I am a stay-at-home mother of four who has tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with. Therefore I was shocked when my oldest daughter, "Emily," suddenly announced she had "given up believing in God" and decided to "come out" as an atheist.
She said she was "happy" in her decision and that it just "felt right." She no longer wishes to attend church, speak to the pastor or even participate in family prayers.
I love my daughter dearly, but I am troubled by this turn of events. She has never seriously misbehaved or otherwise given me cause to worry before this. Emily insists she is old enough to make up her own mind, but I simply do not think a girl of 16 has the maturity to make such a life-changing decision....
Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:00 am
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1. CBH wrote:
This is a fascinating question. I am well past having 16 year olds, but I do have pretty good 20/20 vision of those days - I certainly did not do as well as I should. My advice to that mom would be to engage her daughter as to why she would make such a turn and then provide her with information and allow her to grow in maturity and wisdom appropriate to her age. Since when do we (safely) allow 16 year olds to make those kinds of decisions without our supervision. Yes, there are fluctuations in conversion throughout life, but we fail when we give up on catechising. And as moms we should pray, pray, pray, for God is doing more than we can desire or pray for. He listened to my mom!
September 10, 7:55 am | [comment link]
2. Sarah wrote:
I’d be fine with not forcing a daughter to *pray* at family prayers. But in a household where I’m praying the freight, the family culture would be as follows:
—attendance at Sunday morning worship
—family prayers and other such devotions of a time-limited nature
—civilized behavior on both occasions
Emily can learn how to behave in “strange, foreign cultures with which I don’t agree”—it can be a lesson in “multi-cultural tolerance” for her. ; > )
She doesn’t have to believe—that’s really not for me to force on her, although I’d certainly be curious and engaged as to how she came to this belief. But until she moves out and gets a job and supports herself—hopefully at 18—she’d have to engage courteously in the family culture.
I do know that as a teenager I was extremely doubtful of the Christian faith—and I don’t think such pronouncements should be met with hands to head or swoons with the lavender. I think a better response is “oh, really, dear? what led to that decision?” And then . . . “well, I certainly understand that the Christian faith is not something everybody believes in.”
The less drama the better, because the more dramatic resistance means that the “choice” gets further and stronger “commitment” in the face of pressure, and a chance to “settle in.”
September 10, 8:14 am | [comment link]
3. Undergroundpewster wrote:
Every teen is differen,t and the advisor would need more knowledge of the relationship between the teen and her parents, her church, etc.
My mom took Sarah’s approach and always provided an ear to hear my doubts and did not challenge my reasoning by any theological arguments. I am sure she prayed for my conversion, and that she believed that “this was just a phase” I was going through. She was right, her approach worked with me, but there were some missing years in there, and this approach did not work equally well for everyone in the family.
September 10, 9:55 am | [comment link]
4. Catholic Mom wrote:
This is not something I have had to deal with (yet) but I can easily imagine it happening. When kids become teenagers you have absolutely NO idea what whacky idea they’re going to spring on you. “Hi mom, I’ve decided not to go to college. I’m going to study with a guru in Tibet instead. Aren’t you thrilled? You’ll save a bundle and I’ll find the meaning of life.” Hasn’t happened—but I wouldn’t rule it (or anything else) out.
I think the confrontational approach (No! No! You’re making a horrible mistake! Listen to me!) is probably not going to be successful. As far as religion goes, I work on the “by their fruits you shall know them.” I want my kids to see the love of God as expressed by my love for them. They may doubt someday that there is a God, but they will never doubt that there is a me, and when they see me, they are going to see God’s love. I try to keep that foremost in mind whenever I interact with them, no matter how mad I am. (Which isn’t to say I’m not strict, because I am.) But, at the end of the day, I want them to say “there is a God, because I see his fruits in the lives of those who love me.” Because you are never going to be able to “argue” them into it. I also make sure that they always see church as a positive place with positive role models (and friends that they respect and like who go there). If going to church is right up there with doing your algebra homework (a pain in the butt, but it’s “good” for you) the day is going to come when they don’t go anymore. At least for a long time.
September 10, 10:04 am | [comment link]
5. Charles52 wrote:
When I was 16 and lived at home, I went to church. My parents allowed me to go where I wanted, but I went. We had an agnostic foreign exchange student for a year and he went to some church every Sunday. If you lived in my parent’s house, you went to church.
September 10, 10:59 am | [comment link]
6. Frances S Scott wrote:
My “athiest” son is now fifty. He had an above average grip on faith as a youngster, but became very angry with God at about 12 years of age when an elderly athiest friend died. After the friend had a stroke and could no longer talk, my son panicked, afraid his friend would go to hell, and tried to lead him to Jesus. The old man became very upset, his wife told my son he was never again to do anything like that. The friend died, my son has been angry with God ever since. I have told him that only God knows the eternal destiny of his friend, that we cannot know for sure what impact my son’s witness had on him…or on his wife.
On the other hand, he is the most Christlike of all my children in terms of kindness and loving support for the elderly, the sick and the people around him him who really do not make enough money to support their families. I gave him to God before he was born, he was baptized, brought up in the church and properly catechised. He belongs to God and I have confidence that God is working in him and through him. Sometimes I complain about the way God is working in my son’s life, but He knows what He is doing and in the end, all I can do is thank God and continue to pray. My son and I have very good conversations and I trust God to reclaim His own.
September 10, 11:11 am | [comment link]
I don’t know if this is helpful, but it is one mother’s experience.
7. Eugene wrote:
CAROLYN HAX’s advise is not all that bad. She does mess up on the “individualism” issue. God’s Covenant is made with our children as well as with us, so it is not completely “me and Jesus” In fact the covenant is a strong source of hope for parents of children who stray from the faith.!
September 10, 12:01 pm | [comment link]
8. Pageantmaster [KJS to Coventry] wrote:
No no no no no - she is a sixteen year old girl. This is what you say:
From now on you are banned from reading any religious books and don’t let me catch you sneaking off to church.
Some days I sit and think. Other days I just sit!!
September 10, 12:28 pm | [comment link]
9. jkc1945 wrote:
“Bring up a child in the way (s)he should go, and when (s)he is old, (s)he will not depart from it.”
September 10, 5:34 pm | [comment link]
Your daughter is still a child. You suggest that you are doing the right things to raise her in the way she should go; you need not Continue in what you are doing, and require your child to do, to experience, what you decide she will, for the present. And remember the scripture says, “. . . and when she is old, she will not depart from it.” You may see her depart in her younger, more immature days of life, but she, too, will grow older, and wiser, and the scriptural pronouncement will likely prevail. “When she is older. . .” will come to pass.
10. jkc1945 wrote:
Sorry, in the above post, I meant to say: “. . .you need to Continue in what you are doing. . .:
September 10, 5:36 pm | [comment link]
11. MichaelA wrote:
All the above sound sensible. However, the mother first needs to ensure that she survives her daughter being 16 - a truly horrible age… ;o)
September 10, 9:20 pm | [comment link]
12. CharlietheCook wrote:
Severely restricting her access to the internet would be an advisable first step. I expect a significant withering of her ‘atheism’ to soon follow.
September 11, 7:32 am | [comment link]
13. High_Church wrote:
Wow! I’m not sure where to begin with this train wreck. I’m not familiar with Carolyn Hax, but she does not appear to be a Christian or at least to understand Christianity.
This is the fundamental problem with religion as a family value instead of a personal one: Faith isn’t in the teachings or rituals of the group. It’s in the individual’s belief—with one after another after another combining to create a religion.
There are some many problems with this…where to begin. One the issue of belief is not a family value. Values are morals, morals are behaviors, behaviors fall under the category law. In contrast, Christians understand that faith falls under the category of Gospel. Secondly, faith may not be in “the teachings or rituals of the group”, but the Christian life is found there, where “values” are practice are lived out in the family of the church through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I echo Eugene’s comment about the un-Christian, but typically American, hyper-individualism which underlies everything she says. Christianity is a religion of covenants made between one God, in relation with himself through the Trinity, and the individuals he draws to himself through the community of the church. Our faith is inherently corporate and this can be seen in places such as the plural grammar of the Lord’s Prayer…prayed to “our Father” for the forgiveness of “our trespasses.” Moreover, it isn’t the sum of our beliefs which create Christianity; it’s the revelation of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ that creates Christianity. The KJV captures this beautifully in Hebrews 1 “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past under the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last day s spoken unto us by his Son.” Amen and Amen! The most fundamental problem is a complete ignorance of what Christianity teaches about faith. Faith is not a set of behaviors or families values (although it will change behavior), it is the supernatural gift (Ephesians 2:8-10), which is inculcated in the believer through the preaching of the Gospel (Romans 10), that allows a believer to cling to the grace of Jesus Christ for their salvation. Statements such as:
One of those answers might be that you raised her to think deeply and live honestly, and this is just where those laudable values unexpectedly brought her.
September 11, 2:33 pm | [comment link]
completely miss the mark. The Gospel is not a good argument or a well marketed scheme no matter how many evangelical mega-church pastors say it is. The Gospel is the power (supernatural) of God unto salvation (Romans 1). With that cleared up somewhat, my advice for this mother would be as follows:
1) Make sure she, but particularly her husband (who is supposed to be the spiritual leader of the household) understands the Christian faith.
2) The parents, particularly the father, need to make it clear that while they accept her unbelief, until she leaves their household she will be raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. What does that mean? It means sitting under instruction and catechism in the home and at church, although certainly if she is not a believer it should not include participation in things such as prayer or the Eucharist, even though logistically she may have to sit through them. Most importantly all this must be done with love, grace, humility and very very frank and open communication.
3) This doesn’t appear from the very short letter to be an issue of behavior as the mother says the daughter is not misbehaved. Indeed, I’ve found the atheist sort are often the well behavior thoughtful type, even if lacking a little common sense. So again this needs to be done with love, grace, humility and very very frank and open communication, but it seems like the daughter needs to be given the Gospel again. Teach how God has worked in history and pray that the holy spirit would work through the means God has instituted.
4) I was also shocked that no one mentioned the most obvious answer. Apologetics. Apologetics is nothing more than preaching the law to person and leveling their objections so that they stand naked in their sin before a holy God, at which point the Gospel becomes the sweetest news. Therefore, a parent (probably the father) should take an hour once or twice a week to work through the questions and challenges she has about the faith. There are very very good answer out there, especially to anything a sixteen year would come up with. The parents may also find that someone other than themselves may be better able to do this, if there is some tension between parent and child.
5) Finally, I would say that we need a lot more information. I find it troubling right off the bat that it was the mother and not the father who raised the issue. If I were a pastor and this is what happened my immediate inclination would be that the father has abdicated his spiritual role in the household. I’m sure there are many many other issues as well along these lines.
14. CBH wrote:
#13, Ms. Hax, the mom, the Church and the world need more advice from you! Well said!
September 11, 3:47 pm | [comment link]
15. Scatcatpdx wrote:
Albert Mohler came up a better answer than I can.
“Christian values are the problem. Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel.”
September 11, 6:33 pm | [comment link]
16. MichaelA wrote:
High Church, I wouldn’t assume that any of the parents who responded above aren’t aware of every one of those points, and also experienced at applying them in practice. ;o)
September 11, 10:18 pm | [comment link]
17. CBH wrote:
I think each of us above were referring to the body of the article and not to one another.
September 12, 1:24 am | [comment link]
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