For parents, memory is such a dangerous thing.
Oh, memory’s got a lot of very good things going for it: all those wonderful times when the kids were…well…kids. You know, the roll-in-the-autumn-leaves times, the teaching-soccer times, even those late night “daddy-my-dolly-needs-a-drink” times. These sweet memories give parents hope through the darker times.
During those darker times comes the question no loving parent can avoid: “Will my child grow up to be a person of faith?” Despite instructions given, behavior modeled and rules made, growing up usually means wandering all over the place before discovering, at last, the right path.
Every parent soon recognizes that kids don’t come, like some electronic toy, with operating directions. Nevertheless, instructions are available.
Look in the Bible. Proverbs, Chapter 22, verse 6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Despite the masculine reference, I’m certain the advice applies to my three girls as well as my two sons.
The proverb is generally understood to mean teaching children about religion–beliefs and customs being a part of that. The proverb can also be understood more broadly to include teaching compassion, civic responsibility, and what it means to live as a person of faith. After all, much of religion revolves around how we treat others. You know, the “love your neighbor as yourself” stuff.
Not that simple instructions, even Biblical ones, keep parents from gazing at their children—even after they’re grown—and wondering if they’re ever going to get it. “It” being an understanding of what is truly important in life.
I was reminded of all this reading current studies about faith. The Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life recently reported that Americans’ knowledge of their faith, even across the denominations, is slipping away. Another study revealed fewer children are remaining connected to their parents’ faith. Or any faith, for that matter.
That’s downright scary for parents who want their children to grow up as faithful adults. But what’s a parent to do when their child wanders from the faith? Here’s good advice: Trust, wait and remember.
Like most parents, I have a disconnect between the memory of that angelic little girl who lovingly snuggled in my arms until she fell asleep and the rebellious young adult who trod many a wrong path before returning–like the prodigal–to find her adult self and remember the faith of her childhood. But return she did.
It’s unrealistic for parents to expect their children not to wander from their parents’ faith as they grow up. Adolescence and young adulthood is a time for testing and seeking. That’s the underlying sense of the lesson from Proverbs: Provide a firm foundation of faith for a wandering child to rediscover.
No, parents shouldn’t forego their responsibility to model and teach children about faith and life. But we must also be strengthened by the memories that connect the past to the present. And finally, we must trust in the power of God.
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