Over the last 32 years I have lived at more than 20 addresses. I’ve lived in houses, townhouses / row-houses, and apartment buildings. In all these years, I have never had to live through construction or remodelling, which I’m very thankful for. Right now we’re building a sauna but it’s in a room that we can easily isolate and close off from the rest of the house. No dust, no construction debris, no worries. My wife’s cousin bought an old home and renovated it while living in it with their 2 young kids. He said it was a nightmare and he’d never do it again. I don’t blame him, a job site is a crazy place to raise a family. For many us though, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, only the job site is the deconstruction of our religious framework rather than our physical house itself.
For those desperate to move away from the toxic, controlling, death-bringing view of God and life that they were raised with, how do you go about deconstructing and rebuilding, while discipling your kids and raising them in faith? A reader recently put it to me like this:
I feel like I should be doing more to raise my kids in faith. But what do I teach them? I’m not even sure what I believe myself. I’m scared that I’m going to look back and realize that I screwed up. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t trust anyone to teach my kids the same BS I grew up with in some church basement somewhere.
I can totally relate to that. I’ve gone through many years of deconstruction and reconstruction myself. We didn’t attend a traditional church for 10 years; the first 7 years of my kids’ lives, in fact. As a kids pastor I can also tell you that the majority of the curriculum that crosses my path is filled with religious phariseeism that I won’t teach anyone’s kids. The struggle is real.
Here are 4 things to consider as you try to raise your kids while deconstructing your own faith:
1. Protect the valuables.
If you are new into your deconstruction journey and can’t talk about faith without poison spilling out then just do your best to protect the peace for your children. That’s all you can do. It’s important that you go on your journey of deconstruction and it’s also important that you don’t do it selfishly. I’ve witnessed too many people (mostly men, unfortunately) go on a journey that ends up costing their family immensely. Don’t be selfish. Be aware of what your own discovery costs those around you. Protect your valuables from damage while you tear the walls down.
2. Demolish selectively.
It’s tempting to rip the whole house down and start over. To a certain extent that’s what I did; my wife and I moved abroad, quit church, and hit reset on our entire spiritual life. But we didn’t have kids then, they came two years later.
Children thrive best in an environment of safety, peace and consistency so be mindful of what you say and do in their presence. This is especially important if you’re a verbal processor. Don’t talk loudly about how you hate the church and all the bad things done in the name of God if your children are in earshot. Have terrible things been done by the church? Absolutely. But children are very black & white and will never want anything to do with the people of God if they hear you talking this way. You might say, “Fine. I want nothing to do with the church either,” but you can’t tell where your journey will take you. I ended up a pastor with children in Catholic school and I can tell you I didn’t plan either of those. Much of parenting is sowing seeds that will bear long-term fruit in our children’s lives. Do your best to maintain a stable, peaceful environment for them while you deconstruct. Don’t tear down the roof at the same time as the walls.
3. Identify the plan.
Deconstruction is a valuable part of the renewing of our minds but it’s the not the whole of it. You also need to rebuild your faith foundation and God will lead you through every phase of this process (even if the religious people around you think you’re still backsliding). Here’s the question to ask yourself: What are the core elements that God is using to reconstruct me and my faith? These are the same things you can focus on with your kids.
For me, the first “building block” was the discovery that God existed outside of the traditional church and that he was doing very well out there too. That discovery blossomed into the understanding that God is actually everywhere, in all things, involved in the lives of all people. Scripture even says that God holds all things together. Someone say, “All things!” That’s become one of the core tenets of my new, living, breathing faith, and it was an easy place to start with my kids.
4. Rebuild sustainably.
If your kids are under 5, what you communicate to them about faith is going to be very simplistic. At this young age, children are busy growing in their basic mental and physical capacities, they won’t understand and don’t need complicated theological training. A couple of high-level themes and concepts are all they’ll benefit from. Introduce concepts organically as you go about life and then just keep living them authentically. If you’re struggling to identify the building blocks that God is using with you, here are some that might work for you:
God is good.
If your kids are around 5-7 years old their capacity to understand is higher and their interest in thinking things through will be starting to grow. They are still not able to reason logically but you can expand on the basic themes you introduced when they were younger:
God loves everyone.
God cries when you cry.
God is never going to leave you.
From 7 and 8 upward you can start to unpack a lot more details as they will be able to understand logical thought and eventually abstract thought. You should move at the pace of your own reconstruction and of your kids’ desire to learn. If you’re still on building blocks with God yourself then don’t try to explain atonement to them. Give them the basics as you understand them and trust God for the rest.
God sees all the good and bad in the world and he is committed to loving everyone anyway.
Nothing you can ever do will separate you from God’s love.
God’s love changes us. It makes us more like him. In fact, that’s why we’re here, to become more like God.
We can invite God’s spirit to come and live inside us, and he will!
Here are a few things to remember:
Dialogue is your best friend. Let your kids ask questions and don’t give pat answers. If you don’t know an answer, admit it. Or say you’re not sure yet but you have some ideas. Discuss those ideas.
Kids can often hear from God much better than we can. Helping a kid hear from God is as easy as inviting them to ask Jesus to speak to them and then have them listen to their imagination. If what they see/hear/picture is loving and kind, it’s God. If it’s not kind and loving, it’s not God.
God loves your kids more than you do and he will never stop loving them. You don’t need to have all the answers at the right time; in fact, you won’t.
Less is more. Don’t feel the need to fill up all the spaces. God has been speaking to your kids since before they were born and he’s speaking to them now. You should definitely help them on their journey but it’s their journey, let them experience it themselves.
You have been given the job to steward these kids but you are not the only Jesus they will ever see. God knows just how flawed you are and he still entrusted them to you. He’s not worried and you don’t need to worry either. Don’t be irresponsible but don’t be anxious either. Lean in to God and he will guide you.
I hope that helps! What’s working for you with your kids as you deconstruct your faith?