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My religious experience
Growing up, my husband and I both went to church with our families on Sundays. He was an altar boy, and attended Catholic school for a time. I took Sunday school and catechism classes to receive my first communion. After that, however, my parents didn't require me to do any further religious education or duties. So I didn't.
Don't get me wrong, I consider myself to be a good God-loving girl. But I have never found my connection to God within the walls of the Christian church we attended. As a kid, I would silently sit in the pew reading the pocket-sized children's Bible my parents had bought for me. I always loved a good read. Today, I find my connection to God through personal prayer and reflection time — which generally takes place during early morning hikes or late at night when I just can't sleep because too many thoughts are floating around my brain.
Part of my disdain for religion comes with the judgmental aspects of seemingly all of them. I don't believe God, the God in my mind, would cast anyone aside for his or her race, sexual preference or even religious beliefs. And I don't want my children to be taught to love people (or not) based on those criteria. But I do want to be able to teach them about a God that is filled with love, understanding and forgiveness… so where do I start?
Mystery of God
Brandy Walker, life coach and author of Wild Goslings: Engaging in Kids with the Mysteries of God, believes as I do that God is bigger than Christianity. She suggests allowing space for mystery when it comes to explaining God to children, saying, "God is an unfathomable concept. Religions lose their way when they try to fathom the unfathomable. Children are much more comfortable with the not knowing than we are." She encourages parents to "use their senses" to connect with God through touch or smell. She adds, "Ask them what it would look like to play with the God of the universe. Get comfortable with the discomfort, and trust your kids when they tell you they've learned something new about God."
Know what you believe
Nancy Pina, Christian relationship expert and coach, advises interfaith couples to be very consistent and in unity with sharing their faith in God, as children can become confused if they grow up with the teachings of two sets of spiritual truths.
She adds, "Growing intimacy with God is an ongoing [evolution] and it is equally necessary to share with children how each parent has trusted God in times of difficulty. Those tangible examples show children how God works in each person's life and are opportunities to teach how He will work in their lives."
Let God work through you
If you want your children to understand the principles of God, Pina suggests being the moral example of Him. She says, "As with any positive character trait, parents must be the moral example if they expect to raise children who are living out the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. The more parents grow in their faith in God, the more their life will be the standard their children will embrace."
So maybe I'm not as off-track as I feared when I heard my son's jubilant response to my impromptu birthday question. We raise our children in a loving environment. We teach them wrong from right. We try (and try) to be oh-so-patient. And we'll still leave Santa milk and cookies come Dec. 24, but this season I'm intent on making our holidays a little less about the commercial aspect and a lot more about the spiritual one.