A good bit of parenting, at just the right time, can make a huge difference in the faith life of a child.
I grew up watching my parents dedicate their lives to the church. My mum helped with children’s ministry and my dad served as a deacon. My dad eventually became an elder and was also very involved in music ministry, building every sound system that we used. I have fond memories of spending Wednesday nights and many weekends at the church. My dad taught me how to run cables, set up a mixing board, and how to mix a full band.
I grew up believing that Jesus was my savior and I believed my Sunday school teachers when they said that I would go to heaven if I placed my trust in Him. If I invited Jesus into my heart, I would live eternally in heaven and avoid hell, a place that sounded awful. I prayed that prayer commonly known as “the believer’s prayer” when I was 8. Lying in my bed, alone, I didn’t feel a change, but I believed that God’s spirit was in me. I believed that I should start behaving differently.
When I reached high school, I wanted to follow my parents’ examples. I stood in front of my home church and professed my faith. I began helping with children’s ministry and got involved with the worship team. I stood next to my father as we led worship together. My faith grew in the bubble of suburban life and my youth group friends became like family.
I had never doubted my faith or what I believed until my second year of college.
After a series of conversations with some atheist friends and after joining a progressive Christian bible study, I began questioning what I had grown up hearing in Sunday school. How could this be the only way? Do I really believe the one, true faith?
I was afraid to tell anyone of my doubts, especially my family. I felt prodigal. A wandering son, questioning his beliefs and how he was raised. I’d had questions before, but never doubts that I started claiming as my own beliefs.
I brought these questions and doubts to my father who was an elder at the time. Even though I am several inches taller, his presence towered over me that night. I was scared. My father is a strong man for sure, intense, sharp. The last thing I wanted to do was provoke a confrontation, but I couldn’t keep these secrets from my family any longer.
Sure enough, it led to an argument. My dad was defensive and the conversation immediately became contentious. What my dad did next is something that has profoundly influenced the way I interact with those who don’t share my beliefs.
Instead of telling me what to believe, he told me to study the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Book of Church Order (the constitutional books of the PCA- the denomination of my home church). He believed this is what the Bible was teaching.
Along the way, I realized that I may never have all of the answers to my questions.
He said something to the effect of: “Here is what you grew up believing. Read these books and see if it still holds true.”
He didn’t try to tell me that I was wrong. He didn’t disown me or verbally abuse me. He told me to read what I grew up believing, to make up my mind for myself. He wanted me to revisit my profession of faith. I read both books (okay, skimmed the BCO – it’s close to 400 pages of church government) and rediscovered my faith there. The words held new meaning as I put them up against my questions.
I would read a chapter of each book and then each night, we would discuss. My dad would stay up until 2 or 3 am, listening intently. Not teaching, but listening as I spoke. We sat at our kitchen table and he patiently answered my questions. We were past arguing. We were sitting side by side. I had never studied scripture or other commentaries like this. And, I may not have had it not been for my dad.
Along the way, I realized that I may never have all of the answers to my questions. I decided that even the Westminster Confession of Faith couldn’t answer everything, but it gave me footholds that I could stand upon. It brought me peace to study these documents and wrestle with these questions that my dad had wrestled with earlier in his own spiritual journey.
I still struggle with doubt, but I know that my faith can handle it due in large part to my dad’s willingness to hear me, sit with me and engage my questions. He taught me that wrestling with doubt was a necessary part of my faith journey. He showed me that to question my faith was not to lose my faith, but to own it for myself and therefore gain it.
I have heard that growing up in a “believing household” can lead to moralism, foster apathy, or, even worse, a complete rejection of faith altogether. In my story, at just the right moment, my dad pointed me back to Christ. He modeled humility by listening instead of chastising. He validated my doubts without compromising his own beliefs. And he sat next to me along the way.
I look back on those nights with sincere gratitude. And the funny part is that if you asked my dad about this pivotal moment in my life, he probably wouldn’t even think much of it. He’d downplay it, because, in his wisdom, he knew that I was in God’s hands. He didn’t need to prove anything to me. Only that simple, fundamental truth.
Happy Father’s Day and thanks, Dad.