Sunday, October 27, 2013

What Happens When You Raise Your Child Without Organized Religion

Act #300:  Step aside every once in a while.

Ever wonder about those kids who grow up without organized religion?   What moral framework they will draw from as they make decisions and navigate the world as an adult?  What network of safety and comfort they will have to provide context for the pain and suffering they will inevitably experience in their lifetime?  Yeah, me too. I deeply contemplated all of these questions when I first learned that there was life growing inside of me six years ago.  I wanted to offer my child an environment where he could develop a relationship with a higher power, but I didn't want to impose my personal beliefs and create that reality for him. 
And so here he is growing up, not attending church, with no organized faith system, but with a Muslim grandmother who prays five times a day, a Buddhist grandfather who reads Sanskrit prayers before bedtime, a paternal grandmother who believes that Jesus Christ is the only way, a father who is an eternal seeker and questioner, and a mother who relishes falling beautifully somewhere in between all of this.  I know he's just six, but it has been a profound experience to watch what happens to a child when he is given the freedom to develop his own relationship with God.  Some of these experiences have simply been unexplainable, and in my mind miraculous.  Like the time he was just a toddler, and had just started talking - out of the blue, from the backseat of my car, he told me, "Mama, God sometimes talks to me and he wants you to tell me more about him."  This is a child who, at that point, had never stepped foot in a church, and quite honestly, we had not even introduced him to the concept of God yet.  I got a little chill as I continued driving down the road that day.  Or the first time he saw my mother covered in white from head to toe as she prepared for her daily prayer - and the sight of her did not startle or scare him the least bit.  In fact, he acted like he didn't even notice her attire. And the time earlier this year, when his great grandfather died and he asked why we were visiting his grave site when he wasn't really even there.   Or that day the sunrise was unusually breathtaking as we drove him to school and he suddenly began talking about God.  He made the connection entirely on his own.  Or just yesterday when we were visiting a Buddhist temple and he took on the posture of Buddha, crossed his legs, rested his palms gently on his lap, and told me that in meditation you should focus on one word, "God".  Each time something like this happens, I ask him where he has learned these things and each and every time he tells me, nowhere, that he just knows.
Maybe my son's experiences are a result of his environment, what he's heard and learned subconsciously, cues he's picked up by watching how we live our lives.  But maybe, human beings with clean slates and untarnished spirits have the capacity to connect directly with the truest and purest form of Good....if we just step aside and let them.  So I will continue down this path of creating for him an environment that nurtures him to ask the questions (he has many, many questions), but I will also continue to not fill in all the blanks for him, not give him all the answers, and not impose and organize religion in a neat little package for him.  As it stands, he already seems to have more answers, and way more of a connection to his higher power, than I do at age 41.
“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”   
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Little Prince”


  1. My favorite post so far:). Not because I am anti organized religion because I am not. I believe how we live our lives determines our destination regardless of your beliefs. I was raised Catholic and to believe Catholicism was your only entry to heaven. I am glad I have formed my own beliefs instead of relying on people to tell me what to believe. Your son is lucky he has parents that will let him navigate his own way.

  2. Hi Mae, good to read this article. And I must say, I do miss my Berea family. The mountains, the people, the crisp air is all very different here in Nashville.

    The one thing that I appreciated & missed about Berea was the conglomerate of beliefs and ideas. Although I am not one to relinquish the parental guidance I have concerning my children, whether in religion, finance or health, I do allow them to, as you said, to develop their own relationship with (or without) God. I think it is truly amazing that your son asks for more knowledge of God (my daughter just asks for more fries lol). As parents when our children ask for things we don't always give it to them. Sometimes for lack of knowledge, other times, we just don't have it or we do not know where to get it. Or even still, "no you can't drive yet, its not time".

    God desires us. He loves us. Mae we ever be watchful of His speech toward us by means of our children.

    1. Eric, trust me, my kid asks for more fries too. :-)