Going with God - For Parents

Author: Adrian Williams
April 20, 2020

This week’s question is parent related, and it’s one I’ve heard too often over the years: “How am I supposed to teach my kids theology when I don’t know enough myself?" First, let us remove that ending. You know plenty and trust me your kids are looking more to you for theology than they ever will to me or their teachers at church. You as parents are always the main influencers in a child’s faith development, even if they choose a different type of faith, they will be able to name what was most important to their family and where they felt heard and where they knew better than to talk about certain things. 

That last piece always strikes me as an educator. No subject should be off the table for dialogue. Even when you don’t know an answer or where you aren’t sure how to best discuss something it means a ton to a child that you are willing to say “I’m really not sure (what the answer is or what you are asking) but here are some of my thoughts.” Too often we think faith is about having the right answers and thus we cannot talk about theology without years of education on the subject and certainty of answers.  The thing is that while good theology does include some knowledge of tradition and scripture, most of theology is “the symbolization of personal experience” – James Fowler. It is that personal experience, both you own developed over a lifetime and your families developed via a shared life, that brings the questions a child has to mind, and also gives you the ability to dialogue and help them develop answers of their own while examining your own.  Even with all of that said, I know how hard it can be to consider one’s own experiences and what that means to us all.

So, what follows is a process that can help you work through your theology and feel more prepared to talk with your kids about these important subjects. This is admittedly done best in small groups of adults, but can be done solo as well.

  1. First think about 10 words you would use to describe yourself. These can be any words at all, all that matters is that you feel they are fitting.
  2. Share (consider) your list and the feelings you had while making the list.  What was hard? What was easy? Were 10 words too few or too many?
  3. Look at your list, which word is least important to you out of the list.  This doesn’t mean it is unimportant, just not as important as the others.  Cross this word off.
  4. Repeat step 3 until you have only 1 word remaining.
  5. Share (consider) what the experience of having to choose which words would go was like for you.
  6. Write down what you feel you have discovered, how you made your choices, what things in your life played into your choices, etc.
  7. Pause, take a break, do something you enjoy or that gives you energy before returning to the next step.
  8. Take a sheet of paper and make 2 columns, in the first list your important theological questions. Theological questions can be defined here as speaking about the major issues of life (God concepts, faith, prayer, illness, disasters, death, etc.)
  9. In the 2nd column list the theological questions your children have asked (be as close to their language as possible)
  10. Compare the lists, note what questions appear on both lists, look at the similarities and differences in language between the questions.
  11. Find the story “Abu Kasem’s Slippers” from The King and the Corpse and read it. Consider the following: What are your slippers? What continues to haunt you? In what ways would you like to live with your slippers? How does this relate to your theology?
  12. Our language for faith and religion began as children, once again split a sheet into 2 columns and in the first write a list of words that they associate with the faith of their childhood and youth.
  13. In the second column write words that you now use in relation to your faith. Now circle words that appear on both lists. Underline words that are similar in meaning to you on both lists. Consider how both your faith and the language you use to describe it has changed over your life.
  14. Take a couple of minutes to review your work up to this point. When you feel ready move to the next step.
  15. Complete some sentences in your own words: Religion is…  Faith is…  I am…  God is…  etc.
  16. Choose an age group appropriate for your household (younger than Middle School) and work to translate your sentences into language that children of that age may understand.
  17. Read the poem The Centipede by Carmen De Gasztold
  18. Take some time to recognize that we all come with some spiritual baggage, take time to recognize your own, to read things that encourage you, and don’t forget that while you may be the main theologian for your children you are not alone. Feel free to contact me or each other for support and more thoughts in addition to your own.

I hope you found this process helpful, it is a shortened version of part of a parent retreat that looks at both our own faith and how/what/why we share what we do with our families. -“A”


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