Teaching Kids Faith Without ReligionMichelle Horton
“I think that when people die, they become new babies, and those babies become new babies again.”
I looked down at my 5-year-old boy in the bathtub, seeing the thoughtful look on his face. We weren’t talking about reincarnation — we had never talked about it, in fact, and I can’t imagine where he could’ve heard such an idea.
When I told him that there are many people who believe that same thing, and asked if he had heard it from someone, he said, “No, I’ve just been thinking about it a lot.”
I’m sure he had. This kid thinks a lot. He gets a puzzled look on his face, and I can see the wheels turning in his head — analyzing, questioning, thinking thinking thinking.
Sometimes the thinking manifests as worry or anxiousness. Often his over-thinking leads to existential observations that I’m left having to explain. The problem is that I don’t have any clear explanations.
For instance, at 3 years old, he blindsided me at 6 a.m. with this gem: “Who makes people? And who makes the person who makes people?”
The easy answer is, “God,” right? But the easiness of the answer — the simplicity — doesn’t sit well with me. My thoughts on life and death are complex and fluid, and how much can he understand at 3 years old? How much do I understand, at all? How much does he even need to think about this, when his Here and Now is so beautifully new?
And so this was the answer that instinctively spilled out: “Well, you’ve discovered the question that people have been asking since the beginning of time.”
….kind of a non-answer, huh.
He didn’t push that one (probably because he was still half asleep), but he demands concrete answers to where we go after we die — to what happened to Luke, Grandpa’s cat, who passed away. (Two years later, he still sleeps with a stuffed cat named “Luke” to remember him by.) He wants to know the specifics of not only life, but of death.
I don’t have the specifics. A lot of people think that they know the specifics, which I suppose is a major benefit to sticking with a religion. There are built-in scripts and doctrines and traditions for parents to pass down in black-and-white terms — terms that bring comfort and understanding.
But how do I explain the “big concepts” to my son, when I’m not sure what I believe myself?
How do I comfort him without a religion to guide me?
And so I turned to my friend Heidi of The Conscious Perspective, who runs a weekly “Q+E” (Question + Exploration) series. Here’s what she had to say:
I like that — mostly because the approach feels comfortable: Exploring the different theories, finding universal truths that link them together, admitting to the mystery.
But I’ve been thinking about it further, and I do want my son to believe in something. I want my son to find comfort in faith, not answers.
I want him to have faith in things he can’t see, like love and wonder.
I want him to have faith in positivity and intention (or “prayer”).
I want him to have faith in himself.
Faith that things will be okay, even when they feel like they won’t be.
Faith that there’s something bigger, more important, more incredible than himself.
Faith that there are things we’re not supposed to know, and that’s as it should be. That’s how it is.
Faith that feels intuitive, not forced.
Faith that he surrenders to and trusts in — even better than I’m able to surrender and trust.
I don’t say this because I’m tuned in to a “Truth,” but because having faith in a positive, loving force is a much nicer way to live. It’s healthier, happier.
So is it possible to teach faith without religion? I don’t know. Maybe faith isn’t something that needs to be taught, after all; maybe it’s something that needs to be experienced. Experienced on top of mountains and behind telescopes and in the birth of a child. Experienced in the quiet stillness, rather than analytic brain chatter.
In time, with my reassurance.
Until then, all I can do is take Heidi’s advice and lead with honesty and openness.
All I can do is find my own faith.