When Our Kids Drop Out of Church
I have noticed the same thing about other families in our church. During the service, our Sunday School kids sit together, in a special area in front, grouped by class – preschool and kindergarten in the front pew, then the first-graders, and so on. I’ve been observing the kids for several years and noticed that, while the front rows are usually packed, and grades 1 through 5 or 6 still maintain the same number of students, after 7th grade kids begin to magically disappear. There’ll be fifteen kids in 6th grade, and then next year in 7th, there’ll be three. Where do the rest go? I cannot help wondering, since next year I11 will be in 7th.
On the other hand, on the Internet forums that I attended, I very often ran into people that, when in their teenage years, had given up, not only on church attendance, but on Christianity as a whole, because their well-meaning relatives had pushed them too hard. I think I’d rather let my teenager leave, explore, and potentially come back, than have him drop the whole thing like a hot potato and harbor resentment for all Christians for the rest of his life. This is why I am letting I11 drop out at 14, and this is also why I’m giving him the reading list – so he knows exactly what he’s walking out on.
And in the same way, it is difficult not to feel a twinge of panic at some of the things one's children can say, even at a very young age (as when our older son, not yet four, opined recently as we said grace that "God can't really hear us when we talk to Him, can He?"); and equally, not to feel a warm glow of proud satisfaction at the occasional flashes of childhood piety (for example, the insistence on having a Bible story every night, "as they're more important than other stories"). So I can't pretend it will be easy to take such a detached, "big picture" approach in practice, as our sons grow older and this becomes more of a live issue.
I find this an interesting quote, in that parts of it apply to my own life, and other parts don’t. While I do, on occasion, feel the “warm glow of proud satisfaction at the occasional flashes of childhood piety” (can you believe K9 and his best friend had a confession recently, K9 being the confessor? and he's keeping the contents of it secret, too!), I’ve never felt the “twinge of panic” CE is talking about. Yes, my boys have their doubts, but then again – so do I! I think our doubts are in fact blessings in disguise. They are God’s way of showing us that we have outgrown our primitive or immature ways of thinking about Him, and are ready to advance in our knowledge. (No, I haven’t really thought of all these things myself – this is something I’ve read in one of Fr. Anthony Bloom’s books, but I cannot for the life of me remember the title of the book or find the exact quote!) The trick, when you start having doubts, is not to give up, but instead to do as much research on the subject as you can. I’ve done it when I had doubts myself, and I encourage K9 to do that when he comes to me with questions like “Mom, how do we know that we’re going to Heaven and not Hell?” or, “What if God doesn’t really exist?” K9 has a genuine interest for all things theological, so I trust him to be able to comprehend the material at an advanced level.
I11 is a different story. He’s a techno geek. He sees life and the world around him strictly in terms of mathematical logic. He’s wired differently than most of us, myself included. Consequently, it is hard for him to wrap his mind around the concept of God and the world as God’s creation. This is probably why he wants to drop out of church – try as he can, he just doesn’t get it. I really want to see what will happen after he gets more information. I believe his is the case where we as parents can do more damage if we push him into things than if we let him take it in at his own pace.
I guess this means that the task of encouraging our kids to stay in the Church requires a lot of patience and ability to process things on a case-by-case basis.