Friday, August 9, 2013

“Mama, you have to do whatever God says. But I don’t. I can make my own decisions.”

We are Catholics.  I grew up Catholic, worked as a Catholic retreat leader for three years after college, and now volunteer with youth ministry (religious education for middle school and high school) plus the parish council at our church.  My daughters have both been in religious education since they were three in addition to annual Vacation Bible School at our church.  But it doesn’t seem to be sticking in my six year old’s mind quite the same way as her older sister. 

For example, the other day in the car, my younger daughter Yasya was worried about her blintzes surviving.  After checking and seeing they were ok, she sighed, “Thank God!”  Her older sister was shocked and appalled.  “You can’t say that! You can only say ‘God’ if you are praying!”  To which Yasya replied, “it’s ok.  I wasn’t talking about your God.  I was thanking a different God.”  Hmm…

Another time she referred to God as the alien in her bedroom who tells her she must eat cookies to survive.  At Vacation Bible School when all the kids were supposed to yell, "Trust God!" she yelled, "Trust Kirk!" In preschool, she would talk about God as her religion teacher’s imaginary friend.

Because I know her religion teachers, and I have seen first hand how they teach and what they teach, I know her personal theology is not a result of them.  For one thing, she and her older sister both had the same teacher for two years – just with very different results.  And I know that neither my husband nor I refer to God as an alien in our bedroom, so she didn’t get that from us (honestly!).  At the end of the day, this is 100% Yasya.

With my older daughter in front of the church we named her after - St Sofia's
Yasya’s theology may worry her sister (who was named after a church, accompanied me on many retreats as a newborn, took her first steps in a church, and who we refer to as our little theologian), but – truly – I am not concerned.  I am kind of amused, but not at all worried about the future state of her soul.  I am more concerned about the people who ask me about her as if I should be worried.  Do they really think her ideas at six will define her ideas as an adult?

Here is what I have learned about theology and spirituality from talking to literally thousands of people about their spiritual journeys over the years and from working with dozens of Catholic parishes and schools.  Our faith at six is not the same as our faith at sixty-six.  Everything evolves.  Right now, whether she knows it or not, all her religious education classes, mealtime prayers, little conversations, masses, etc. are seeds being planted in her brain.  As she grows up and experiences life more, those seeds will be fertilized in different ways.  They will grow and develop in a personal way for her.  She will come to know God in a way which is meaningful for her (even if it makes no sense to her sister).  As her mother, I will continue to try to surround her with people who set good examples for her, and I will continue to take her with me to church and be open about my faith with her. But I will not expect her to be me. 

At the retreat center where I worked, we had shag carpeting everywhere.  Really.  It was on the floors, up the walls, even covering the end tables.  One of the things we would tell the students was that God was like that carpeting.  As individual humans, our understanding was like one strand of that carpet.  As we talked to others with open hearts and minds, our understanding could grow to be a square inch.  But that didn’t mean we were seeing the whole picture or that our understanding was the only truth.  I look forward to continuing the discussion with my daughters, hearing their experiences and their beliefs, and letting mine grow.

My older daughter happily, eagerly, reverently made her First Communion this year.

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