Why the children are required to go to Sunday school

SUSAN REIMER

October 05, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

Sunday school has started, and so has the whining.

My son, who has never cared what time it was before, now wears a watch on Sundays so he knows when Sunday school is almost over. My daughter goes along peacefully only because they sell doughnuts before classes begin.

It's boring. Why do you make us go, they demand.

The argument I had always heard -- considering all that God has done for you, particularly in the area of worldly possessions, an hour of your time isn't much to ask in return -- has left no TC impression. So I tried a new approach. "Why do you think I go?" I asked them. "Nobody is making me go."

They were struck dumb. For once, no smart-mouthed answers.

No easy answers, either. But it is certainly true that something about children brings us face to face with God.

Maybe it is the miracle of their safe arrival. Maybe it is because when we feel that uncontainable, unconditional love for them, it becomes easier to comprehend that there might indeed be a Heavenly Father who feels that way about us.

Maybe it is all the Faustian deals we make over our children. Keep them safe, God. Let me live until they are raised, God, and you can have anything you want in return.

Ask your friends why they take their children to church or temple. For some, there was never a question but that they would pass their faith on to their children. For others, the arrival of children has meant wakeful nights wrestling with the confused and possibly unhappy religious messages they carried forward from their own youth. And it starts right away: Will there be a baptism? In which church?

Notice, too, that it is probably the women who you are asking. Mothers tend to be the prime movers in the spiritual and emotional lives of their children.

"Having grown up with it, it seemed natural that it would be the thing for my kids, too," a friend says to me.

"Most traditional religions provide an external authority for all the things you tell your kids anyway -- it is not just your mother saying so, but thousands of years and some pretty holy books say so, too.

"And it is another community of support, both on a practical and spiritual level, for your children."

She had a much longer term and more positive experience with organized religion than her husband had. But she knew that if she was going to get him inside a holy building, it had to be his holy building. And so she converted.

(My Catholic husband was only half kidding when he said:. "If we are going to take them to church, it had better be the one, true church.")

"He would have been more than reluctant," she says. "It didn't feel like such a big deal to me. I was just changing how I was expressing myself."

And so it has been she who has guided the children through their religious education, reminded them of the holy days and packed them all off to services.

But beside her is a husband who put aside any unhappy baggage from his own religious training on the unspoken agreement that both mother and father need to be models of faith for their children. It doesn't count if you send the kids with Mom, or just drop them off at Sunday school while you go to brunch. The kids will call you on that hypocrisy.

"And it gives them a sense of history, too," she says. "A sense that they are part of something that began thousands of years ago and will continue into the future."

She knows she might simply be giving her children something to reject during an inevitable period of adolescent rebellion. That they might walk away from the religious traditions she lovingly keeps.

"I don't visualize a flat-out rejection," she says. "The pressure has never been that great to go. I have never made it an issue of force.

"And if they choose another faith, I can even handle that," she says. "So long as it is something tolerant and inclusive."

She hopes they will look back on their childhood as a period punctuated by religious observances that were special, happy, family times. That if they choose not to be part of a religious community, they will at least be able to look back and find some value -- and some values -- from their religious education.

"And if they drift away from it?" she says, repeating the question. "I'll bide my time and see what happens."

Just wait, I say. Wait until they have children.

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