It’s a thorny issue: how do you raise children up spiritually, helping them see (or continue to see) how everything around them is infused with the Eternal, while at the same time helping them learn to find their own way forward?
If you preach doctrine to them, sheltering them from other religions and telling them the truth only as you see it, then when they come to harbor doubts (and they will), they won’t know how to handle it. They won’t know how to listen to themselves and find a belief system that fits. They may try to swallow their doubts and stay with your religion just to please you; they may pick a religion that you hate just to spite you; or they may bop continually from religion to religion, looking for truth, but unable to tell when they’ve found it. On the other hand, if you never mention religion in your house and never involve your children in religious activities, for fear of putting them in a straitjacket and not allowing them to find their own path, they may forget how to see Spirit in the world.
My ex-wife’s parents took this latter path. As far as she could see while she was growing up, based on her parents’ example, the material world was all there was. Don’t get me wrong — her parents set her a fine ethical example: they donated to any number of charitable causes, did lots of community volunteering and put a high value on honesty and integrity. They even went to church for a few years, just to expose her to religion. The result? When I met her, she was a confirmed atheist, and was sure that anyone who had another belief system was delusional.
My father’s family went the other way. Among certain Southern Baptists, saying “I’m not Christian” is equivalent to saying “I don’t want to be your friend”. The church is at the center of social life, and moving from one church to another (much less leaving the church entirely) is a rejection of the whole community. When I was young, I didn’t understand this, and I would naively try to explain to my cousins that “because the Bible says so” was not a logical argument. For them, social acceptance was more important than logic. (There are good evolutionary reasons for this. As any mathematician will tell you, a friend or relative is more likely to give you a meal than a theorem is.)
My mother, who was mostly Zen with some astrology, numerology, and astral travel thrown in for good measure, gave me a role model for seeking the truth. She was not an overtly religious person — she never went to a temple or hung religious icons around the house — but her whole worldview was informed and colored by her spirituality. If I had a problem with a bully at school, for example, she would gently remind me that I had created this reality for myself, and the bully was a reflection of my own inner turmoil. Throughout my childhood, I observed the books she was reading, I learned meditation and relaxation techniques from her, and absorbed her ethics by osmosis. As a result, I learned to be a seeker myself.
For a child of any age, the best way to teach is by example. If you want your children to make an informed religious choice, to learn to listen to their hearts and their minds, to seek the truth courageously and faithfully, and to find purpose and meaning in their lives, you have only to do those things yourself.
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