At some point in your child’s life and education, they will hopefully encounter people different from them and experience traditions with which they are unfamiliar. Perhaps your school age child’s classmate comes from a Muslim family and attends mosque on Friday nights. Perhaps your teenager's colleague at their part-time job practices transcendental meditation. Maybe their best friend is from a charismatic Pentecostal background and visiting church with them is the first time your kid has heard people speaking in tongues. Perhaps your college age student is taking a Pluralism class in university and learning in detail for the first time about the tenets of the other major world religions. The world is very big with such a variety of humans in it. And it’s a beautiful thing.
If by exposure to other ways of life and traditions your kid develops an interest in other faith traditions, note that that is very normal and to be expected. Exposure prompts questions, and questions hopefully lead to exploration and searching.
The exploration of faith traditions indicates a spiritual curiosity and a hunger for the Divine and holy. Because creation—all of life—speaks of God’s glory, creation (including people) can draw people into awareness and longing for God (Psalm 19:1-4). Remind yourself, “My kid has a longing for God. They are responding to a prompting within them to seek God.” That is something to delight in. They are discerning that there are things beyond what the eye can see as they search for God, the Creator, the One behind, beneath, beyond, and within all of life. Something in their soul longs for connection and communion with the presence of God. That hunger is something to be pleased about as a parent who loves God and longs for your child to know and love God.
Don't be scared of their seeking, and don’t teach them to fear it. Encourage their spiritual hunger. Guide them toward what you know to be true—that is all you can do as a parent.
As humans, we want to pass on and teach what has been true for us. As a parent, your life is a living testament to your own faith, whatever that looks like.
Across Christianity, there are many different expressions of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Each of these traditions have different emphases, different practices, different doctrinal tenets. Yet all remain united in faith in Christ Jesus as Lord.
There is a wide range of Christian expression, much of which might not look like what you are used to. It can be difficult and alarming to see your child whom you love and raised in your faith context venturing in wider circles. It upsets our sense of identity. It can be alarming to think of your kid living a life apart from faith in Jesus (or at least a life of faith different from what you’ve known).
But, if your child is exploring spirituality of whatever form, that means at least they are responding to the invitation of the Spirit within them to seek God. And they are following as they understand. They are trying to respond.
You can guide them. Share your story with them. Why Jesus for you? Young people with questions don’t often want doctrinal answers—they can look that up for themselves. It’s the why—why do you follow Jesus? What has Jesus done for you? What compels you? Is it love or is it fear? Is it an active, daily faith or simply loyalty to a tradition? What does it mean for your daily life and rhythms that you follow Jesus? Why should they give their lives over to Christ? Share with them your experiences, the access points you’ve had to God, what has prompted or nurtured your own spirituality, your own relationship and connection with God. In what way is your faith attractive? They want evidence that faith means something, that it does something to and for your life, besides indicating you belong to a certain group.
This is not a one-time quick, it’s an ongoing conversation. Just as following Jesus is a life-long journey, your faith is something your kids see throughout both your and their lives. Hopefully, they’ve been able to see why Jesus is important to you. If not, consider how your faith plays out daily and its implications for your lived life, or not. We all face seasons of doubt and discouragement and look to see where God is present in our struggles. Keep pointing to God and trust that the One who began a good work will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6).
Also remember that your kid is not you. Don’t expect that they will do just as you have done. Trust that God is drawing them in ways their souls can recognize and receive and that Jesus chooses them. Pray for their ability to receive and respond to Christ’s invitation to them (John 15:16). Parents plant seeds of faith and tend them, but we trust the transformation of hearts to God. Parents don’t own their children’s spirituality or their spiritual experience. You control only you, and their spirituality and faith is theirs. Their relationship to God is theirs to cultivate and express. Ultimately, it’s their business with God. Accepting that children become something other than what you perhaps expected or hoped for them, you must learn to accept them as they are and the situation as it is. Keep on praying for them to grow in knowing Jesus.
If your child is exploring other faith traditions, go on the journey with them. Read up, watch videos, attend services with them, learn about the topics/questions/aspects they are looking into. You can have a conversation with them about it, and it might encourage them that you are taking an interest in their spiritual pursuit. This can broaden your view of God’s kingdom and help you offer guidance to your child as you see things come up and steer them in a life-giving direction. This can sharpen your own perspective and understanding of your own faith.
One of the most effective things you can do for your child, especially when they journey out on their own, is to pray for them. Pray regularly for them, and enlist other trusted people to pray for them as well.
Help your child find good mentors to walk with them through their life and faith journey. Help them find people of faith with good intentions and who mentor and love well, so you can know that others are also supporting and walking with your child, in addition to yourself.
Also, if you have anxieties and worries about your child, find a trusted person to share these things with, because you too, need support.
Trust that this child has always belonged to God since before they were entrusted to your care. You’ve probably been praying for them their whole lives, and they are loved even more by God. God is drawing them, and they will find their way to God because they are made for God and known by God and loved by God (Psalm 139:1-18). So don’t fear. Trust the wideness of God and believe that God can reach a person beyond what we can see or understand. The One who began a good work in them is still carrying it on to completion.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster