“A letter to my teen son who has recently come out as an atheist:
*I would like to preface this by saying that statistics show a rapid decline in Christianity (our family’s religion) in the United States. There has been a 12% drop just in the last 10 years. While you may be quick to judge our parenting choices, please keep in mind you cannot control another person’s spiritual beliefs. The issue we face is in how we REACT. How would you react?
Dear Beloved Son,
My whole purpose in raising you was to raise an independent adult by the time you turned 18. That was the end goal. I had, in my mind, 18 years to mold you into a fully functional adult, with everything that entails. You are almost 17. We are in the final countdown. After the ‘great grilled cheese disaster’ of ’19, it is clear we still need to work on your cooking skills; but overall, I could not be more proud of the man you are becoming.
When you came to me a few weeks ago to tell me you have decided you are an atheist, I simply said, ‘Okay.’ You seemed surprised; perhaps you were expecting a long argument? You appeared to be bracing yourself for a battle. I have none to give. I am sure your reasons are well-thought out; after all, you were raised to think things over for respectable amount of time. I am sure you have done some research, as we always research things. I am positive that your views on religion, Christianity specifically, are influenced by the awful things you read on social media, mostly from self-proclaimed Christians themselves.
I also know some things you do not know. I know that all teenagers rebel in some way. Some rebellions are immediately life-threatening (drugs, alcohol abuse) and some are life-changing (teen pregnancy, STD’s), but a relationship with spirituality tends to be ever-evolving. I know what you really want is to know that I will love you and accept you NO MATTER WHAT. This I give you freely and without argument. You can not test my love for you. It is unconditional and without end.
Let’s talk about our extremely religious extended family and the upcoming holidays. While I may respect your beliefs and I have a depth of understanding to know that arguing with you is pointless, others do not. We all know that one family member who thinks he can guilt you and demand you into sharing his beliefs. My advice is let him speak his peace. He says these things for himself. He isn’t thinking about you at all. Arguing with him is as pointless as it was for me to argue with people who told me you wouldn’t be a smart boy because I was formula feeding you. I just nodded and smiled and did what I had to do. You are brilliant, by the way, and those people really just needed to feel righteous about their personal choices. My silence was a win-win. Know when to be silent.
There are family members who will be willing to share their beliefs with you, should you ever want to ask them. I want you to utilize this. Even if your never share their beliefs, learning perspectives from people you trust is never a bad thing. You are surrounded by eloquent, intelligent, spiritual family members who will be able to clearly articulate their beliefs. Know when to ask and listen.
Then, there are the family members who will try to influence you with nothing but good intentions. They are telling you their beliefs because they love you. They are truly thinking of you. Please interpret their words as ‘I love you so much’ and understand this how they express it. The truth is, our ancestors’ religion has shaped our family values and culture. These people want you to share continue our proud traditions. Know how to interpret religious platitudes as a love for our family and traditions.
The stickiest thing you will run into this holiday season are the prayers. In our family, we pray before meals. This is a time that you can bow your head and think loving thoughts about the people around you. No one can force you to pray, but bowing our heads before a meal is a family tradition, so please make it work for you.
There are some who are going to be upset I am not encouraging you to take a stand and fight. The truth is, you are a warrior, and there will be many opportunities in your life to take a stand against innumerable injustices. The traditions we have as a family, in spite of your opinions on their origins, are wrapped in love. Our traditions are what makes our family our own.
We celebrate Christmas, whether you believe in a virgin birth or not, because it is our way of connecting our past with our future. Our value system is based on the belief that you love others as much as you love yourself, which is biblical, but it’s also just being a good human.
You have the rest of your life to hone in on your beliefs. Please know that it is okay to grow, change, and evolve. Life is going to throw you some unexpected and catastrophic things, it is okay to look to religion for answers when you have none. My son, above all, keep our love and traditions alive. After all, LOVE is our spiritual center.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tara Ahrens of Fort Wayne, Indiana. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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