“Mom,” Helen asked, “Do I have to believe in God?”. The question caught me off guard. Inside my head my brain spluttered – What? I’m not ready for this conversation yet. How can she be asking this already? She’s only 10! Outside, I maintained what I hoped was a non-anxious presence and replied, “No, you don’t have to. No one can make you believe anything. Uh, but why don’t you?”. “Because,” she said, “So far God has given no indication of existing at all.”
My parenting experience is of always being one step behind my kids as they move to their next stage. So while I’ve been obsessing about when and how to talk to her about the signs of puberty, how to stand up to bullying and picking clothes off her floor, she has been dwelling on theology and the existence (or nonexistence) of God.
I refrained from launching into a litany of God indicators that might speak to her – creation, love, community, mystery, and settled in to listen. She gave me an earful about war and suffering and injustice. But at the end, she asked, “Mom, do I have to believe in God to do what you do?”.
“Well honey, I’m a pastor and its pretty important to believe in God to do that.”
“No, not that. Do I have to believe in God to do advocacy and try to change things, especially to protect animals and the earth and people?
“No, you don’t have to believe in God to do that. But the reason I do advocacy is because I believe in God and God wants things to change.”
“O.K. I’ll think about it.”
We left it at that.