I think I can safely say that every parent has dreams and hopes for their children. I certainly do. For Christians (and probably for followers of other religions), one of those hopes is that our children will grow to accept and walk in the faith that we profess. We take our kids to Sunday School and to youth programs, send them to summer camps and engage in conversations about faith around the home so that they will hear the stories of the Bible and embrace the Gospel message. We try in various ways to lay the foundation of faith, hoping that our children will acknowledge, accept and choose to build on this foundation. Some try to accomplish this more through a form of indoctrination. Some think they have succeeded when their child prays a “sinner's prayer.” Others try to pass on faith through their life, sharing with their children the stories of Scripture as well as the stories of their own journey of faith.
Unfortunately, sometimes (often?) our dreams and hopes for our children are not realized. Sometimes they are not realized in small ways. Other times the gap between reality and our dreams can be quite large. At this point in my life, I face a large gap in regard to my hopes for my teenage daughter. She has made it clear to her mother and I that she does not consider herself to be a Christian. She acknowledges the existence of God but believes that he either doesn't care about people or that he doesn't demonstrate it very well. These are hard words to hear from one's own child. Even harder to hear are her struggles with how to live consistently with her current beliefs. Her parents work with a particular Christian ministry and everyone in our home church knows this. She recognizes that it might be awkward for her parents if she expresses her doubts and disbelief around others from our church. She doesn't want to create problems for us, but her efforts to avoid this leave her feeling like she lacks integrity. We continue to insist that she accompany us to worship on Sunday because we believe it is true and important, but this places her in the difficult position of feeling like a hypocrite.
Her mother and I have both had conversations with her about this. We have not sought to convince her of the correctness or truth of the Gospel. She knows the stories and the Gospel message well enough. She's been in Christian schools, churches and circles all her life. She doesn't need more indoctrination. She needs someone who will accept and affirm her as she is now, where she is now. Her mother and I are trying very hard to give her this. Now that we are more aware of her feeling of being a hypocrite, we have expressed to her that she should freely acknowledge her current beliefs and doubts and questions, even in the church community. We are capable of dealing with the questions and even possible rejection that may arise as a result. We would rather our daughter be sincere about where she's at then place her in a duplicitous position just so we can present a shining example of Christian family. We hope we have communicated clearly to her that in our family there is freedom to question, doubt, even disbelief and still find acceptance and love.
I often feel frustrated by the posts I see on Facebook of various Christian families we know. I am not accusing any of them of lying, because I don't know the internal lives of their families well enough. But so many posts I read seem to present the particular family in the best possible light, as paragons of Christian virtue. Maybe they are. However, I think that within Christian subculture, particularly evangelical subculture, we create intentionally or unintentionally the pressure to present ourselves as better than we really are. We feel subtle or even overt pressure to have the perfect Christian family with children who love nothing more than to get up in front of the church and sing “Jesus loves me.” Thank God for those whose children really do enjoy that. Mine would die of mortification at the thought—and would be hypocritical to boot. Sometimes I wish I had one of these ideal Christian families. Then I realize that I'd rather have a family where we can struggle openly and honestly with our doubts, questions and fears. We don't have to have all the right answers. We don't have to have all our ducks in a row. I hope that our family can be a place where grace and love prevail.
As I consider where my daughter is at right now, I also struggle with feelings of failure. Where did I as her father go wrong? What should I have done differently to insure that she would grow up to wholeheartedly embrace the faith I try to live by? I can look at the journey of our life and wonder how things might have been different if we had made choice B instead of choice A. I've spent a lot of time in the past few months feeling like a failure, for this and other reasons. It's not a pleasant place to be. I don't claim that I have not made mistakes in parenting. My decisions have not always been ideal, but I don't live in an ideal world. In my world we do our best to decide and live wisely, but we make mistakes and fail and learn and, hopefully, grow in the process. I still beat myself up at times over my failures and their impact on my daughter, my son and my wife. But I'm learning to accept God's grace to me as well and to trust that he is able to work through all these choices, through my failure and my brokenness and the impact this has had on others in my life. Some how out of all of this I hope and trust that he can make beautiful things, that he can accomplish good in my life and the lives of my family. And I keep hoping and believing and trusting that he is not yet done with my daughter. Her journey has only begun and I intend to keep walking alongside her wherever it leads.