My daughter is going through a crisis of belief. She’s eleven, and she made her decision for Christ a few years back. But now she’s in a new environment, and her new peer group isn’t buying the “Bible as the inerrant Word of God” stuff. At recess, they ridicule the stories from the Bible that their teacher reads to them each morning, and this has caused my daughter to wonder if what Mom and Dad said about God is really true.
This has given me some worry and anxiety over the years. “Years,” because while I knew this day was coming, I’ve had no idea what to do about it. However, this week, I was introduced to the work of an author named John Westerhoff, who has written a book called, Will Our Children Have Faith? In it, he talks about the four stages of faith. They are:
- Apprehension rather than comprehension
- Identification with the faith of their parents or peers
- Questioning, doubt, searching and experimentation
- Owned faith
Children first apprehend that there is a loving God before they understand much about Him. We could make a pretty strong case that they are born with a sense of the spiritual. Young children typically just accept it when we tell them there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere God. The doubts come later, but at this stage, they take this information at face value.
A stage of identification with the faith of their parents or peers follows. If they trust us, they will trust our God. They will model our spiritual walk through prayers and church attendance. If we are focused, we can teach them many good spiritual disciplines during this time that will lay a solid foundation for the questioning stage that comes next.
This next stage of questioning and doubt can be scary. It’s a time when children have a literal crisis of belief. (This is where my daughter is right now.) With time, support and searching, this questioning and doubt can lead to ownership of their faith, and an often powerful realization of God’s love and plan for their lives. In the final stage, the child is like those brought to Christ by the Samaritan woman at the well, who said, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
God gave me a metaphor to help me explain to my daughter what she was going through. I reminded her of the times we had talked about her wedding day and asked her if she remembered my role. She did. I’m to be with her when she starts her march down the aisle, and arm-in-arm, we will slowly make our way to the front. Up to that point, I have all the responsibility for leading her there. I’m the most important man in her life. But once we reach the front, I give her to her husband, who will then become the most important man in her life.
Right now, I’m also the most important man in my daughter’s spiritual life. She looks to me to find out what to believe and how to express her faith. She trusts Jesus largely because she trusts me and believes what I’ve told her about Him. But there is coming a day very soon when it will be time for me to give her to the new, most important man in her spiritual life, and that’s Jesus. She can’t always have me in the picture, because she needs to develop a personal relationship with Him.
I’ve had the joy and the privilege of “walking her down the aisle” of faith. And somewhat like a new bride, my daughter is nervous and having her doubts before making such a big commitment. And even after she has moved to the ownership stage, my role won’t be done. I will still need to model my faith, to answer her questions, to ease her doubts, to provide advice. Just because I’m moving to the position of the #2 man in her life doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop being her dad.