One Wise Girl’s Definition of Faith

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It’s official—our daughter is an adult.

Never mind that she’s twelve.

But once she completed her Coming of Age program at our church this past weekend, it’s clear she’s a young woman who knows what she believes.

A few posts ago I gave an overview of what this program’s all about. The facilitators and mentors guide the twelve to fourteen year olds through life’s Big Questions:

What do you believe about god-with-a-capital G, gods or other deities?
What’s the purpose of life?
What happens to us after we die?
Why do bad things happen to good people?

They make it clear there are no “right” answers—only what’s right for the individual. Their role as facilitators and mentors is to get the kids thinking about their answers to these questions, and what or who they have faith in.

Our girl and her mentor.

Our girl and her mentor.

This is some heavy stuff, folks. I didn’t tackle these questions, with any real seriousness and without fear and pressure until I was in my 40s. I didn’t grow up with any specific religious practice or community in my life, so I fumbled around in the dark for a while, trying to find something that fit.

Some of my closest friends from grade school and high school who were actively involved in religion of some sort have told me the same thing, oddly enough. From their perspective, there’s a big difference between being told what to believe because of the family you were born into and figuring it out on your own.

I’ve always equated their experience with being forced to wear skinny jeans when you’d really like to wear sweatpants—you can squeeze your ass into the former for the sake of fashion but you’d be much more comfortable in the latter.

So when this opportunity presented itself at our church, we knew we couldn’t pass it up.

Our girl went with only a slight foot drag. My husband and I had talked to her many times about our own beliefs and how important we thought it was for her to come to her own, in her own time. We made it clear that just because we held certain beliefs, it didn’t mean she had to.

We said we didn’t need or want her to believe the same way we did just to please us or keep the peace in our home. We told her we’d actually be disappointed if we thought she was parroting us without giving any serious thought to what it all meant.

After nine months of serious contemplation with twenty-nine other youth, after two wilderness retreats, almost thirty weekly meetings, and multiple one-on-one sessions with her mentor, this is where she landed:

faith statement

Of course as a parent, I’d be happy with whatever she came up with. For her daddy and me, it’s much more about the way she went about it—with a lot of serious thought, which is exactly what it deserves.

But what was even more amazing was watching her and her classmates deliver their faith statements. They stood up on stage by themselves, in front of the entire congregation, and spilled their faith guts.

A couple of them sang a cappella songs they’d written themselves.

A few of them expressed their faith statements in artwork.

One girl performed a spoken word, A “Godless” Generation, written by Jon Jorgenson, followed by her own thoughts:

Another started with a quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath: “I know pretty much what I like and dislike, but please, don’t ask me who I am.”

One boy shared his faith statement and his belief in science via a dub step piece he produced himself.

Some of them said they didn’t know what they believed, but they knew they’d figure it out eventually.

A lot of them were clear that this is what they believed now, with the unspoken caveat that they had the right to change their mind, at any time, for any reason.

They were brave, clever, candid and wise…so wise.

Of course, they also stood on the stage with typical tween/teen awkwardness and self-consciousness. “So, yeah” has taken the place of “like,” BTW.

But they stood there.

All thirty of them. Alone.

And said, “This is what I believe. Take it or leave it. But know it is mine.”

P.S. I also need to give a big hug and shout out to our girl’s mentor (see her in the pic above). I’m leaving her name out only for confidentiality sake. It’s much better to tell you all how amazing she is–she’s the big sister our girl never had and is a wonderful role model for our girl. We hit the jackpot and couldn’t have asked for anyone better than her. So thank you, you wonderful, name-less mentor…you know who you are!

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So what about you? When did you realize you or your children had become adults? What sort of “coming of age” ritual did you participate in? Have you changed your mind about what you believe over time, even outside of religion—where did you start and where are you now?

8 thoughts on “One Wise Girl’s Definition of Faith

  1. Kel, I think it’s terrific they all had the guts to stand up there and use their gifts, whatever they may be, to express their beliefs. That’s incredible at any age, but especially for ones so young.

    It’s great to get them thinking about these “big” questions because it encourages them to ponder outside their own navels and that’s always a good thing, especially for teens. Man, I really wish someone had put me in a program like that.

    I, like you, had to fumble my way around in the dark to figure things out – for a very long time – and I’m still not sure I know exactly what to believe. In fact, I’m sure I don’t know what to believe. I struggle with those questions daily – especially after seeing Cosmos and understanding that we are so tiny – so so very tiny – in the vastness of space. We’re kind of like an afterthought and I wonder, well, I wonder a lot about those big things.

    It’s also great for them to realize that they may (and probably will) change their minds about how they feel and what they choose to believe right now and that’s normal. In fact, I think it’s as it should be. Our beliefs are shaped by our experiences and just living life and they morph along with us.

    I used to be the girl who believed because that’s what I was taught. Now I’m the woman who doesn’t know what the hell I believe. But I prefer that to “knowing” because, in the end, no one really knows till, well, the end. Which very well could be another beginning. So…there you have it. Nobody knows nothin’. šŸ˜‰

    1. You hit the cosmic nail on the head, Kel! Yeah, watching Cosmos will deflate anyone who’s feeling a little too self-important. I sure feel small when I watch it, but on the other hand I feel so connected. I don’t know if I can explain it. I can’t even get my head around the vastness of our world, with a big-ass capital W.

      I think there’s a lot of value in stumbling in the dark. You appreciate making it into the daylight once (if) you get there.

      Thanks, as always, for reading!

  2. I was born and raised Catholic. Spent 12 years marinating in a Catholic education. And I’m not brave enough to declare my faith to the entire world–even if the entire world only consists of people in an auditorium at that moment. How wonderful and brave and thoughtful of these young people. I have a draft of a blog post that imagines my conversation with God and I can’t quite get around to clicking that final publish button. Maybe I’ll have to borrow some courage from this post.

    Awesome blog!

    1. Thanks Jeff! I was just amazed by their courage. You know how younger kids are always a font of truth, especially when you’re in public and least feeling like being embarrassed? These kids had that same kind of hutzpah. It was awesome!

  3. This is so awesome. I was raised in a very conservative, religious family and I wish that my parents had had a conversation with me like the one you had with your daughter: we want you to figure out what you believe on your own, not accept what we believe as the only gospel truth just because we believe it.

    In the last couple of years, I have really come to terms with accepting the reality of my changing views and how they are starkly different than the ones I was raised to believe. It sounds like your daughter has a great future and she knows how to speak her mind and form her own opinions. I wish I had found that courage sooner!

    What a cool story. Thanks for sharing. šŸ™‚

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