Several nights ago our daughter came to us with a curious look in her eyes, almost as if she was embarrassed or did something wrong and on the verge of tears. We dropped what we were doing and asked what was wrong, but she was hesitant to let whatever was bubbling below the surface come out for us to hear. After some back and forth, she finally told us what was on her mind.
She had questions—lots of questions about . . .
faith and God.
Jesus and how salvation works.
what heaven like and why people believe different things about God.
In a matter of seconds, all of the questions came spilling out like water from a hydrant. And over the next hour or so, we unpacked some of the answers. Her questions were real and sometimes difficult. I was digging deep into the memory banks from seminary classes I took years ago.
We said, “I don’t know” . . . a lot.
We hugged her, told her we loved her, and thanked her for being willing to ask the questions in the first place. She had more questions, but it was time for bed. We reassured her that we were available anytime she wanted to talk.
As Jenna and I talked through what had just happened two things occurred to me.
First, we should have seen this coming. I’ve studied child development. I know that she’s in the tween phase of life when the brain unlocks it’s ability for abstract thinking. Conversations like this were bound to happen sooner or later.
And second, no amount of study, seminary training or years of Christian school and church youth group can really prepare you for the first time your own child looks into your eyes and asks difficult faith questions of their own.
But that being said, we can be prepared as possible.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
1. Questions are good.
Reassure your kids that there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about having faith questions. They are a normal part of having faith. We tend to forget the similar questions we had when we were growing up. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably still have things about our faith in God that we don’t fully understand. This is a chance for you to invite your kids to join you in discovering more about God. Together, you can explore answers to these questions and help your kids form a faith of their own.
2. Don’t freak out.
How you respond the first time your kids ask a difficult question is a test. They want to know if they can trust you with hard conversations. If you freak out, chances are high that you’re not going to be the first person they think to ask when they have another difficult question. But if you freak out on the inside but stay calm and collected on the inside as you walk them through their questions, they’ll trust you with the next one. Each new question is a chance for you to reinforce the open lines of communication with your kids.
3. Respond honestly and with grace.
Don’t makeup answers you’re not quite sure about. While you want to be the person you want them to turn to when they have questions, being honest and saying “I don’t know” is a better way for you to build trust. Kids would rather have you honest than have you guess and be wrong. This could also create a great opportunity for you work together to find answers.
And if you do know the answer to their question, how you respond matters. Watch your tone of voice and your mannerisms—don’t unintentionally make them feel like their question is insignificant. Their faith is just starting to grow. What’s obvious to you is often new information to them.
4. Get help.
No one person has all the answers. If you are connected to a local church, ask them for resources that might help you find the answers to your kid’s questions.
This is also a good opportunity to partner with your child’s small group leader or Sunday School teacher. Let another adult who is investing in your child’s life in on the questions your child is asking and check in periodically for updates to see what other questions might be coming up in conversations.
5. Be present.
Reassure your kids that you’re available to continue these conversations. Don’t pester them and continually ask if they’re okay. Just be there when they have questions. Put the book down and the phone away and actively listen to your what your kids are asking. As long as you respond with care every time, they will keep coming to you.
Each time your kids face a faith crisis of some sort the most important thing you can do is to keep the lines of communication open by creating a safe place to process their questions and doubts. And pray. Pray that God will give you the words to say. Pray that the wrestling will lead to your kids having a faith of their own.