Thursday, April 14, 2011

Faith ~ From Our Parents?

A couple of weeks ago a friend remarked that she has always known God's loving, comforting presence.  She has never doubted that God is always right with her, through the good and the bad ~ and she has had some tough times in her life.

Since my experience has been quite different, I've started to wonder where such confidence comes from.  I asked her a few days later whether she thinks that it is a consequence of her upbringing and she concluded that yes, it is.  Her parents instilled a deep faith in her.  Not only did they set a consistent example by regular mass attendance and an obvious devotional life, but they talked frequently about matters of faith and clearly understood God, and especially Jesus, to be as engaged in their lives as they were themselves. 

In truth, I've wondered about this question many times over the past several years.  After the deaths of my mother and brother, God was no longer acknowledged in my family.  Not that God was given much of a place before, but those tragic deaths marked a watershed in our lives.  

And so I've speculated:  What if those who cared for us, for my brother and me, in the aftermath, had mentioned God, even occasionally? What if they had referred once on awhile to a God who continued to love us, who continued to offer us a beautiful world, albeit one marred by tragedy and sadness?  What if they had practiced, and articulated to us, a continued reliance on God as they navigated those very difficult years and made the decisions that would affect all of us for the rest of our lives?

What about you?  How did your childhood experiences affect the faith with which you do or don't live these days?


  1. I grew up with no real religious influence from my family, asking my father just a few months before he died (me 18, he 40) if he believed in God. He stuttered, answered "yes!" and turned to escape. My second question of "Why?" brought him to a turn and another stutter before giving me the reason that "if I didn't, then all I can have is the idea that death is simply a turning out the light and nothing else whatsoever." It left me feeling like "why not just create our own faith, our own worship of whatever grabs our fancy?" and his death left me angry against whatever, whoever was God, my Navy dogtags for ten years stamped: "religion: N O N E". My own conversion to Christ at the age of thirty has produced three daughters and six grandchildren all in church and filled with faith.

  2. I've seen a lot of evidence that disconfirms the "faith from our parents" thesis. In my own experience growing up, religious practice was episodic and God wasn't really talked about much. Becoming more observant - and cultivating a more conscious awareness of God - was a deliberate choice that I made (in high school and college) that went against the grain of my upbringing.

    At the same time, I've known others who did have the kind of intensely religious upbringing that you describe in your post (and who recalled it with real affection - they didn't real against it) but who nonetheless decided to turn away from religion when they reached adulthood and never looked back.

  3. My parents both modeled love for, and faith in, God. I think it was a helpful framework. However, it "took" in each of the three of us kids quite differently. Two of us have had crises of faith and left the church of our childhood (as have my parents); one has stayed. Of the five in our family, three of us still love and have faith in God; two are on the fence - or have lost it all together. Only one goes to church. Though there are times when God is a mystery to me, and times when I couldn't "feel" God, I am convinced of His love and goodness, and I love Him.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking question!
    I hope your doctor can help get your vision back to normal. Hugs to you.

  4. I was raised till I was about five by my grandmother who was a woman of faith, a staunch Anglican and who passed faith on to me like a precious jewel wrapped in silk. However on returning to my parents home faith and god were never mentioned. Somehow I never lost the understanding of God's presence, even when it seemed that there was no God at all. I have had a tortuous journey though discovering the nature of this God and I haven't always been friends with the Deity. Even now it is sometimes an uncertain uneasy relationship.

    I wish I could say that I loved Him as Karen does but it is only sometimes that I do.

  5. My parents were both cradle Episcopalians and then had born-again experiences when I was about 5. Our family activities revolved around church, my parents were heavily involved in leadership, and both my parents made it clear that they had a personal relationship with Jesus.

    So I learned both that working for the church is important (as they had been taught) and also that knowing God is important (what they learned later).

    Then I went to college and was unchurched for about 10 years. And here I am now.

  6. No real pride or knowledge of faith in my childhood home. VERY minimal observance of our faith's traditions, holidays, or beliefs. Found it all on my own. And am grateful for that journey.

  7. Looking back I would say my parents wanted to instill a deep faith in me, but they couldn't give what they didn't have.

    They were both very afraid, and that fear is what they actually instilled.

    So, I grew up afraid of people, afraid of the world and afraid of God.

    Years later I find myself squarely in the middle of the Catholic Church of my childhood. After 20+ years away form organized religion. And I am grateful to be here. I've been led here, by the God of my understanding.

    And I can see now, through this lens, my own lens, that God was there with me all along. My life, my glorious, horrible, pain-filled, mistake-ridden, twisted-up life is actually unique and filled with God's presence. Evidently, I didn't need to see Him or feel Him for Him to be there. He's just that big.

    So, I am hesitant to call it the "faith" of my parents. I think I am getting to live inside the faith experience they sought. I hope they find it.

    It was through the trauma and pain that I found it. Perhaps that says something, but I'm not sure what. Certainly nothing as shallow as "God's plan" because that's not how I see it. More of a sharing, a crossing of the divine and the human.

    In those "crosses" or intersections where my life seems terribly destroyed, I actually do wake up the next day. (So far.) And, here I am.

    But, with Palm Sunday coming up I may just be seeing Death and Resurrection in everything.

  8. These are all wonderful comments!

  9. What a beautiful open dialogue. Robin, I do think you would excel as an interviewer, and maybe you could just go get your own tv show that would allow such forums on ideas and beliefs and individual journies. The responses to your good questions are always so interesting and inspiring.

    My answer is that my parents had a little faith and that was enough to plant the seed in me; one that I water and maintain through all kinds of weather and seasons. I hope to see that faith transfer strongly to my grandchildren, and from them to theirs, and so on. That's my hope.

  10. In my case, it wasn't from my parents, but from a string of involved, loving adults. I had a steady stream of them from the time I was a toddler, until I graduated college. I am *immensely* grateful for them, every day.

  11. I have to say my grandmothers and godmother (best friend of one of the grandmothers) were huge formative influences on my faith life. My parents went to church but were not talkative about faith. I could tell from the energy given to life in the church and devotional life that being a person of faith meant something to those older women in my life, and I emulated them. I became disillusioned with the faith of one and further inspired by the other two the older I got. That pair of ladies represented; they acted on their faith, for justice and education. The other grandmother talked more about prayer, but her point of view was about getting others to change their beliefs to match hers. It's not that I think works redeem, it's that I believe faith inspires a response, and that's foundational for my beliefs today. I feel blessed to have been exposed to both of those faith expressions, because both helped me discern my own expression of faith and gave me the idea that having faith be the center of my life was a valid choice.