The day I had to explain to my eleven year old daughter what sexual abuse was is permanently seared into my memory and hers. It was a cold spring day. The wind was whipping through our backyard and whistling through our windows. After our awkward conversation, she walked zombie style outside to our tennis ball covered trampoline. I watched her through the kitchen window trying to make sense of why she appeared blase' about a topic that was heart wrenching to share while staring into her big blue innocent eyes. She sat in the middle of the trampoline for a few minutes and stared into our neighbor's yard. I started to empty the dishwasher and silently began to question what I had shared with her. I prayed for her heart and mine. I prayed for, her friend, the victim. I hatefully wished death on the perpetrator.
We've always been open with our children about our faith struggles and our doubts. We've been open about the difficulties of working with churches and Christian people. Our biggest concern is lying to our children and wearing falsified smiles knowing full well the often heavy load of church work and past indiscretions of Christendom in general. We know that they will enter a world, sooner than we think, that forces doubt upon them, that forces atrocities upon them, that forces images of death and sex upon them. We want them to be ready.
I've questioned that day a thousand times. Should I have smiled and pretended everything was OK? Should I have left her in childhood delusions of happy families and good Christian people always doing good Christian things? Was my explanation appropriate for her age or did I say too much? Did I answer her questions with integrity or did I protect myself from embarrassment while trying to protect an ounce of her innocence? Did I permanently ruin her trust in people? in men? in Christians?
I heard her yelling. When I looked up and out the window, I saw my daughter throwing tennis balls as hard as she could. She was screaming hateful words and asking God why. She was hurting for her friend. She was mad at God and mad at the world. So was I.
Since that day, we have healed, a little, together. We have prayed together. We have backtracked into anger together. We have questioned God together. We have gained an understanding that sin attacks all of us together. We have struggled through trust issues together. We have doubted the purpose of the church together. We have questioned forgiveness and practiced grace together. You see, I refuse to let her walk this journey of doubt, fear, and distrust alone.
Everyday when your kids hop on the bus or walk the halls at school they are bombarded with different world views. Teens walk hallways with pregnant classmates and friends who ritualistically cut their arms to rid themselves of the hurt that comes from neglect or abuse from a relative. Your kids have gay friends. They have atheist friends. They have friends who are thinking about suicide or who have attempted suicide. They have friends with the emotional depth of a puddle and friends who medicate for depression, ADD, and anxiety.
When we avoid having difficult conversations with our children, we deny them the right to process doubt and faith in a world that will surely force doubt upon them before they leave for college. When you avoid sharing with your child your own personal doubts, fears, and anxieties, you deny them the right to share with you their doubts, fears, and anxieties without feelings of brokenness. Imagine the loneliness of being the only one in the family with problems! I refuse to let my children believe they doubt and fear only because they are children...or, heaven forbid, only because they are weak.
Doubt is not sinful. Lying to your children is.
Today I encourage you to honestly reveal your faith, or lack there of, with your child. Allow them to work through their faith and doubt in a safe harbor. Trust them with what helps you to choose God everyday. Gift them with understanding, a non-judgmental listening ear, and the example of commitment to Christ and to the church even when the doubts come. Be humble enough to admit not having all the answers. Be vulnerable enough to confess your weaknesses. Don't for a second let them believe they doubt or fear alone. If not already, one day they will have doubts, give them the tools to find peace within doubts and battle through them together.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." ~ John 16:33