How I Learned to Let My Daughter Explore Her Faith Without Me

My faith has changed since I was a kid, so I won't be by my daughter's side when she attends church. But I'm glad she's doing so without me.

by Christopher Persley
Originally Published: 
An illustration of two hands holding a cross necklace while praying

The first time my daughter and I had a legitimate disagreement was nearly two years ago. I was Team Iron Man and she was Team Cap, so we were on opposing sides of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t understand why I didn’t support Team Cap. It was much more that we weren’t aligned on a “major” topic. Not agreeing on this was truly frustrating to her. I was surprised by the anger she genuinely displayed. And I knew this would only be the first of many times we didn’t agree. Our big difference of opinion, I knew, would not be as trivial.

When I was my daughter’s current age, my mother thought it would be good for me to spend some time at church. My mother has not aligned herself to a church or specific religion, but has always been a spiritual person. So, I began going to church with my grandmother for what felt like all day on Sundays — 9 am – 3pm. I went about eight years without seeing a 1pm Giants game.

My churchgoing experience at First Calvary Baptist Church was intense, entertaining, baffling, and often fulfilling. I was especially fond of the gospel music, which was usually my favorite part of the service. I also became fascinated with The Bible and the stories found within it. Although I didn’t see it necessary to live exactly the way The Bible might have required, I did value the Ten Commandments. I often prayed, usually for things to be better for family and friends, for peace in the world, and sometimes for my professional sports teams to win big games.

But, what I found were people including my grandmother, unwilling to answer my questions about Christianity. There was so much I didn’t understand, from how God came into existence to why if God existed, would he let Black people be treated so poorly for so long. I didn’t get my answers. I was often told to stop asking so many questions or to just shut up by church members or by my grandmother. This led to resentment, a desire to answer these questions on my own, and an inevitable lack of interest.

In high school and college, I learned how religion was a tool of ruling classes and used to keep the poor in line. I learned much more about colonialism and how Christianity was too often beaten into people. These revelations as well as others led me to completely lose my faith in my early 20’s. But, I have and always will respect what Christianity brought to my grandmother and so many of my family and friends. One of the only places my grandmother felt any level of comfort in her life was at her church. That’s powerful. So, yes, I still see value in learning about The Bible.

My wife does as well, which is a primary reason why our daughter attends a Catholic school. It is also why she has been taking our daughter to church most Sundays. I have refrained from attending, but at no point have I tried to prevent my child from going. Right now, religion means these things to my child: joy, respect for others, and being morally good. She has often come home excited to share details about a biblical story she learned or a desire to say grace before a meal. What reason do I have to negatively affect these feelings?

A few months ago, my six-year-old daughter asked my wife about being baptized at the church they attend. And what I once saw as a pleasant experiment with religion was about to turn more serious. I began to worry. Would she have a fruitless religious experience that mirrored my own? Deep down, do I want it to be fruitless?

I began to think more about my personal relationship with Christianity and my time at church. Despite my eventual disappointment in my religious journey, some of my most formative and potent life experiences occurred in church. I was empowered and encouraged. My academic successes were celebrated. I saw Black people as community leaders up close. I saw my fellow church members come together in response to tragedy to support one of their own. I saw empathy. I developed patience. I bonded with my cousin. And, I had amazing food. This might not seem as important, but the church would often come together after service to break bread over soul food. I developed an appreciation for soul food and what it represents. Because of my daughter’s desire to connect with God, I was able to remember the positives from my religious past.

What clearly makes the most sense is not to dismiss my daughter’s growing faith. I need to find ways to nurture it. I have wanted to discuss in great detail why I don’t share her beliefs. But, for now, I’ve kept it simple. This allows me an opportunity to discuss faith with my daughter, but also help her learn how to navigate a major difference in opinion with a parent without being too heavily influenced by one of those parents. She needs to venture on her own path. She certainly has her mother and members of her church community to help.

But, my role is equally important. As a father, I need to support decisions like these. What I have to come to grips with is that she will journey on this path primarily without me. This is a first in our relationship. But this support and validation can still be impactful long term.

My daughter had to discuss her desire to be baptized with the pastor of her church. Her mature response to what spirituality means to her was confirmation that she was developing her own view of Christianity. And that her moral compass, which my wife and I have thankfully influenced, was working. So, I proudly stood beside my daughter this April as she was baptized. And I look forward to discussing and even debating religion with her the same way I debated Captain America in the years to come. I know she’ll be up for it. And so will I.

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