Coming Out to Your Kids as a Spiritual Person
by Robert Warren Cromey
There is no “coming out” to your kids as a religious person. What this means is that if you have been praying and worshipping as a religious person since your children were born (or adopted), then there is no hiding your faith from them. If you are religious Christian, you probably have started saying simple payers with your children from the first time you got them, whether by birth or adoption. As they grew, you have already started reading them the great Bible stories, The Creation Story, Adam and Eve, Ruth and Naomi, The Birth of Jesus, The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, the Feeding of the Five Thousand and The Conversion of St. Paul. These and the Bible itself underlie the literature, law and religion of Western culture. Bible storybooks are available from bookstores for all age groups. Nearly any bookstore with a large selection is a good place to start to find them.
Christian adults and children may say a prayer before each meal, giving thanks to God for the blessings of food, family and friends. “God is Great, God is Good and we thank God for our food. Amen” is a classic grace appropriate for youngsters.
I am sure Jews and Muslims also have prayers and stories suitable for children. Nearly any web-based bookstore will help you find books containing these.
But suppose older children come into your life who have had no religious training? There is nothing like the simple truth about your religious views. A good time to start to tell them that you are a religious person is before a meal. You may simply say that in this household we give thanks to God for our food, friends and family.
See what questions the children have. Most children have some interest in religion or the many things they don’t understand. They also often have vivid imaginations and see many things in their minds which may or not exist. They are interested in fantasy. Perhaps some will have some concept of God that they learned from their friends or family.
Ask them to list all the things they are thankful for; listen and take them all in no matter how seemingly silly. Then ask them to make up a prayer of thanks for the things they are thankful for.
“Bless, Oh God, this food to our use, and us to thy service, keep us ever mindful of the needs of others; bless the hands that made food and the hands that prepared the food, remember the homeless, the poor and the hungry. We pray in the name of Jesus, the revolutionary.”
That will give the children plenty to think about.
If the children are already atheists, honor their thinking. But it is your house and they should sit quietly at the table until the prayer is finished and then begin to eat. Don’t let your other children disrespect the choice of a child not to pray.
As they age, help the children understand that the message of Jesus is about caring for the very poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless and needy. It is not about condemning homosexuals, sexual pleasure and abortion.
As a parent be open and honest about your own religious faith, but don’t jam it down the throats of the children. Your religious life and convictions are to be enjoyed and shared. Let the children see how you live your Christian life and they will learn from that. Let the children ask, seek, reject, affirm, deny, dissect and find their own religion. They will do it anyway.
How to tell the children that you have become a Christian later in life
Many adults decide to become practicing Christians later in life. In church circles there is the saying, “It was harder for me to tell my mother that I became an Episcopalian, than to tell her I was a lesbian.” If you have children and decide to attend and later join a church, you need to carry them along with you to learn some new things about life and religion and let them join the church with you if they choose.
If you have been doing it on your own, it may be a surprise when you tell them you have become a church member. Be open, honest about your spiritual journey; describe the experience you have had. Explain the doctrines and beliefs as the children ask about them. Don’t try to give them the complex teaching of the church all at once. Share with them your thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions. You may say, “I needed a wider community than my family and work, I felt drawn to something more than myself for solace. I was looking for some meaning in my life. I wanted to explore the Bible. I felt my spiritual life was lacking.” These are some of the questions that bring people to religion. Share the appropriate ones with the children and tell them the results. I found out how to pray, read the Bible and have a new circle of friends, or whatever other experience you had.
They may accept or reject your choice; they are entitled to their opinion. You need to honor theirs.
Robert Warren Cromey is a priest of the Episcopal Church retired and living in San Francisco, CA.
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