SAVED BY FEAR: A THOUGHT PROVOKING PERSPECTIVE ON RAISING YOUR CHILDREN WITH RELIGION.

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My mom helped me maneuver the scary parts of life by teaching me to rely on the magic of faith. I called on Jesus whenever fears arose. A familiar four foot tall painting in my grandma's family-room depicted a gentle, Caucasian man with auburn hair cascading around his strong shoulders, his neatly trimmed beard, arms cradling a helpless lamb; this was my go-to image whenever fear got its grip on me. The evils in the darkness of the basement always provided ample opportunities to practice the shielding phrase, “I rebuke you Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ!” I repeatedly glanced over my shoulder while pulling laundry out of the dryer. I booked it back up the stairs singing ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’ and was just barely delivered from the clutches of the sweaty, red Devil from the fantasy movie Legend. I was taught to pray to Him; the Father, the Son, the spirit-god, when I felt scared about anything, and that hansom, lamb-wrangler, would fill me up and protect me. As an adult I had a hard time sorting through all those different layers of God. I never felt secure in my prayers, because I couldn’t quite figure out who it was that I was asking help from. I didn’t have real faith that my reality was altered by pleading for extra favors. The only time that God felt right was when I experienced deep gratitude for my circumstance, a feeling that still fills me up when I am surrounded by nature. “Thank you, God” seems a true statement. “Help me, God,” not so much. This last year, I overheard a fellow mother express pity when she learned that a mutual friend’s child wasn't raised as a “believer”. She assumed this kid led a tragic life, in fear of death. I considered what my own children’s perspective of death was. I don’t promote the idea of heaven. That doesn’t mean we haven’t discussed death and the different beliefs about life after. We have had numerous field trips to the local cemetery, where we meandered around and I answered questions (to the best of my ability) about decomposition. We talked about the dates on the tombstones, depicting people of all ages leaving their remains behind. But this woman’s pity made me question if there was a benefit at an early age to filing hopes and fears away in an almighty. Do they need the thought of a bearded man standing vigil over them when they get up in the night for a drink of water. Or relying on unseen angels to guide them when they momentarily lose sight of me in a department store? Come to think of it, my kids must have it pretty good, because I really can't compare my personal fears as a kid, to the ones I imagine that they have. I don't think they are praying for protection in any way that I was, seven years old in my bottom bunk, hearing my mom leave the house after tucking me in and not returning until the bars closed. But there is a good chance my children have their own fears, which are every bit as real and as intense to them. Where do they go mentally under such stress? I have never been as explicit as telling my children that Jesus, the capitalized ‘he’ will “save” them. First of all I know too much about the power of words. If our society refuses to wrap its head around the idea that feminism means equal rights for women, I’m sure as heck not going to perpetuate the power of the patriarch and teach that God is a dude. I cringe in the same way over Disney Princesses that used to wait for a masculine savior to rescue them from their complicated lives. Ugh. Secondly, I feel that being saved is so much more about “I’ve got the golden ticket!” And not enough about “I practice the golden rule.” I understand that it is possible to teach both, and I admiringly respect the humans with kids that are doing so. For me personally, eternal life sounds like sort of bribe; one that may cause us to think less of the here and now. I cannot be sure that this isn’t our only shot at life, so I want to raise up my kids to identify where fear originates and teach them to conquer those inner demons, like fear of failure, or negative self talk,  and not waste time inventing mythical beasts to conquer in the basement. Attempting to teach my children to have an empathetic investment in the earth and its very people, is already a challenge. I don’t want to separate us further from the people we know little about, by religion. I understand that for some families, spreading the “good news” is what gets them in touch with the proverbial neighbors of earth. As an individual family, we will continue learning to respect and value the cultures and beliefs of other people and even enjoy celebrating our differences. I am comfortable exploring the scary parts of life with my children. Ancient history is full of terrible things. And, delving into American history has led to many discussions about morality and why humans treat other humans bad. There are current ‘what ifs’ about countries blowing other countries up. They are part of the discussion and will someday (I hope) be part of the solution. Not existing is a weird thing to imagine, but it is not a vague concept to my kids. People have died in their own lives already (Nana, Papa John), and parts of their world have and are ending, (native Americans, human rights, butterflies, coral reefs, pine trees) and how much of that will they become invested in if I teach them to believe that a He-man-God is coming to reinvent the world, make it new and carry us all to Perfect-vile? Life is brutal and I don’t intend to rub my kids noses in it, but I don’t believe that all fear leads to the dark side. Some of that fear leads to curiosity. It might be possible that I am letting my kids eat fruit from the “tree of knowledge”, and perhaps there will be consequences, like fearing an episode of the Cosmos where Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates the history of lead and its effect on the earth (pandemic worry for a week straight from my 10 year old). But, they can find peace by researching why something causes fear. I will be right there beside them. We are the only hands that God has, and I intend to lead an example using those hands to probe, explore, and wonder at every marvelous (and frightening) part of our existence.

-Emily

EMILY

Becoming a human-vessel made me a mother, but it also taught me who I am as a woman; literally, I didn’t know that I had a uterus or that it was super bad-ass, until after I picked up my first Bradley Method book. Four home births later, my husband and I have maintained a sense of humor while maneuvering the daily failures, lessons and bonds, that parenting provides.

      My brighter moments are spent homeschooling outside in the Sierra National Forest with other wild families, and pursuing a slow and steady education towards attaining my BS (I will never not think that is funny). Other days you can find me: eating pineapple even though I am painfully allergic, actually running out of gas, and crying in public when strangers show empathy with one another.