When I was pregnant the first time, I didn’t take a pregnancy test for two weeks because I was afraid to confirm that I was going to be a parent. I was too young, too recently married, too far from my family to have a baby.
But we survived our first child, as well as her three subsequent siblings. We did all of the things we were supposed to do as parents. We cared for them when they were sick. We educated them. We helped create relationships with our extended families.
We also did all of the things that we were supposed to do as Christian parents. We took them to church. We stood in front of our congregations and promised to raise them in the Christian faith. We did AWANA and VBS. We took the Christian parenting class.
Then things changed. Jason is no longer a believer. It took us a while to talk to the kids about this change, but at this point, they all know. And while it was one thing to ask the kids to continue to attend church when Jason was in school and working nights and was just “too tired” to go, it’s quite another thing to ask this of them when it’s not something that both of their parents do.
As a result, our kids have been attending church much less regularly. One doesn’t go at all. One isn’t sure they even believe any more.
This isn’t a huge surprise. Generally speaking, if fathers don’t attend church, their kids are far less likely to attend church. As much as I balk at the “father as leader” trope, there does seem to be some truth to it when it comes to church attendance.
I feel stuck. I could certainly force them to attend church with me. And when I see articles titled “How to Get Your Kids to go to Church and go to Heaven” (emphasis mine), it is certainly tempting to get with the forcing. Every time I ask the kids if they want to go to church with me and they say no, it’s hard not to become upset or even angry. At them, for not wanting to go. At Jason, for making it easier for them to say no. At the Church, for not being absolutely irresistible to them. At me, for not being a better example of why we should go to services.
But this is just not something that I’m comfortable doing. I can’t reconcile faith with obligation. No matter how much I want them to go to church, I even more want them to want to go to church. And even more than that, I want them to know Love.
So I try to do that gently. Curling up with them to watch a favorite show. Taking an interest in the things that give them pleasure. Speaking respectfully of other people in front of them, even when folks make me mad. Trying to answer their questions about my faith (and theirs) honestly.
It’s my prayer that as they experience that love, they will find the Source to be too compelling to ignore.