“I don’t know if there’s anything more important than to pass along our faith to our kids,” says California youth minister Eric Upton. He expressed his worry that the middle-schoolers under his care won’t have the spiritual foundation to maintain their faith through adulthood. This worry extends to his own children, the oldest of which is 4-years-old.
Well over half of parents in the United States believe that passing on religious faith to their children is important, with a third saying it is one of the most important things parents can pass on. But the religious landscape in America is changing. A 2012 Pew research study found that the percentage of Americans who identify with no religious faith is on the rise, especially among young adults.
Where does this leave parents and youth leaders who are anxious to instill a strong sense of faith to those under their charge? The answer may have less to do with what parents believe and more to do with how they believe.
Teach by Example
Growing up in a religious home, Hindu American and social activist Padma Kuppa remembers the strong faith formations given to her by her parents. “My father was exemplary of what it means to learn and understand one’s own faith….My mother was exemplary in her devotion and her ritual.” Her parents inspired her own parenting style. “Because I learned by example I thought it was good to parent by example.”
Teaching by example is a vital part of passing on faith traditions. A comprehensive national study of religiosity in young adults found that 82% of religiously active adults had parents who had attended church services, talked about faith outside of church and themselves attached a great importance to religion. It’s a connection that is “nearly deterministic” according to the lead of the study.
An important part of being an example, according to Upton, is having a firm grounding in the faith yourself. “We have to have a faith worth passing on….We have to sit and be willing to ask the difficult questions and evaluate our own faith.”
Long-time religious scholar and researcher Vern Bengtson, who has been studying cross-generational spirituality for 35 years, said that one of the biggest findings of his research was that parents who were not consistent in their faith could not give children strong “religious role models to emulate.” To sum it up: “Don’t just send your children to church, bring them!”
Kuppa echoed this feeling. She needed to know “how to explain to my children what it means to be Hindu. It’s critical to understand it for myself.” She says to understand her own faith she must be exposed to ideas from a variety of faith traditions. “Oftentimes when you are exposed to another faith you wonder how my spiritual path would explain that or deal with that….When I interact with others they ask questions that make me go back to my own scriptures, that I’d not seen or poked at with those questions in my mind.”
Encourage Faithful Questioning
Bengtson’s research found that this type of tolerance and flexibility was actually helpful in passing along faith. A “hard-nosed” approach that dictated beliefs and discouraged experimentation did not work as well as one that let the child find their own version of faith. “It’s a degree of tolerance you don’t always associate with more fundamentalist religious groups, but it does seem that a closed-fisted approach is not nearly as effective as a more lenient approach.”
Kuppa is comfortable with her children finding their own path. “It’s really important that my children are free.”
Upton admits he struggles with the idea that his children may not grow to share his belief in Jesus Christ. “As a dad, it would break my heart.” Still, he accepts that he cannot force his children to follow in his faith footsteps. “I want them to have a faith that is unique to them and their relationship and journey. If I pass along everything I have exactly as I have it, then it won’t be theirs.” As they grow, he will continue to encourage his children to do research and ask their own questions.
Though the task can seem more difficult and the landscape more dangerous than ever before, both Upton and Kuppa are not daunted. “Faith isn’t going away,” Kuppa says. “Faith has been there for centuries, whether this prophet or that prophet, and it’s important that we have more people who are coming forward with wisdom to share.” For Upton, his faith and belief are the greatest portion of himself. “No one is going to stop me from passing the greatest piece of me to the people I have the greatest love for.”
What are some ways you’ve passed on your faith traditions to your children? How did your parents influence your faith?
Let Faith Be Your Sidekick
Faith and Nature
How to Put Your Faith in Action
Last week we asked you to complete the sentence, “My mom has strengthened my faith by…” We loved reading through all of your responses. Don’t forget to wish your mom “Happy Mother’s Day” and thank her for helping you become the person you are today.
Jill – My mom always asks us, “Have you prayed about it?” when we share something we’re struggling to understand or overcome. The tone here is critical, hers is always one of love and wanting us to find answers as well as building confidence in us. Such a humble and good woman.
Katie M. – ALWAYS reminding me who I am and what I have the wonderful potential to become. She’s always there for me.
Rae Jean S. – She’s strengthened my faith cause she’s ALWAYS been strong with her faith and has never wavered in front of me and my brothers and sisters. She’s been such a great example for us to follow! Even when my father died in 2010, she’s stayed strong. In fact, she’s been so much more determined to do what is right. She’s amazing and I love her!
Kay Lee E. – Staying true to the church and always teaching us about the gospel and the things that are right. :)
Katie H. – Teaching me how to pray!
Vichhaka – Enduring child abuse, surviving genocide, and loving her children unconditionally.
Anissa T. – My mom has strengthened me by telling me to give whatever I am going through to God. My mom has been my rock because I am doing chemotherapy because I had stage four colon cancer, but they got it all so to keep it from coming back I am doing six months of treatment, two treatments a month. My mom has been there for every treatment and telling me I can do it because I am a fighter. This is how my mom strengthens me with the help of the Lord.
Kira H. – Taking me to church since birth!
Juanita T. – By EXAMPLE, by showing her faith and love in God!
Zaneta F. – My mom is a fighter and she’s strong. She taught us to be respectful, strong, to have dignity and integrity. Also to understand that WE ARE JUST AS GOOD AS OTHERS.
Briley S. – Everything and trusting in the Lord.
Kimberly L. – Taking me to church every Sunday.
B-Smoove BC – Always being there for me and raising me to be close to God.
Moody Blues Alaska – Never leaving me and not [being] upset with me.
Cara V. – Always reminding me two wrongs do not make a right. She also repeatedly said, “you don’t answer for what the other person does, just what you do.”
Carol R. – Living her life for the Lord. Trusting him in all things. Everything she taught us was prefaced with, “the Bible says.” She was amazing!
Trish S. – Being with me for about 6 months during my illness!! She is sooooooo AMAZING!!! GOD has Blessed her with determination!! SHE GIVES ME GREAT REASONS TO BE FAITHFUL!! SHE IS A STRONG WOMAN STILL @ ALMOST 70!!! I LOVE YOU MOM!!!!!
Amy H. – Mum took all 8 of her rebellious kids to church and encouraged and stood by an inactive husband for 11 years, with no support. She never gave up.
Rodney B. – Living her Faith!!
Sue K. – Living her faith each and every day.
Cindy L. – My mom & I went to church & Sunday school when I was in grade school. My mother also helped with vacation bible school every summer. She was a very loving, giving, & helpful person.
Monique H. – Being the strongest woman I know to survive 3 deaths of the closest people to her heart and still keeping the rest of us together….love u soooo much.
Jacqueline R. – Teaching me that JESUS LOVES ME NO MATTER WHAT!
Rocio C. – Introducing me to my hope, my Love, my Savior Jesus Christ.
Avril G. – She always said I must trust God first. To be truthful, honest, kind and be respectful of others. Love each other.
Tomika A. – Teaching me the word of God at home and taking me to church!
Trina W. – Being a strong woman no matter what life throws at her she made it!
Tim M. – Her example.
Gloria S. – By watching her life in good times and bad and how she always told me just pray and put your faith in the Lord, he will see you through!
Alisha M. – She raised all 7 of her children in church and always said, “when all else fails, pray.”
Carol A. – Living her faith.
Gloria M. – Being strong amidst many surgeries, broken bones, men that didn’t treat her well, fighting to stay alive, knowing that GOD still has a purpose for her life! She is an inspiration to me and I Love her with All my Heart.
Diann E. – Teaching me to treat all people the way you want to be treated because you don’t know who are God’s Angels.
Wanda S. – Going to church every single week, through even the hardest times. Oh, and daily living what she believes…..
Polly E. – Teaching us from the start about Jesus Christ and praying with us kids. She taught us never to blame God when things aren’t going good or when tragedy strikes. She taught us to pray and trust he who loves us.
Melinda B. – Living her faith.
Travis M. – Teaching me the word of God and raising me up to believe in Christ, the burial and resurrection of his son.
Patricia B. – My mother was a Christian and loved her family the way Jesus loved. She took us to church and encouraged us to live for Jesus. Love you mom for teaching me God’s ways.
Tamala J. – Always being a good mother, keeping a roof over my head, giving me lights to see, and keeping me from [being] around jealous[y], envy, and evil people.
Donna G. – Bringing us up to have morals, to have respect, not only for ourselves, but for others. By having these things instilled in us while growing up, our faith was strengthened accordingly. I cannot count the blessings I have had during my lifetime. I am truly grateful.
Joe T. – Being! If you knew my momma, you would say “enough said!”
Kayla J. – Teaching me to pray to our kind loving Father in Heaven.
Robert R. – In every way – even after death!!! I remember all she taught me!!
Deborah J. – By being strong.
Judith W. – She always called on the Lord.
Patsie B. – She taught me patience, and to be strong in faith; that you may not see it NOW, but God is working it out. So true!
Kathy O. – Following her faith with conviction and grace!!
Ann R. – Living [her faith] and encouraging it for me.
Dorothy A. – Teaching and loving me.
Jessica H. – By showing me her [faith].
Leanna D. – Acting out a strong relationship with the Lord daily ????
Tanya P. – Reminding me to count my blessings in the midst of struggles and showing me how to find peace in the midst.
How has YOUR mom helped strengthen your faith? Tell us in the comments!
By Anna Delamerced, FaithCounts.com Contributor
In my first month of studying abroad in Edinburgh this past spring, I felt a bit of a stranger to Scotland. Drinking tea with milk, riding the “lift” and sleeping in a “flat,” trying to come up with the best team name at weekly pub quiz nights (“You’re a Quizzard, Harry”). I needed to know my kilts from my ceilidhs, scones versus crumpets, tartans to saltires. And I had to find a better way of answering the question, “Where are you from?”
My first view of Edinburgh on the plane in January.
We are pilgrims on a journey, homeward bound. (Image via Anna Delamerced)
Whenever someone asked me that question, my throat tightened a bit. I had never really thought about ‘where I am from.’ Explaining where Ohio is, is more difficult than I had thought.
“Is that near Canada?” someone asked.
“Oh!…” They throw me a quizzical look.
I resort to broadening the geographical scope by explaining it’s in the Midwest.
“It’s in the Midwest? Sorry, you said the Midwest?”
“Is that…where is that again?”
Understandably, my United Kingdom friends find it hard to locate the Buckeye state mentally on the map. (After all, I myself did not know much of the geography of Britain before arriving.)
Such is my life as a study abroad student.
After several weeks in Scotland now, I do feel settled in. The students have been so friendly and the church community has been so welcoming. They’ve fed me, hosted me, opened their homes to me. At the same time, I bear an acute sense of awareness that I am not from here, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to say I truly belong here. Since I am only here for a few months, my ‘citizenship’ is temporary.
This got me thinking:
Where am I really from?
Where is my true home?
Where do I belong?
In our ever-increasingly globalized world, we cross boundaries, move to different cities, travel over oceans. What is the meaning of ‘home?’
My semester abroad in Scotland has been teaching me that our true citizenship is found in the kingdom of God.
We are called to be citizens of a kingdom that knows no bounds, a kingdom where all are welcome, a kingdom better than the ones we see on earth.
I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, but I attended university in Rhode Island. My parents are immigrants from the Philippines, and so I was raised in a household where a plate of spring rolls would sit next to the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, where my Filipino culture harmonized with my American way of life. And now, I’m currently living in Scotland for a few months. But my true identity is rooted neither in my nationality nor in my ethnicity. It is not in the passport I bear, nor in the driver’s license stored in my wallet. It is not in what city or state or country I come from.
Rather, as a child of God, my identity is rooted in my Christian faith. My ultimate home is founded in a place that cannot be raided, in a place that cannot be broken in. In a place that stands, permanently. That is where I am truly from.
I know this world is not perfect. There’s a lot of suffering, dying, hurt, and pain, but we can hold onto the hope that we were not meant to live in this world. We were meant to live in our true home. I believe we belong to another world, one in which peoples of all nations will come together – people from all neighborhoods, zip codes, and cities – will gather round as one. A world in which there will be no more crying, no more death, no more pain. No more feeling like a stranger in a strange land, but rather, a child at home.
It may not be now, it may not be tomorrow, it may not even seem like it will ever come.
But I trust and hope and know that it will.