“Why should we have ‘the fear of the Lord’, Mom”? – That was what my 10 year old asked me when we were at his cousins baptism recently. We went to a very nice catholic church, beautiful.. and, it happened to have all these little signs/banners around the pulpit. They read things like “Truth”, “Love”, “Respect”, and one said “Fear of the Lord”.
My 10 year old son whispered to me this question (“why should we have “the fear of the Lord”?”). I guess he could understand the others good traits like “Love”, and “Respect”, but, being afraid of God just didn’t make sense to him.
I thought back to my childhood… where regular church sermons with threats of Hell and fire and brimstone were the norm. Where I was taught who got to go to heaven, and who would burn in hell, and why. We prayed for those poor lost souls (like my dad and brother who didn’t come to church) regularly. Yes, I KNEW what “the FEAR of the Lord” meant at a very early age. And, I was scared back then. I was sacred for my Dad… for my brother… for anyone who didn’t believe what I was taught. And, I was scared for myself whenever I “sinned”. Which was pretty frequently according to my mother. As if being afraid of any punishment from my parents wasn’t enough.
But that all ended years ago. Way before I ever had kids and decided “enough with church and all these threats and promises”. My husband and I don’t go to church…. either do our kids. We are “bad parents” in that way. So, I guess this little banner would confuse my son. “Fear of the Lord“??. What little he did know about God was all good. (Yeah, believe it or not, I do try to teach my kids the basic bible stories). So, this made no sense to him.
I was glad it didn’t make sense. I felt like, it shouldn’t make sense, because it DOESN’T make sense! SOOO much of it doesn’t make sense!! Still, I couldn’t help feeling this tinge of guilt (and what else is new?), and I felt like he SHOULD understand it.
I quickly whispered back to him, “I guess it means that you should be afraid that if you are really bad God will punish you”. My son shot me a bigger confused look… hinted with fear this time. I quickly regretted saying that. I didn’t want to scare him about this stuff (like I had always been). I wanted him to understand, but, not be scared. Understand, but, not necessaruly believe what this church and most christian religions preach. So, I whispered… “like, REALLY bad… like, people who kill people… they don’t mean God would punish you for just doing something little.”… I got the same confused look. I was confusing myself. I could see this wasn’t the time or place to discuss this. “We will talk more later, ok?”, I said.
And we did. And when we did… I told him how people believe different things about God, and Heaven and Hell, and how you should bring up kids, and about what happens when you die. I told him I didn’t want him to be afraid of what other people worried about… and that he was a good kid and he didn’t ever have to worry about that. I told him many people got a lot of joy and comfort out of their religious beliefs in heaven and God, and from going to church, and it wasn’t supose to be scary. I went on to say that it was good for him to understand different beliefs / opinions and he could make his own decisions as he learned things.
Of course he asked me what I believe. I was hoping he wouldn’t… but, of course he wanted to know. I’m always hesitant and leary on sharing my wish-washy beliefs with anyone, let alone my own kids. It’s one of the things I struggle with as a mother. I feel like I am pretty jaded in this area and don’t want to say the wrong things. I don’t want to force my skeptical outlook and agnostic beliefs on my children. But, I also want to be honest with what I do believe.
So, I told him I wasn’t sure exactly what I believed, about God, or heaven and hell. I wasn’t sure they even existed – but, it was nice to think that someday I’d see Pa again, etc. I told him I did believe we live on thru our loved ones, and all the ways we impacted other lives and the world when we were here. I told him I did believe that what goes around, comes around… and in the golden rule.
I also told him it was easier to say what I didn’t believe… and, that I didn’t believe a lot of the things I was taught when I was a kid. I didn’t believe that if there was a God, he would send good people… thousands.. millions of them to hell for not being a certain religious faith. I told him I didn’t believe anyone really had all the answers or knew everything, and that the ones that think they do should think twice.
We actually talked for a while. I even wound up telling him for the first time a little bit about my Mom, and how I think she’s a little sick. How she was very over board with the religion when I was little and how it made me not like it. It surprised me how interested he was in this. And, how surprised he was. He even got a little mad and acted like I should’ve told him about my mom before. Maybe I should have. But, I didn’t think he’d get it. And, I didn’t want to turn him on her… he loves her… and she is a good grandma to him. But,I wanted him to understand. I also wanted him to be aware in case she says or does anything a little off the wall around him, and understand why he never stayed with her alone. He’s finally old enough to start understanding, I think.
I asked him if he was curious to learn more about church, or religion… (since we don’t go), and he quickly said, “no”… and before I knew it, we were talking about school and moved on to lighter topics.
I’m glad we talked, though.
And, I’m glad he didn’t know why we should have the “fear of the Lord”.
He has enough to worry about growing up…
Still – I bought a book called “Parenting Beyond Belief” (http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com). I think it might help me the next time we talk. =)