Want Your Children to Reject Your Teaching? Do This

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Right before my lonely years in a public high school, my best friend and I had a final interaction. Memory plays its usual tricks and I do not recall ever seeing him again. The details unfold like a dream, jumping me from one location to another without any transition or travel.

We had been talking, as usual, about life, the universe, and everything. I remember a hill with a few small rocks protruding amidst the thorny grass and pike-tipped vegetation. He was exploring the crisis of faith that ultimately lost him deep in foreign territory. The only specific question I recall was about the apocrypha and why it was not considered canon by Protestants. Without Google -- let alone Wikipedia -- and being but 14 or so, I knew nothing about that topic. We decided to ask his pastor.

My impression is that we accosted the man outside somewhere, saying we had questions that troubled us. Would he be willing to address them?

"Absolutely," he replied with a smile. "Let's meet for lunch sometime. I'm sure we could get this all worked out in a couple hours."

That lunch never happened.

Even then I sensed something in his response that discouraged me from pursuing it further. I am convinced, however, that he would have gladly met with us and answered all our questions. For years I blamed our lack of follow through. But after my post on brainwashing, I think we were actively discouraged from hearing what he had to say.

Table for One

In discussing how to help your kids not feel brainwashed, I gave you a list of things to do. But equally important is what you don't do. If you want your children to feel well grounded -- not ground into the gravel -- then you must validate their queries.

The pastor whom we sought out did not do that. Quite the opposite. He said to us, without meaning to, "Your questions aren't legitimate. There's no real issue there. Let's meet up sometime and I'll tell you how wrong you are in your thinking. Within two hours, you'll be set straight."

Want your children to reject your teaching?

Belittle their concerns. Mock their questions. Scoff at the lies, the foolishness, the absurdity of the other side. Do this, and your son or daughter will wander off in search of validation. Offer but ridicule and they'll latch on to that which offers acceptance.

Skepticism is popular not solely because it is easy. The skeptic says to your question, "That is an excellent point! What do we know about that? What can we know about that? Very good observation." This is the polar opposite of the religious hubris that says, "Ah, foolishness. See here, I have the answers of assurity. Doth thou question God Himself?"

Upon realizing I had missed this point in my previous post, I remembered the times I've tangentially blogged about this topic before:

Do not belittle those who disagree, for their reasoning -- albeit flawed or incomplete -- is compelling and rooted in some element of reality. Recognize that your children are seeking answers, not asking dumb questions. Indeed, their questions are an indication that they are seeking to understand why the world is the way it is. ...but there is much to learn about all this; we may not fully understand the other side and be able to offer their best arguments. And we may, gripping too tightly, bounce our children off course.

I am only just learning this skill myself, the art of acknowledging the difficulties and affirming the questions. The fact that I have an answer is secondary. If I want my audience, be it my kids or my friends, to hear what I have to say, I must not lead with any indication that their current quandary is but nothing. It is where they are, supported by a great many puzzles and imperfections. And my own understanding is but through a mirror dimly.

I invite you to walk this path with me. Let us give credence to their questions -- for their questions are real. The answers are real as well. But learning them is much an act of invitation. May our teaching, then, be inviting.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

P.S. I feel the need to add this little bit: There are no guarantees here. Doing as I suggest will not ensure your kids will believe as you do. Making fun of the ideas with which you disagree will not necessitate that your children will reject your values. I am not promoting a system; I am recommending an approach. I am advocating grace.

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  1. Christy

    My dad is one of those people who has a Bible held together by several strata of duct tape. One time when I was in high school, we were talking about why he hated getting a new Bible and he shared something that I have never forgotten.

    He said that ever since he was in college, he had been reading the Bible with a pencil in hand. Every time he came to something that he didn't understand or something that didn't sit right because it seemed unfair or uncomfortable, he would pencil in a question mark in the margin. He said that he had thought that as he matured and became wise he was going to erase those question marks.

    But several decades later, the margins were still full of question marks. He said he erased a lot of them, but then things that used to make sense, didn't seem to make sense anymore, so new ones had to be added. Sometimes, an erased question mark would get put back. He said he had come to terms with the fact that the question marks in the margins not going away.

    I don't think my dad thought of this as a great teaching moment or anything. I think he was just sharing a bit of himself. But I can't tell you how impacting that conversation was in the development of my faith. It told me that it was okay to have doubts, and okay to be uncomfortable with parts of Scripture. It told me that maturity and wisdom weren't about having all the answers. It gave me permission and space to have places where it isn't all worked out, and the ducks don't stay in neat little rows. It taught me God wasn't offended by wondering.

    • That is beautiful, Christy! Thank you for sharing. I have found, myself, that while I learn new things that clear up some questions, there is always more to learn. ...not surprising, as we serve an infinite God [smile]. But, yes, may we demonstrate that questions do not offend God; He welcomes us in.


  2. Nicole Meyer

    I married a missionary who after 15 years of marriage and 4 kids, announced he was an atheist and was the dumbest and most worthless person there was to continue in my faith. Our household became a bastion of scoffing, belitting and especially sarcasm. After years of neither of us handling anything well, he has a new expression of his faith, and I and the kids are in counseling. One child is off to college with another close behind. The eldest has rejected every value I hold dear and it looks like the other three are on their way.

    I googled, "what do you do when your children reject your values." The first link I clicked was ww.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2013/05/i-dont-believe-in-god-anymore-when-your-kids-reject-the-faith/ where the author gently advised that a teen's rejection of faith is actually a red herring. The author further advised to delved into the relationship with the teen to find the source of the deep, deep pain that was precipitating the rejection of faith.

    While this resonated deeply, I found myself wanting more and I thus found my way to your site. "Belittle their concerns. Mock their questions. Scoff at the lies, the foolishness, the absurdity of the other side. Do this, and your son or daughter will wander off in search of validation. Offer but ridicule and they'll latch on to that which offers acceptance. Skepticism is popular not solely because it is easy. The skeptic says to your question, "That is an excellent point! What do we know about that? What can we know about that? Very good observation." This is the polar opposite of the religious hubris that says, "Ah, foolishness. See here, I have the answers of assurity. Doth thou question God Himself?"

    I thought, well, shit! What do I do now? I have belittled, I have been caustic. I have thought, "how could you think that?" and other such things demonstrating arrogance and lack of compassion for their struggle.

    What now? Is there hope for my kids and I to heal our relationship? Is there a way to have and demonstrate my faith that doesn't turn them off?

    • Nicole,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story ... as painful as it is. I appreciate your honesty and openness. I'll offer a few thoughts here, but I welcome a continued dialog. I'm always happy to chat here on the blog, or you can email me: lholzmann@sonlight.com

      First, this is an excellent opportunity to model grace and our desperate need for forgiveness. I know I tend to think that grace is for "those sinners" out there who are still in need of saving. ...I smugly overlook my own brokenness, sins, and the sanctifying work Christ is still doing in me. Apologizing and asking for forgiveness of your children is huge. I don't know what that would look like for you -- a phone call, a note, a text, sit down for lunch, etc -- but demonstrating humility is huge. And the best preaching, as we both know, is lived, not spoken.

      You have belittled, been caustic, had proud thoughts? Me too. And when I realize that, I must go to the person an ask for their forgiveness (likely not in those words). "Bobby, remember how I scoffed at your question about grace? That wasn't cool. I'm so sorry. I wish I had said, 'Grace is a pretty crazy thing, isn't it? What, specifically, is bothering you about that?'"

      I know that's hard. It's even harder when it's been a long time, I know I was wronged in the situation, and the person is very much against me. This "be like Christ" thing is rough. Grace is difficult. But, the more I realize how much grace I have been soaked in, the easier it is for me to extend it.

      Second, it may be time to shut up. I don't know, but the Bible passage about "a prophet is without honor in his hometown" rings true to me ... people have seen us. They know us! Our kids, especially. They know how imperfectly we've exhibited Christ ... and even Christ Himself was belittled by his neighbors ("who is this guy? Isn't He that snot nosed kid who grew up next door?") I think this is also why people so infrequently do missions trips to their neighborhoods ... sorry, off track. When people are pushed away, for whatever reason, it's time to be quiet. One of "my kids" had a horrible experience with her church growing up. At one point we were talking and I said to her, "I feel like you're a patient who is allergic to penicillin, but the only thing I can offer is that. You don't like Jesus, but He's all I've got for you." And I left it at that.

      Sorry, I'm not doing a good job staying on point. Short version, building off point one, I tend to talk too much. I need to remember that it's not my job to change hearts -- that's the Holy Spirit -- and if I've hurt people with my words, I need to be quiet and wait for His leading. Until then, I love, in action, but keep my lips sealed until someone invites me to speak.

      That's hard, but it's a way I need to grow in faith. Do I believe God is up to this task, or do I think it's my responsibility? Do I believe in grace and redemption, or not? I encourage you to consider where you are with your words as well -- likely not exactly where I am, but I hope that helps...

      Third, is there hope? Absolutely. Redemption is real. Grace is real.

      But so is pain, so are the lies, so is disillusionment. That pain isn't just from you; your husband's journey hasn't been nice to them either. And people who have been hurt -- by their parents or otherwise -- need grace and love to soothe those wounds. When I was in counseling back in college, my therapist suggested that how we see God and how we see our parents are often tightly intertwined. That could be part of it. Hypocrisy is also deadly ... how much worse when it comes from the very ones who were originally sharing the faith?

      Your kids need love.

      I imagine you need it too.

      May God bring you people who will love you, support you, encourage you, and lift you up through this. And may God use you -- and others -- to do the same for your children.

      Those are my initial thoughts off the top. I hope that helps! Again, this is just the start. I welcome a continued dialog.