Last month we went on a family vacation to Washington, back to where our family first put down roots. We had a blast exploring the area and doing entirely way too many things. Hahaha…
But one of the absolute highlights of the trip was Shabbat. We went to our old congregation for Shabbat service and oneg, and then sat around chatting with old friends until early evening, when we were invited to another friend’s home for more conversation and dinner. I tell you what, that Shabbat filled our souls to overflowing with the love of God and friends.
When we were at our friends’ house for dinner, we got to talking about a rather difficult subject – people walking away from faith. We have several mutual friends who have grown up with strong faith (or at least what seemed like strong faith), but have since lost their belief in HaShem.
This is a hard thing to grapple with and can feel really scary, quite honestly. As parents raising children, we do our best to guide them in their faith and relationship with God, and to give them roots that will support them up as they grow wings. But there’s nothing in our power that will guarantee anything – each person has to make that decision for him/her self. And that lack of a guarantee is hard sometimes. We want promises. We want formulas: “If you do this, the result will be this.” But the kingdom of heaven doesn’t work like that. People are not robots, and each unique soul has a unique journey to go on.
So we talked about this. We asked some hard questions. “Where is the gap in the foundation we’re laying?” “Why are the world and the world’s values so enticing?” “What can we do differently to give our own children stronger roots?”
And we prayed together. We prayed with tears and with deep love for these wayward souls. We prayed with hope and the weightiness of raising children of our own in a world that is so antagonistic towards God.
Over the course of the next several days, Mark and I had the chance to talk about this more as we drove around to all our vacation destinations. We are looking at this issue simultaneously as parents and pastors. We not only carry the weight of raising our own children well, but also the weight of guiding and shepherding the people that the Lord has brought into our community. Here are a few of our thoughts:
There are threads of truth in every false religion or belief system. This is why we are drawn to them – our spirits resonate with the truth within. We need to bring light to those truths – explain what they are, where the truth comes from in Scripture – and then expose the lies. We need to teach our children to be able to distinguish truth from error, so that as they are exposed to different belief systems and ways of thinking in the world they can see the truth, but then find the lies.
When children are very young, we must do our best to guard them against ungodly influences. Children are sponges – soaking everything in without being able to distinguish one thing from the next. But as those children grow into young adulthood and begin growing wings, it’s important to give them a safe space to explore their faith as well as other faiths. They have to develop their own “why” for what they believe. They have to get to the place where they own their faith as their own.
But it’s also important not to spend too much time exploring other beliefs and mindsets. Even the strongest person can be pulled aside, off the narrow path, if they spend too much time looking down those other paths. There is wisdom in knowing when is enough. And Scripture is clear that the most important thing a person can do in their life is to immerse themselves in the Word of God. King David penned the entire Psalm 119 about the importance of God’s word. It should be our focus night and day:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. (vs. 97)
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (vs. 148)
You’ve likely already heard the illustration of how bank tellers are trained to recognize counterfeit money – not by studying counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. In the same way, we need to immerse ourselves in the word of God so deeply that our souls will easily recognize a counterfeit. As this rabbi put it so well:
Ben Damah the son of Rabbi Yishmael’s sister once asked Rabbi Yishmael, “Is it permissible for someone like myself who has studied the whole of Torah to learn Greek philosophy?” Rabbi Yishmael replied with the verse that says, “‘Do not let this Book of the Torah depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night…’ Therefore it is permissible for you to study Greek philosophy when it is neither day nor night.” (b.Menachot 99b)
Finally, I want to close with this verse that Rabbi Yishmael quoted from:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
May we immerse ourselves in Scripture and be a beacon of light and godliness for our children as they grow and develop roots and wings.