I stood in church the other day, holding one grandbean, standing beside another. Wondering what faith concepts they’ll bring with them into adulthood.
In my own childhood church, we stood, spoke and sang when told. Our prayers followed the pastor’s directions. Sometimes we stood, “every head bowed, every eye closed.” At other times we were invited to come forward to kneel and pray at the altar.
Responding to an invitation from the pastor to “get right with God,” usually meant that others gathered around to make sure it happened. “Let it go, child. Give it up,” I’d hear from the saint on one side, while the blue-haired lady on the other patted my back, urging, “Take it all, girl, all God gives you.” The pastor knelt on his side of the altar, shuffling up and down the line on his knees, praying with each member of his flock, patting their shoulders, and passing out tissue.
Who decided that Protestants must walk forward to talk to God, I wondered, secretly coveting the flip-out kneelers in my Catholic friend’s sanctuary. My church aisle seemed longer every time I walked it, and I did so often. God and I had regular dealings as a child. I said, “I’m sorry,” mostly. And “I’m sorry, again,” and “I’m STILL sorry.” He said nothing my ears could hear, but I always felt better on the return trip. Clean inside.
It was a holy time, truly, but as a child, more than the spectre of the Russians winning the Cold War, praying aloud terrified me. Especially if it meant confessing my sins – keeping the extra nickel of change, lying to my parents, cheating in a game of PIT. (There my Catholic-envy kicked in again. But not for my fear of discovery as an imposter, I’d have hauled my childhood sins to the secrecy of a confessional, along with my friend.)
Like me, the Beans will doubtless bring misconceptions and doubts into their adulthood. Perhaps because this is my second time around standing beside beloved children in church, I see more clearly my hopes and prayers for them, concerning faith.
I hope they learn well that faith includes loving God so much it hurts to displease him. That he values a humble spirit and contrite heart over tradition, regular church attendance, fancy words or an emphasis (or de-emphasis) on music. That it doesn’t matter where one prays, but it matters greatly who we pray to. That programs and buildings don’t make a church — people do.
I want them to know that being part of God’s family means committing to regularly walking alongside other equally flawed but redeemed sinners. Growing together in faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. Following his example in serving and sharing and embracing others. Studying God’s Word and accepting the truth about what he loves and hates. Standing firm when others mock.
Want your beloveds to keep the faith? Teach those things well, but model them better. Then leave the choice to them.