah or simply “loving universe”—are 80 percent less likely to suffer major depression and 50 percent less likely to suffer from substance abuse as teens. Similarly, a study from the University of British Columbia, in Canada, found that children who are spiritual (and researchers clearly separated “spirituality” from “attending church services” or “belonging to a church”) tend to be significantly happier individuals overall. Having an understanding of something greater than themselves seems to enhance children’s sense of personal meaning and purpose, and to reinforce their connections to their community and to other people.
In every religion there is love, yet love has no religion. -Mesut Barazany
But I’m not here to judge or appear as if I’m judging. I’m simply writing this post to give an understanding of the importance of introducing relationship and not just religion to your child at an early age. But I can now understand the dilemma that some people face when treading down this path. Imagine the struggle of introducing religion when both parents believe in separate things. How then do you explain the difference in views and which one being the right one? Even having two parents who share the same religious views, how do you explain to your child once they become of age, that there are many other religions/views and while they may not think the same, you should respect them nonetheless? It’s easier said than done, especially when it poses the risk of curiosity lending a hand in your child’s confusion. There’s such a slippery slope. However, I am a big believer that everything can’t be controlled. The best we can do as parents is train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
It’s just about leading by example at this point. I believe that our ministry (regardless of our religion, beliefs, etc.) is to be an example for the world to see. The bible is no longer just a physical book that we should enforce people to read, but we should be walking “bibles” by the way we live our lives and treat others. Just like a child imitates what we do as parents, so will others imitate what we do as religious beings. Personally, I’m a firm believer in introducing religion to your child at a very young age (as soon as their able to perceive and be aware). I just believe that how we do it and what we do behind the scenes will allow our introductions to be effective or not. Granted, no one is perfect and we’ll all make mistakes. However, our “genuinety to be better” will always make room for second chances. It’s definitely a crazy time with crazy people and the last thing you need is your child being exposed (which will happen as long as they are social, exploring beings) to the wrong things or situations and not having a foundation to reference back to. Once again, I’m not a huge fan of being “religious”, rather I prefer being “in relationship”, which allows me to mingle and be among others of a different viewpoint or background and be OK! I’ll never teach my son to isolate himself based on differences. We’re all different, even if we come from similar stories. Differences are inevitable. It’s about making a difference with the tools we’ve been given at this point. And I think the sooner we can understand this as human-beings, the sooner we can co-exist without trying to be a God that many of us don’t really understand. God is beyond wise. His ways are not our ways. His love is unconditional. His faithfulness goes farther than our dedication and mere acts. We’re just made to be extensions of His ways.