Readers Are Spellbound & Perplexed…
Dear GWBW — I was raised Christian but no longer go to church, but my parents are still into it. When I go home to visit them, I don’t want them ramming their religion down my throat but it’s still their house, and I’ve never figured out how to let them know respectfully. I consider myself spiritual just not religious. I’m 28. — Respectful Son
Dear Respectful Son,
I have a lot of questions regarding your question. I cannot know if your parents are preaching at you throughout the visit and pushing you to go to church? Are you questioned on the state of your soul and your rightness with the Christian faith? I cannot tell from your question if you are being harangued, prodded or just extra sensitive to your parent’s preaching. So with the hope that rational, non-judgmental minds wanting only the best for each other will prevail in this situation, I’ll try to answer.
I can tell you that feeling like you can share all of who you are with the people you love, most especially your parents, really does wonders for your own sense of self. Think of it as a growth opportunity that allows you to be an adult—with your parents. Though this hurdle may feel insurmountable, the truth is when you do finally present who you are what you believe to your parents in a self-accepting, confident manner, you will feel better about yourself.
Chris Rock once said, “Secrets rot the soul.” I believe this to be true, whether the secrets are huge betrayals or any of the small ways we hold back from sharing who we really are and what we really believe to fit in. If you accept who you are and what you believe, though these beliefs may differ from your parents Christian faith, you truly stand as an adult, self-affirming. You don’t hold anything back, which means you allow yourself to shine—fully.
My thought, personally, is that all faiths speak to God in their own language. So, in my world, there is room for spiritual beliefs and Christian faith to co-exist. In your parents world, it may take a straight forward, non-judgmental conversation. Let them know that you appreciate the foundation you received, and your personal beliefs have shifted. You may expect at least one or two in-depth religious arguments, but if you remain compassionate, non-judgmental and open, you will represent yourself and your beliefs well.
As my Dad said after hearing I no longer went to church, “I don’t care what you believe, only that you believe in something.” So believe.
Be thyself. Fully. Don’t hold back.
Dear Respectful Son,
This is a very complex question fraught with issues, but it most makes me want to respond politically: Don’t let religion kill your family’s relationship and love for each other. To put a finer point on it, to my ears, this issue is less about religion or spirituality than it is family (of individuals) dynamics development.
1) You’re 28 and on your own. 2) Your religion doesn’t define you but does it your parents? Let’s start here.
1) You da man! You’re already out there, presumably, rocking your own adult identity and…have a life. No need to prove to your parents that your choices are your own and that you’re happy, at this stage in time. Your parents, in turn, should not feel attachment to or definitively act like they hold parental final say over your adult decisions. Ideally, they should have trusted their own parenting skills and step out of your Big Boy business.
2) You say you got closer to your spirituality when you dropped the organized religion portion of the program. I’m trying hard to advise you neutrally as this is exactly what happened to me, while my own parents are very much still into their religion they raised us in. However, I am clear how much their religion means to them, how much grace and peace they derive from it, and how much they identify with their religion. I genuinely respect their church for them. Are your parents similar to mine, and if so, can you respect their choice as you want them to yours?
Then there’s that large swath of in-between gray area including the difference between spirituality vs religious (again my personal decision was far more a political than religious one), and the “you’re under their roof” bit. Whether for the holidays or any other occasion, the main difference between being a visitor and an under-age kid in their legal and spiritual charge, is huge. I am religious for balance. Maybe you can feel comfortable being your own man under your parents’ roof by accompanying them to church for a service, while clearly (and without heightened emotion) asking them not to try to recruit you back into the flock. Perhaps they will feel secure enough to allow you to be the same great son they love sans a family-sanctioned label you choose not to wear. I don’t know. You’ll just have to talk it out honestly (and with the love of mutual respect) amongst yourselves. This will all have been especially great if you have children of your own one day; maybe you’ll find you’re the gen religiosity skipped!
If there’s anything I’ve learned from being a functional adult child of functional parents, it’s that on the big issues like religion, suddenly everyone’s lost their damn minds and partying like it’s 1979. Instead, you all need to check your calendars and start a new conversation that reflects who you are today. Understand yourselves as individuals. Update your family dynamics. (Right, like when my progressive and religious mom says to my not going to church, “Oh I see,” then starts up about the importance of churchgoing again, to which I reply in my most emotionally whole and spiritual, adult and updated voice, “I see.” Sigh.) It’s all about the love — believe in that.