What Leaving the Mennonite Faith Taught Me About Parenting

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If you were a kid in the ’80’s, you either had a Big Wheel or were jealous of the kids who did. Reclining behind the oversized front wheel, a kid could feel more powerful than any tricycle-sized person should really feel.

Mine was pink and white with stickers on the tire and my cousin’s was black with red plastic streamers shooting like fireworks out of the handlebars. We rode and rode, around and around my driveway. The big difference between our riding was that his little boy legs were jean clad while my little girl legs pumped free under my ruffled skirts. My mom still bemoans all the dresses my Big Wheel gobbled up with it’s relentless rear tires.

We were the kind of Mennonites who wore head coverings and skirts and worked hard and sang hymns on Sunday mornings. If you are expecting criticism here, you will be either disappointed or relieved. I had a practically ideal childhood on so many levels.

Whereas many faith traditions hold loose tenets, mine did not. To be Mennonite was to be fully committed to our local fellowship in theology, conduct and culture. We made three services a week a priority and kept our social circles tight. Growing up, I knew little else.

My cousin and I in the Big Wheel era. 

My parents believed in Jesus and believed the Mennonite church held the best ways to follow him. 

My husband and I met and married in our faith tradition and started a family. We moved to the other side of the world under a Mennonite organization and served under them for several years.

The decision to leave our Mennonite faith meant leaving our mission organization and thus, leaving our overseas post. It was a complex decision that we held in our hands, bouncing gently, feeling the weight of stepping away from the culture and the traditions we had known our whole lives. I remember a conversation with my mom in which I asked her how she felt about us leaving our denomination. Her response was telling, “As long as you are following God, that is what matters.”

Those words have taken a seat in my mind and refused to get off the bus. They have sat with me through the sticky parenting days of toddlers and the sweating parenting days of tweens and high schoolers. As I teach my own kids the ways of Jesus, as I teach them my ways of seeing Jesus, I am wondering.

Maybe you wonder too.

What will my children choose to believe?
What faith traditions will they embrace?
What theology will they lean on?
Will their belief in the God I love resemble mine?

Will they chose a church tradition that embraces the gifts of the Spirit or community or social justice? Will they find deep meaning in liturgy and contemplation or in smoke and lights?

But those are not the biggest questions, are they? What about the more important things? What will they believe about the doctrine of hell and where will they stand on LGBTQ+ matters? How will they view scripture and women pastors and other religions and same-sex marriage and countless other issues that the Church is currently wrestling with? What will be the debates of the Church in twenty years and where will my kids stand on those?

Where will your kids stand?
Parents, what if your kids choose a belief system that is vastly different from your own?

Before we panic, before our eyes get too wide or our fears take over, consider this with me.

If you are currently part of a local church, consider what you see on a Sunday morning. Or on a Saturday night if that’s your preference. In my local non-denominational church I see a lot of Leaving:
-people who grew up in the Catholic faith
-friends who spent most of their lives in the Lutheran tradition
-former Amish
-many who left their non-religious past and now have an authentic faith.

Every one of my church family finds themselves believing things about God that differs from their parents and their parents before them. For some, the differences may be dramatic. For others, it may not be. But we all continue to learn and grow and change. As the good Lord intended.

You probably see it too. For most of us, that Leaving brings a sense of relief because we have benefited from the Coming. Coming into greater understanding of Jesus’ compassion and community and grace. We understand the Leaving was a prerequisite to the Coming.

And it must be a Coming and never a Came, because the ways of Jesus are so bottomless that we will never stop Coming.

And yet, our parents, as we stepped out into the Leaving, didn’t see all of our Coming. They couldn’t quite picture what our Next Faith would look like. Maybe they worried or maybe they cheered us on. Maybe the Leaving was so gradual they hardly noticed.

Maybe, like my wise mom, they chose to see the thread that connected the previous to the next. Maybe they courageously leaned back into the God who knows.

Because he is the only one who really does.

My kindergartener’s beliefs are as authentic as they come. He confidently prays for healing, knowing that his God surely can. He is also unconvinced that he is never alone because he cannot see Jesus playing in the yard with him. He wears his faith on his sleeve, for better or for worse. Completely adorable, I want to eat him and his faith right up.

My teenagers, not so much. They aren’t as quick to divulge every doubt or every answered prayer. Surely they have more questions about hearing God’s voice and how old the earth is and what God thinks about sex then they discuss with me. Although they have outward expressions of their faith- they pray for their friends, they (occasionally) place the need of a sibling before their own, they have a reading plan on their Bible app- God alone knows what they believe about him. And that needs to be just fine with me.

(I’m tempted to panic just typing those words.)

Our kids are all taking baby steps into grown-up-ness and year by year, their faith is becoming even more their own.

Since I cannot control it or fully know it, these things I am committing to do for my kids’ faith:
-Not judge it
-Not belittle it
-Let it evolve and grow
-Pray for it
-Trust Jesus with it

As good-golly scary as it may be to relax our tight-fisted grip on our kids’ faith, let us acknowledge here and now that our kids will grow up to believe different things about God and scripture and culture and doctrine than we do right now. Possibly even in the big ways.

My mother’s words aren’t just riding quietly in the last bumpy seat anymore. As I stare at my five teenagers, I hear her words making a raucous behind me, demanding to be remembered.

May we be brave enough to echo my smart mom:

“As long as you are following God, Sweetheart.”

 

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89 Comments

  1. This is really good, Carissa! You are a talented writer. And I love your mom, even though we’ve never met. (And you!) Your vibrant faith inspires me and this post gives me hope for my own parenting.

    • Thank you so much, Luci! I'm so glad this gave you hope. My mom is pretty special.

  2. It is so hard. To not panic.

    • Yes. Maybe because it sneaks up on us parents and we haven't processed the changes a lot?

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