Comic Bill Burr riffed on religion during one of his many performances. Actually, he mentions religion somewhat often, though not in this detail. He spoke of leaving his religion behind, and the choices he faced as he headed for the door.
“I just had to make a decision. What am I gonna do with this? What am I gonna do?
Am I gonna cling to it, be that person, ya know? The guy who says (whiny voice), ‘That’s very offensive to me and other Christians and…’ Really? I’m gonna become that [moron]?
“Or be like the casual Christian, ya know, right with, like, one foot on base, just, (nasal voice) ‘Yeah, I kind of go a couple of times a year, and like if my parents come to town I act like I go all the time, but I don’t go anymore.’”
“Or my last option was basically just let go of [that garbage]. Just let go of it like that creepy moment in curling, you know that moment where the shooter is just sliding with that rock, right? He’s down low and just sliding. And you think he’s along for the ride, just the two of them, they’re a team, and all of a sudden out of nowhere he goes… (lets go of rock).” That’s what I did. No rants or announcements. I just let it go.
Say what you will about the guy, there’s no denying he’s nailed the issue: am I going to identify with this movement, pretend to identify with it while lying to myself and others, or just drop the whole mess completely?
Wife and I are missionaries; well, we aren’t supposed to use that word any more. It’s “international Christian workers” these days. We’ve done it for 20 years. We’re not rock star missionaries, but we work hard and grow and change and improve as the years roll by. And we’re missionary parents, raising our kids as best we can, trying to prevent our sins, flaws, complacency, and backgrounds from ruining our children.
“Someday,” I told my faith-professed and long-since baptized progeny, “you’re going to face the decision of what to do with all we’ve taught. You can’t ride our faith into heaven, or even to obedience. You have to make that decision for yourself, and own it. Third-party faith is not a thing.” It was easy to say those words so long as they were small and obedient.
But last year, one of them uttered ominous words: “Dad, this is YOUR faith, and I believe in it because you told me to. Honestly, I don’t know what I believe and I won’t ever know so long as I’m being obligated to behave as if I do believe.”
To his eternal credit, he didn’t fling those words at me. He was gracious and respectful. He was honest. Transparent. The maturity of his actions and words shone through, and I was very proud of him for his honesty and ability to question without rejection.
But oh, my soul, it hurt.
Wife and I debated a long time. What do we do? Force him to go to church? Tie a 98-pound Scofield Reference Bible around his neck? Take him down to the river and re-baptize him, holding him under long enough that he sees the angels, Jesus, and perhaps few of the prophets?
Dumb kid reminds me of another dumb kid I used to know. I walked away from Christ and His church, though my departure was prompted as much by a rejection of what I considered to be apathetic authority structures as it was by questions of what I believed. I tried to pretend I still went to church, but I didn’t. I could tell people the Roman Road, but didn’t really care. And yeah, I had to own both that decision and the nearly inevitable sins and mistakes that flowed out of it.
But I get the Kid’s problem, I do. I wanted to choose my path, and not have someone choose it for me. I wanted options, for crying out loud, and I wanted to both choose the options I would consider and then pick the final choice all by myself. The Kid is fiercely independent, and wants to be himself, for all that means. Unless you have choices and the right to choose, how can you own both your choice and the responsibilities that accompany it?
So we’ve prayed that God will shelter our Kid – or not. Maybe being sheltered from the terrible mistakes that loom will help the Kid realize God’s presence. Or perhaps God won’t shelter him, and the struggle will drive him back to the throne. We’ve prayed as college choices have loomed, and have asked God to send godly roommates and professors and friends.
I warned him that I would not stop speaking Christ. He said, “I wouldn’t want you to. That’s who you are, and the choice you’ve made. Not speaking wouldn’t make sense.” I’m glad he sees that. When I tell him about the last sermon, or a Bible passage, or a hard choice we’re making through God’s guidance, he listens.
The family continues to meet in the evenings – when we can – for prayer and Bible discussions. He sits there, obediently, but does not participate.
We praise him, and tell him we love him.
But we don’t force him to attend church. He’s a young adult now, and I have realized that he’s no different from people I meet out there in other countries. I don’t bang on their doors and drag them off to Bible study; I love, woo, pray, support, help, guide…but ultimately, I accept.
I accept the reality that this has always been his choice. I accept that just because he’s my Kid doesn’t mean he’s assured a spot in heaven. I accept that no matter my successes as a father, no matter my failures, ultimately, eventually, inevitably his faith is his and the only one who can call him to the throne is God. Not me, not his mother, not the church or friends or a Christian university or his wife or anyone else.
Even so, I have faith. I know God can call him back. I know the Spirit can convict. I know my Kid has a solid foundation in the faith, and when he’s out there chasing his own future he will have all the choices he needs. One of those choices is Christ, and I know he understands enough to make a well-informed choice when the time comes.
And – this is hard – if he does not, then I must accept the will of God. How churlish would it be, how hypocritical, how logically inconsistent of me to insist that the unwashed masses around the world will come to God as He wills, but not my kid. Oh no, that one is up to me. God better not fail to call my son, no sir! Doesn’t God know the hours Wife and I spent, the Bible stories, the times we laid out our difficult choices on the dining room table and showed the kids how were attempting to struggle our way through them in a godly fashion?
Hurt as it does, not everyone finds that pathway; and of those who do, many don’t recognize it for what it is, no matter how much time they’ve spent in church, or in a godly family, or walking by Jesus’ side as he ministered in Galilee and Judea.
But we’ll never give up, because so long as the Kid has breath, he has hope.
Don’t give up, folks. Not on your kids, your wives and husbands, your parents, your co-workers, the nation where you minister. Never give up, because even if our loved ones let God go, He doesn’t necessarily let go of them.