[Week 8 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Faith versus superstition
What do you have faith in? Before you can answer that, you have to have an idea of what is meant by faith. True, words can mean different things to different people. However, a concept is a concept by any other name, to misquote Shakespeare.
The crux of the problem with agreeing about what faith is is that some people equate it with superstition while others say it is believing in something based on evidence. I am in the latter camp, so that is how I will use it in this discussion.
Consider how the word is used person to person. Let’s say you ask someone to deliver a large sum of money to make a payment for you. You would probably say you have faith in that person’s ability and intent to do as asked. Why would you have such faith? Only because you know him well enough to judge his character and skills.
Faith doesn’t always require completely understanding something, either. A classic example is the airplane. Most people have enough faith that it will fly even though they have very little understanding of how or why. They have observed that airplanes are fairly reliable about flying.
The first thing that comes to most peoples’ minds when faith is mentioned is beliefs about how the world came into existence and the meaning of life. There is a strong tendency to dismiss conclusions that we don’t agree with as superstition. What we need to find is a balance between our own confidence and respecting people who are also doing their own best to figure out life.
Discussing faith with our children
How does this all affect your relationship with your child? In two main ways:
- They need to feel free of ridicule as they explore what or who they will have faith in regarding the essence of life.
- They need you to be able to discuss what you have faith in and why.
Children will naturally ask questions about life. If you respond to their childish perspectives with impatience or disdain, you will probably damage their trust in you. I watched a movie recently that portrayed the father as supposedly attempting to encourage his 11 year old son to explain a matter of faith. I think the movie showed a likely outcome of the father’s challenge to “explain that myth.” The boy shut down and walked away, both mad and humiliated.
As children get older and ask more difficult questions, they need to know that you will respond with thoughtfulness and unconditional acceptance of them. A wise parent will realize that one discussion is not the final outcome. On top of that, the parent can likely learn things from both how the child sees things and by trying to answer the questions.
Being an example of confident faith
If you are able to discuss your own faith without being defensive, you show them that not only is the subject safe, but that their own decisions do not depend on someone else’s acceptance of them. This makes it more likely that they will choose well. They will not be easily swayed by harmful pressures later.
One way or another, talking about real faith, as opposed to religion, exposes the heart and soul of a person. It lets you see someone’s deepest concerns. It explores concepts that shape priorities and actions. You can offer your child extremely helpful insights into these issues, but you can’t have faith in anything for them.
Faith by any other name is faith
Some people will try to say that they don’t need to have faith in anything. This is often backed up with claims about natural versus supernatural. For a good discussion of that supposed dichotomy, I recommend C.S. Lewis’s book, Miracles.
The book is admittedly from a Christian perspective, but even if you don’t end up agreeing with him, I think you will come away with a better understanding of what the real questions are.
If you have read much of what I’ve written, you will know that I have faith in the Creator God and his manifestation as his son, Jesus. This is not a religious decision, and I’m not even a part of any institutionalized religion. Knowing what you have faith in will give you a foundation for parenting that nothing else can. Being able to explain it gently to a child is like sharing sunshine in a grassy field.