What do you advise congregants who tell you their teenagers do not believe in God?

03/22/2014 12:00 AM

03/21/2014 7:26 PM

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Rabbi Mark H. Levin, Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kan.: Teenagers rebel in all cultures and throughout time.

But they are peculiarly sensitive to hypocrisy and observe their parents’ actions closely. I don’t worry about teens who don’t believe in God. The teenager’s theology won’t remain forever. But teens require experiences of adults they admire who believe and act with sincerity. I advise adults to act absolutely consistently according to their cherished values.

There’s an old Aramaic expression, “Tokho k'baro,” meaning “His insides are like his outsides”: Performing with integrity.

Well-meaning parents often act hypocritically. Some encourage education for their children but never pick up a book themselves. Some demand children be friendly, then criticize family members unmercifully behind their backs. Some expect children to believe in God, but never pray, give to charity or lend a helping hand without being asked and thanked.

Parents should try crediting God with their own achievements, praying in off moments and modestly, and sacrificing for the sake of others without expectation of reward. These actions testify to our faith in a creator who watches our actions and expects us to rise to God’s expectations.

Those who lead by example are most likely to pass their values on to others. Take joy in God’s presence. Don’t berate God for human failures. Rejoice in life giving credit to God, and your children will be impressed with your joy in living.

LOOK FOR CAUSES

The Rev. Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Kansas City, Mo.: There is no one first thing that I say. I do, however, try to bring together what I know of the parents, the child, his age, the studies she may be pursuing and the family’s grounding in their faith.

Then, I start at the information gathering place, “What do you think is going on?”

Parents may be able to share that a crisis has occurred, rocking the child’s faith foundation. Perhaps new college studies have brought forth this declaration. Difficult situations often cause all of us to raise the questions about the goodness of God.

Studies may lead to questions about the unexplainable miracles of God, or teenagers may simply disagree with the faith of their parents. After our discussion, I ask parents to accept that their children must come to a faith of their own. Their role as parents is to make sure that the children are exposed to the great minds of the faith, are engaged in spiritual retreats and missions, always looking for how God speaks to them.

I ask the parents to make every effort to make sure the child encounters the great unknowable God of true faith. But finally, I concede no one can make another believe.

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