by Melodie Davis
**NOTE TO EDITORS: This is part 3 of 4**
for release September 15, 2000
When Teens Struggle With Faith Questions
The questions children ask about faith when they are young make us smile. Anna Marie was just going on four when her grandfather died. In a visit to the home soon after the death, the pastor finished consoling the family and Anna had to go to the bathroom. There she asked her mom, "Why did Grandpa die?"
"His heart was sick," said her mother. "He went to heaven to be with Jesus."
"Will Jesus make his heart better?" was her next very logical question. Later, sitting in her grandmother's lap, she tested some of the ideas circulating in her mind. Anna said, "Grandpa died, but he's not alone. He's with other people." Then she paused and looked at her Grandmother, whom she knew was frequently not very well herself.
"Someday you'll die," Anna told her expertly. "But you'll be with other people. And someday we'll all be together again in heaven." There was another long pause, and then Anna asked, "Where is God going to put everyone?"
But when children reach the adolescent years their adorable questions and comments often turn to questioning, apathy or rebellion. "I just can't believe in a God who would allow so much suffering." "I don't need all those rules." "Why has so much killing been committed in the name of religion?" We worry when their best friends don't believe as we do.
People have always asked and pondered whether there is a God and eventually come to answers. But a more pervasive attitude today among youth and older is "Whatever. You believe what you want to believe, I'll believe what I want to believe." There is a potluck approach to faith-taking a sample of this faith and that faith and weaving them together, which is often apparent in examining the popular music of singers like "Jewel." It is maybe more difficult to deal with this kind of attitude than outright rejection or rebellion against faith.
The classic stages of faith development include a time when parents generally teach children the faith they themselves have or practice. Small children typically ask the "how's" and "why's," but don't have the intellectual capacity to actually question the existence of God and other weighty questions.
Anna, when she asked where God was going to put everyone, was only wondering how God would handle the sheer numbers in heaven. Teens wonder at a deeper level whether there is a heaven and who all gets in.
As adolescents and teens develop their reasoning skills, they will naturally explore and question what they have been taught. This doesn't mean they will reject what they have been taught, but a person needs to go through a time of exploration in order to come to a place where he or she believes for him or herself, not just because it is what they were taught.
Eventually, many people who go through this time of questioning do return to faith-and make it a personal and lived faith. Various persons who have studied whether children grow up to have faith have noted the importance of:
* Youth experiencing what it means to put faith into action, especially
through service to others. So if they have experiences of serving others
as part of their faith activities, it is a good place for them to put the
theoretical together with the practical.
* Parents being faithful themselves-not living hypocritically.
* Having other adults who mentor them in the faith.
As with so many other trying times of parenting, don't give up on your young person even if he or she seems to have given up on your faith. Keep communication open, and try not to engage in shouting matches about do's and don'ts. Reassure them that what they are going through is natural, and express confidence that they will come to their "owned" faith. After all, we want them to have a grown up faith, and get far beyond the cute question stage.
What hope can you offer other parents going through this stage? Send stories to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 675 words; end material = 105 words
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