By Rose Huff
My 17-year-old daughter has continually surprised me from the moment she was two minutes old—when the attending medical team commented on her unusual mental sharpness. I say this not just for bragging rights, but to provide a backdrop for what she has always done—pondered mature philosophical ideas. I should have expected it, then, when I suggested she pray about her prospective college scholarship awards, and she said to me: “You know, Mom, I’m not sure there is a God.”
As a clinical therapist, I’ve been trained to develop a therapeutic visual facade—known as “game face” in sports circles. Upon hearing her declaration of considering atheism, I went instinctively into a calm, emotion-free, therapy face. But on the other side of my game face was panic face—aaaagggghhhh! How could my daughter question God’s existence? OK, breathe … breathe … relax! Stay calm … breathe!
After stabilizing my oxygen intake, I managed to morph back into normal mode, the calm and understanding Mom who has so often helped her child walk through life’s difficult issues. “So dear, how did you come to that thought?” Alexis proceeded to paint a picture of inconsistencies between what she had been taught and believed God was supposed to be like, and that he actually did not seem to be measuring up historically, globally and personally. As usual, she cogently blended logic with 17-year-old experience.
Being the dutiful, though slightly panicky Mom, I thought it best to ask her general questions about her previously held proofs of God’s existence as well as provide her with what I believed to be some helpful direction. I proposed to her that faith is always a personal experience, and one human cannot establish belief for another. I told her she would have to discover her own experience of God, and that if she was willing to prove that he exists, then he would surely provide her a unique assurance of his existence.
She reminded me that my reasoning was flawed because any scientist worth her research knows that you cannot prove that something exists; you prove what does not exist based on the absence of certain traits in your subject matter. What?
Knowing my child’s personality, I have learned it is best to challenge her thinking, or debate with her, only if she initiates the dialogue. Since she was not asking me for proof or assurance, I told her that I appreciated the fact she was willing to share such a huge personal struggle with me. I assured her that, if she decided to discuss more about spiritual paths, I would gladly do that with her.
That conversation stayed with me for the next several days, and I added her need for clarity to my prayer list. I realized that praying about it would be the most powerful action I could take. Next, I realized that the things I said to her—even in game face—were wholly correct. She needed to know that she could ponder the most monumental concept of humanity and that she could rely on me to support her.
I don’t have to agree with her or like it, but she would not benefit from the pressure of an upset parent. She, like most of us, needs the freedom to not believe in order to make the journey toward believing. It’s the age-old parenting technique used with your toddler who has learned to say no. You provide options instead of choosing for them: We learn to ask the small child who refuses to wear a shirt, “Do you want to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt?” This has always worked well between Alexis and me.
The other part of my realization was that, once again, my own faith is being challenged. I need to trust that God holds my daughter as lovingly in his hands as I have always experienced him in directing my own life’s journey. After all, he blessed me by allowing me to give birth to her and rear her, but ultimately she belongs to him. It is his desire that none should be lost, but each person’s journey is a unique path toward him.
As a parent I always wanted two things that were mutually exclusive: 1) the best for my children; and 2) to shield them from any pain or hurt. Unfortunately, if a person ever made it from birth to age 18 with factor number two ruling the day, he or she would not be equipped to manage mature, productive adult life.
So while on one hand I would love for Alexis to have already arrived at that amazing place of believing with certainty that God exists, I know that merely accepting that without the process of struggling through her doubts would rob her of the rich experience and lessons that will someday make him a reality to her.
On the other hand, I also know God’s love for Alexis, and I can rest in faith that at the right time he will make himself irrefutably known to her.