Teens and Faith: You Take a Teen to Church, But You Can’t Make Her Pray
By Amy Betters-Midtvedt
I remember bursting with pride when my little three-year-old daughter would ask every Sunday if it was her turn to get to “eat the body of Christ.” As a Catholic, I took this as a sign that she was naturally deeply spiritual and that God was speaking to her very soul.
When she finally made her first communion as a second grader, I carefully chose her white dress and placed my mom’s wedding veil upon her head. Her small, gloved hands prayerfully folded in front of her, I knew in the depths of my soul that her faith journey was only beginning.
She delighted in her gifts of a rosary, a prayer purse and special Bible to go with the one she used since she could read. This child was a child of God and she felt that.
What could go wrong?
Teens and Church
Fast forward to this same sweet daughter, now in high school and regularly challenging her need to go to church. Every. Sunday.
She needs to catch up on her sleep. There is so much homework to do. She is just so busy.
“And what is there for me in church anyway?” she asks. Questions and challenges are now our weekly ritual.
Nothing in my faith journey prepared me for this turn in my child.
I was an enthusiastic teen church kid, wearing my Catholic school education like a badge of honor. My “growing up” years were filled with memories of awesome retreats and youth group outings and even a brief period after a bad break up when I believed I should consider becoming a nun (you can go ahead and laugh here, my parents did.)
So naturally, my offspring would follow directly in my unquestioning footprints.
Finding Her Way
But God saw fit to give me a questioner. She is super good at asking the hard questions too. In fact, she asks the questions it didn’t even occur to me to ask until I was well into adulthood.
It’s often frustrating that she won’t accept the church unquestioningly as I did; but instead of being devastated that she may “leave the faith” or “fall away from the church,” I find myself inexplicably proud of her. In fact, I am equally as proud as when she displayed her fervent desire to join us in celebrating Holy Communion.
Because of her questions, I believe she will get to a more profound place in her faith than I did so much faster.
It turns out it isn’t my job to make her toe the line, head to church every Sunday and dutifully pray simply because that is what I did or that is what I want her to do.
She is not me. It’s my job to support and guide her in her search. Her journey toward faith has to be hers and hers alone, just like it is for each of us.
So once again, as a parent, I let go. I let go. I let go.
And I let God, just like we used to say back in my teen retreat days.
The way I celebrate my faith might not be the way she ends up celebrating hers.
And that has to be OK.
A friend once told me that when it comes to faith, it’s important to give our kids structure in the early years and freedom later. This same friend is a questioner like my girl and one of the most faithful people I know.
In fact, as I have grown up and my faith developed, I came to understand that there are many roads to the same God. And we can only walk on ours. We can encourage others along the way, we can bring them back to their path, but we cannot walk it for them.
Not even for our kids.
So, while she lives in my house, she’ll still join us at church just as she always has. It falls under the umbrella of family meals and vacations and holidays and pairing socks from the overflowing sock basket. It’s just something we do together.
And we will rely on the early foundation we laid by making faith a part of our family to be what she needs to find her way home.
I will pray every day for God to help her find her way to Him, and part of these prayers will be that in giving her this freedom to question and explore and find her way, she will see that this freedom comes from God himself.
And what a gift that is.