Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health recently published a paper that concludes that a religious upbringing is linked to better health and well-being during early adulthood. At first, I thought this was great news, since we’ll do anything to improve our kids’ chances of being happy and healthy adults, right? Then I started considering the real reasons we think faith is important to our family. It’s a lot more complicated than just wanting them to be well-adjusted adults, though that’s apparently a great benefit too.
So why is it important to us to raise our kids in the Christian faith?
The fact is that a lot of young people take a break from their church-going habits as young adults, then return to their Christian roots and practices when they get married and have children. There’s something about bringing kids up in a church, with the habits of Sunday School, worship and service that we feel is good for our families. Maybe part of that “something” is knowing that the Christian faith has provided billions of Christians for thousands of years the spiritual tools for approaching our earthly lives with courage, peace, community, hope and love.
Modern bookshelves are filled with books about how to lead healthy, happy lives (and how to raise well-adjusted kids) and the lessons look similar to those the bible has taught for millennia. Scripture teaches us lessons about love, forgiveness, compassion, community, loyalty, praise, grace, trust, overcoming adversity, gratitude and perseverance. We’re given commandments that help us and our communities stay on course. We’re taught to take time to pray, providing important moments of praise, peace, reflection and conversations with God that are physically and spiritually healing. And our Christian identity provides a powerful framing to understand self-worth rooted in God’s unconditional love and purpose. These are just some of the foundational elements of our faith that create fertile ground for cultivating a life well lived.
Certainly, our faith does not guarantee an easy life. As adolescents, emerging adults and throughout our adult lifetimes, we will face adversity, opposition, loss, betrayal, societal conflict and suffering that will challenge and test our beliefs. We need a strong faith foundation to live through the challenges and the questions, return to scripture, consult our mentors, lean into our Christian communities, and recall the power of prayer. (See Sarah’s post: Why Young People Need the Church.) So we can consider faith-building as an essential part of our job as parents “to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”
Our faith gives us an enduring relationship with an ever-present Father, Son and Holy Spirit, along with a whole toolbox of lessons and resources that help us through our earthly lives. And it gives us the gift of a community of believers who share our commitment to each other and the teachings of Jesus to love God and serve the world. And finally, it gives us the promise and peace of eternal life when we come to the end of this one. It is our responsibility to pass on these awesome gifts to the next generation.
So we try to keep our kids closely by our sides on our Christian journeys, teaching them the gifts of a relationship with Jesus, along with the responsibility to care for and minister to others as Jesus did. We teach, lead, pray, show and then hopefully send them out into the world with their Christian toolbox abundantly filled with faith, hope and love. And along the way, it becomes abundantly clear that “it’s not what you leave for them, it’s what you leave in them.”
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9
Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16