Religion has always been a part of my life. As a child, I spent every Sunday sitting on a hard pew in a small, poorly air-conditioned church. Each week, I listened to the pastor preach fiery sermons. I swayed to the choir’s soul-stirring songs. And I dropped a few pennies into the collection basket when it passed by.
My mother was a strict, traditional Southern Baptist and established several household rules. My sister and I had to memorize Bible verses, listen to Gospel music on the radio, and adhere to all Ten Commandments. We were not allowed to partake in secular things such as heavy metal music and cable TV. I was always happy when I could go to my cousin’s house where things were a little more lenient. There, I could watch HBO or listen to the latest AC/DC album.
This strict religious upbringing caused me to stray from the faith. I had so many questions about religion that no one would answer. I was always told, “Just have faith and don’t question God.” This answer was unacceptable for an inquisitive child like me. I wanted to learn more about the God I was supposed to believe in, but no one took the time to answer my questions. I was a confused and disillusioned.
When I got to college, I rarely went to church. Sleeping in on Sundays felt good. Besides, I didn’t see the point of blindly going to church while I still felt spiritually empty. Ironically, college is what led me back to my faith.
At school, I encountered people of many different faiths. They all seemed to know so much about their religions while I knew very little about mine. My roommate was Muslim and we’d have regular religious debates. To prepare for these arguments, I’d study Christian Theology books and actually read my Bible. I even read portions of the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, and several Eastern Religious texts.
I took philosophy, history, and comparative religion courses to learn as much as I could about my beliefs and others. Suddenly, it was okay to question my faith. Best of all, I had people who were willing to answer my questions. By the time I graduated from college, I had a better grasp on my personal belief system.
I would love to say that I immediately started going to church again, but that didn’t happen. I still didn’t feel comfortable at church and it took another six years before I was attending regularly. I moved back to my hometown and found a church that I felt was true to Christian teachings. The pastor emphasized love, compassion, and reverence to God as the core principles of our belief system which was aligned with my understanding of Mark 12:30-31 from the Bible:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.
All of these experiences have shaped how I teach my children about faith and religion and how I parent. I truly believe that children are a gift from God and I want to be the best dad that I possibly can. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse is the foundation of my parenting philosophy.
I don’t tell my children to blindly accept Christianity as I did when I was their age. Instead, I clearly state what I believe and why. I encourage them to ask questions and tell them it’s okay if they don’t understand certain things. I confess how I’ve doubted the existence of God and how I’ve expressed anger and disappointment with God. I’ve also let them see that I don’t have all of the answers. They’ll have to seek out some things on their own.
The main lesson that I teach my children is that it is more important to love people than to judge them. I regularly give them opportunities to show their for love through service. We volunteer as a family and do what we can to help others.
But most of all, I try to live my life in way that models integrity, morality, and grace. I strive to be loving, forgiving, patient and kind. I don’t always meet the mark, but I keep working on being the best man I can be for the sake of my children.