Truly, I don’t know what I believe. God, no God–I can never make up my mind.
I could go into a big long discussion about it, but we’ll just go ahead and leave it at that because getting into an in depth theological debate is not what I’m trying to accomplish with this article. Rather, I’d like to discuss the benefits of church, even if a God is absent. Call me hypocritical, but I’m going to force my daughter to go to service every Sunday despite not being a true believer myself. (Yes, force, because kids don’t typically wake up at 8 AM on a Sunday morning amped up about getting dressed up and sitting quietly in a stuffy room for an hour.)
And here’s why.
Church teaches you to be a good person. The lessons learned in bible school and scripture are invaluable. Of course some of it is outdated – the book was written thousands of years ago – but the basic principles are applicable to daily life. Church teaches you to be selfless. It teaches you to give. To be patient. To be kind. To be loyal. To be honest. To be strong. And best of all, most of the lessons are taught through parables which makes it exponentially more exciting to learn about. Telling a child to be loving and helpful is one thing, but sharing the story of the Good Samaritan who, despite racial and cultural differences, saw a man battered and beaten on the side of the road and helped him when no one else would – that kind of story sticks with you growing up. Whether you believe the stories to be fact or fiction, they all teach valuable lessons that every parent hopes to instill in their child.
Church teaches you patience, manners, and routines. Like I said, no kid wants to wake up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday and listen to an adult read seemingly cryptic verses from an ancient book. But if you make it a habit to go every week, rain or shine, regardless of what football game is on or how little sleep you got the night before, you’re establishing a routine. Even if they don’t want to go, it will teach them patience. It will teach them that sometimes in life, you have to do things you don’t want to and still be well mannered. You have to greet the people you encounter with a smile and a firm handshake, even if you’re mentally pissed that you’re not at home eating Fruit Loops and playing video games. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than a bratty child (or adult) who always does what they want and acts like a complete asshole when they aren’t getting their way. Putting them in this situation on a weekly basis will teach them to be pleasant, even when they’re not thrilled about whatever they’re doing.
They’ll keep good company. I know this isn’t a sure thing because I fell in with some bad kids in high school despite attending service every Sunday, but typically the other children you meet at church and youth group are good kids with like-minded parents. It’s impossible to totally control and regulate who your kid spends time with, but by forcing them to spend at least some of their time with wholesome kids and their families, you’re increasing their chances of getting in with the “right” crowd.
Church opens up opportunities to new experiences. Our youth group went on a mission trip every year. Not always to the most exciting places, but an all-expenses-paid trip to wherever was definitely fun. My church friends were never my “main” friends growing up, but it was cool to see these people at school and have an unspoken connection with them because we spent 7 days working for Habitat for Humanity in Ocean City together. Little trips were offered locally, too, although I didn’t participate in as many of those. The youth group went to museums, ice skating, white water rafting, hiking–there was always something going on. They also did things for the community that were humbling experiences everyone should have, like helping at a soup kitchen, delivering meals to the elderly, or working in a donation center. Sure, you can do all of these things even if you’re not affiliated with a church, but you probably won’t. And with congregational funding and bible school fundraisers, parents don’t have to shell out too much money to send their kids on wholesome trips.
I want my daughter to make her own decision about God. And in order for her to make a good decision, she needs to be well informed. The same way you shouldn’t vote if you aren’t educated on the candidates, you shouldn’t dismiss or embrace religion if you know nothing about it. A good Christian should know the teachings of their leader, and an atheist or agnostic should make their decisions based on knowledge, not ignorance.
God is a comforting concept for a child. Although I have a really hard time believing in this almighty savior and his amazing grace, I still find myself picturing my loved ones in heaven when a death occurs. Not because it’s logical or because I necessarily whole-heartedly believe it, but because it’s incredibly comforting. All of my grandparents and great aunts and uncles have passed away. Two of my good friends died in high school. Picturing their pain and suffering lifted, fantasizing about seeing them again someday, imagining them all together and happy and free… it’s extremely soothing. Especially for a small child. If something happened to me or her dad, I’d want her to feel that comfort.
I’m no expert on parenting. I’m making mistakes and learning from them like everyone else. I am very young and have no misconceptions about my wisdom, or lack thereof. I know I have so much to learn, and if you ask me in ten years, I might be singing a totally different tune. But I can’t help but think that right now, introducing her to these concepts can only be beneficial.