I can’t remember exactly at what age I started attending church. I just know that it was as far back as I can find a memory. Every Sunday my parents dropped myself and my older brother off at the church doors (yes dropped us of, more on that later) in the care of our grandparents. I loved church and I loved attending Sunday school. When my brother was old enough to make the decision himself he stopped attending. I did not. I looked forward to Sundays and going to church and eventually, when I was old enough, I was thrilled to be asked to teach Sunday school myself.
I taught for several years and loved every minute of it. The inquiring and eager minds soaking up so much and asking amazing questions. The Christmas concerts and proudly watching my students on the stage putting their hearts into their performances. The whole experience was rewarding and filled a spot in my life that desperately needed to be filled.
Eventually I moved away from the church. I can’t really give you one single reason why that happened. I don’t think there was one single reason, but rather a list of them. My parents (as I mentioned) didn’t go to church. As a young kid I blindly believed their rationale that the reason they didn’t attend our local church (we lived in the country) was because it was United and they were Catholic. As I got older that excuse completely unraveled when I eventually realized that my older brother and I were both actually baptized in the Catholic church. So, in reality my parents were no more Catholic than their kids that they dropped off at the United church every Sunday. I came to realize that shipping us off to church every Sunday – where we spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon with our grandparents – was simply how my parents got their time away from us. It was free babysitting. Now that realization didn’t really upset me. As hypocritical as it may have been I never resented my time in church or my time with my grandparents. But it certainly didn’t strengthen my faith, in anything.
So I have not been a regular attendee at any church for well over 20 years now. Am I a Christian? I really can’t even answer that question. Does that make me an atheist? Or maybe an agnostic? To be honest I’ve never spent time, until this very moment, even thinking about it. I don’t need a label. For me, who or what I may believe in is far less important than how I live my life and what I teach my child. I know, without a doubt, that the church did help shape my morals and my beliefs about how I should live my life and how I should treat others. And that, in my opinion, is a very good thing.
So now I am a mother to a 4 1/2 year old girl. We don’t go to church every Sunday. In fact that only time we go to church is on Christmas Eve. We talk about Jesus and Mary and Joseph because in my heart I feel that celebrating Christmas without that acknowledgement is just, well, it’s not right. For me anyways. So, we’ve talked about the meaning of Christmas for several years now. Of course it’s only just recently that the whole concept means more than just a winter birthday party, for a baby she’s never met, to my daughter. Now she’s starting to ask the big questions. And her new found interest in the VeggieTales has fueled her desire to learn about all things God.
I feel ill equipped to conquer this new phase. I can handle general questions about various kid friendly bible stories – I just need to go back to my Sunday school teaching days for that. But the bigger questions, well I find myself stumbling miserably with those. Who is God? What does he look like? Where does he live? Why did he make mosquitoes? Why does Jesus have two dads? I try to fumble my way through them but in the end I sit and think “What did I just say?” And then there are the questions about heaven and what happens to people when they die. How do you answer these kinds of questions for a child when you don’t have a hot clue yourself?
I don’t remember asking these questions at her age, but then I don’t really remember being her age. So maybe I did ask. And maybe that’s another reason I was sent off to church. I doubt it though. There were no religious discussions in our home. Ever. We celebrated things like Christmas and Easter by attending church – yes even my parents came for that – but I never sensed that we did those things out of faith but rather because of a commitment to family and community. And in saying this I realize that was actually a very significant part of why I enjoyed church so much. The community.
My daughter will continue to ask questions and, for now, I will continue to do my best to answer them. I’ve struggled a bit with the fact that I’m giving her answers that I don’t know I believe. But more and more I’m realizing that doesn’t really matter. I was surrounded by people, at least every Sunday, that had faith in a higher power and I eventually made my own decisions as to what I believe in – which is that I don’t know what I believe in – and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to figure that out (sort of) myself. I was not pushed into faith nor was I denied the chance to explore it. Perhaps one day, if she’s interested, I will start attending church with my little one so she can learn more and in a way that I just can’t teach her. Or maybe she’ll simply grow tired of VeggieTales and I will prepare myself for whatever questions the next favorite series brings.