It is probably with too much pride that I tell people that I am the only person in my family that attends church.
Not that I like that my family does not have a church they call home, but more that I like the fact that my faith was and is my choice to make. I am not a grandchild of the kingdom, I’m a first generation child.
But the truth is, as much as I like to take the credit, my most formative years of life in the church (my high school years) were also the years that my mom was the most active and passionate about faith and life in the church. My high school years were the years that my mom invited everyone she knew to come to our church. She made us pick up the children of her work friends, so that they could be a part of our church. She wore Christian t-shirts and volunteered in the nursery. She posted Bible verses all over our refrigerator and quoted them to her needy friends.
I guess I picked up my mom’s passion for faith, before she made her exit and took my brother and sisters with her.
You see my older sister got pregnant right out of high school, before she was married and the church didn’t quite know how to handle such disappointment. The church was ashamed of her and my mom felt the brunt of it. Then my younger sister did the same thing.
On the other hand, the church was proud of me and they loved to ask mom how I was doing. Every well-intentioned question about me, seemed to my mom, like a painful jab at my brother and sisters of whom they did not ask about. So she stopped going and so did my siblings.
Now I don’t blame my mom. She just wanted the church to love all of her children equally.
And I don’t blame the church. They didn’t know that every question about me poked a tender place in my mom’s heart for the rest of her children.
And my guess is that they didn’t know how to ask about my siblings. I don’t know if they just didn’t know what to say, or if they were afraid of embarrassing my mom, but their silence was interpreted as a lack of caring.
As a pastor, I know that there are a thousand things I do not think of to ask people about at any given moment. I know there are people who are longing to share if only I would ask. And it breaks my heart to think there are people like my mom who just stop coming, because I do not ask.
For every person, we the church, disappoint there is a generation of children who exit with them.
I believe completely that I came to such passionate faith, because I saw the difference it made in my mom’s life. The words she spoke about the church were words of blessing and hope.
I also know that my younger brother and sister’s formative years were the years where my mom felt the most dissatisfaction in the church. Her words no longer blessed the church, but they spoke of great disappointment and anger.
Here in lies our problem, our children are listening, like the song from Into the Woods, “Children Will Listen.” The Chorus says,
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
Our children are listening and at a time in the church’s history when there is so much conflict and so much anger and so much anxiety, I fear what it is the children are hearing.
Are we speaking words of blessing and hope for our church? Or are we speaking words of disappointment and anger? Careful the things you say, for an entire generation of children’s faith hinge on your words.
Will our children have faith? It’s up to you.
Photo by Marcia Widmer from the 2012 TM photo contest.