We were recently listening to an On Being podcast
where Dr. Louis Newman was being interviewed on the practice of repentance. He had this very concise and insightful comment that really stuck with me for a time: “Idolatry is pretending that something is divine and worthy of our devotion when in fact it is not. Repentance is all about choosing truth over deception.”
I’d explain to my children that it is human nature to want to look to things/circumstances for safety; whether it is family, money, health, popularity, education….and yes, even your church institution and its leaders. We pretend things are a Rock, when in reality they are just ever shifting sand.
I’d attempt to normalize that by saying, “I’m going to do that, and you’re going to do that, and everyone around you is going to do that. It’s part of life, it’s part of the human struggle…we are all prone to look for safety from the ‘outside-in’. BUT, one thing this family is going to try to focus on, the only place this family is going to try to look to for safety or worth, is from the ‘inside-out’ and from above.”
Because “outside-in” mentality isn’t healthy in the long run, and will result in a lot of disappointment. Every one of those things is subject to change, to imperfection, to inherent instability. The security you may get in one ideal moment could just as easily be lost in the next, and that is where the rollercoaster ride of despair comes from, and possible faith crisis.
In this sense, whether the object of our trust appears to be religious or not, we all engage in a kind of Idolatry. And it is destructive – to our relationships, to our faith, to our happiness, to our ability to Love. We look for security where it can’t be found.
You owe it to your children to teach them this whether in or out of a church. It isn’t just your church that is suggesting that people get their worth from a certain checklist of observances, from a certain way of life or creed or belief system, from a list of circumstances or ideal behaviors or relationships…the entire world is telling them this: “Value and worth and happiness is found from the outside-in.”
You won’t escape the duty to teach them to avoid this mentality simply because you decide to no longer attend church, or because you jump into church community with both feet.
This mentality will surround your children especially in their teenage years when they are trying to fit in, when they seek to join a “tribe” that accepts them, or when they have their first explorations (and disappointments) with social media.
This outside-in mentality will follow them into college, and will define much of their 20s, and will likely influence how they choose their boyfriends or girlfriends, or possibly their spouse. I don’t think most people begin to escape this need for outside-in fulfillment until they get a little older (perhaps much older), and become secure enough in their own decisions to stand against the crowd when needed, or to stand for principles they believe in. They finally see their worth from the inside-out.
You, in your duty as a parent, and in your own development as a human being, MUST learn this for yourself, and you must teach it to them, whether you do it in our out of a church.
So get busy.
If you decide to remain in a church community, then use that community as the vehicle for teaching that real happiness, real worth and security, will only be found from the inside-out and from the topside-down.
This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS you’ll ever teach them. Most likely, your church won’t do it for you. Don’t expect them to. This is what great parenting is all about, and is something you can’t afford to outsource to church, school, friends, or life.
Weightlifting or exercise requires resistance in order to build strength and muscle memory and proficiency. So make your church (and its checklists, and observances, and the false securities it might offer) your place to practice. Or do it outside of church, that’s up to you.
Whether in or out, you still have to practice if you hope to develop your own healthy spirituality and to encourage the same in your children.
What about you? How do you navigate attending church with children if you don’t always agree with what is being taught? Let’s discuss…see you in the comments!
P.S. We were interviewed in a podcast a few months ago and explored some of these concepts in much greater detail. See here for a listen. It is one thing to read, and another to listen to someone speak. A lot can be lost in translation.