Last Sunday morning, my lovely 17-year old daughter told me she was going to the gym instead of church. I told her she wasn’t. She told me she was. I repeated she wasn’t. Then she said, “I have no choice in this!”
And I said that was right. She has no choice in this.
I know that in millions of dark, incredibly messy teenaged bedrooms around the world, this scene is played out every Sunday morning. I also know that in some homes, it ends differently.
I’m not judging anybody, especially not another parent of another teenager. But in our house, we force our kids to go to church almost every Sunday.
It really boils down to two simple things:
1. We believe it is the best thing for them.
2. We believe they do not always know themselves what is the best thing for them.
We want our kids to learn about Jesus Christ and his love for them. We want this because we believe it is true, and we want them to believe it is true too. So, yes, we are shoving it down their throats.
We want them to hear these truths once a week, almost without fail, and within the warmth of a community full of broken, real people, transparent about their lives and struggles, maybe even especially the struggle to believe.
We want them to sing worship songs and hymns, even when they don’t feel like it. Maybe especially then. I know that’s when I need to sing them the most.
We want them to learn to pray by listening to others pray. We want them to be prayed for.
We want them to be there to help out, to teach Sunday School if they want to, or sweep the floor even if they don’t. We want them to learn to show up for things, because that’s what you do when you are part of community, whether you feel like it or not.
We want them to be loved by little old ladies who sometimes ask annoying questions and pat their arms. And we want them to learn to love back.
I do not believe — and yes I could be proven wrong — that because we make our kids attend church while they are “living under our roof” that they will develop such a deep dislike and resentment that they will never go to church again once they move out.
I don’t buy it.
They know we make them go because we love them, not hate them. Is this a very tough love when all you want to do is sleep for hours or play video games instead? Yes, to them it is.
To us, it is a good, good love.
Last Sunday, my daughter slowed way down as she got ready. I think she did this on purpose so we would be late. I sat on the couch and waited quietly. Then we picked up her brother who was at a sleepover (yes, even then we usually make them go to church), and arrived late.
It was our inter-generational family service. And it was All Saint’s Day. Rob, a man they have known almost all their lives shared about the saints who have impacted him. They included people like John Stott, Corrie Ten Boom, and his wife.
We divided into groups right there in the church and shared who had impacted our faith. My daughter said her grandparents. My son said leaders at camp. They heard a young mother talk about an author she loved, and they heard a retired minister talk about an American civil rights leader. Right there in our little church.
Then, we took communion together. As the service wound up, my beautiful daughter sank into me and apologized for making us late. I just squeezed her arm and told her I loved her.
Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today.