My good friend Jamie recently posted in his blog about playing baseball in his youth (something that those of us who know him as an adult find difficult to reconcile with his lack of love for sports, but I’ll accept the story at face value). He talks about not being able to join a Little League team because they played on Saturdays. Like me, Jamie grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, and while Adventist interpretations of how to keep the Sabbath vary wildly from one culture to another, and one family to another, most North American Adventists consider team sports one of those things you Don’t Do On Sabbath, and lots of SDA kids miss out on joining a sports team (or a drama class, or other fun extracurricular activity) because it meets during Sabbath hours.
Jamie’s reflection on this experience (and yes, I have his permission to quote him and use his thoughts as a springboard for my own), continues: “So no team ball for me. It wouldn’t be the last, or the worst, thing my religion robbed me of.”
Reading these words yesterday really stopped me cold. I am raising my children in the Adventist church — we are perhaps more liberal than a lot of SDA families, but one of the things we’re pretty conservative about is Sabbathkeeping. Last night my kids missed out on attending a Fog Devils (local junior hockey) game which was a big fundraiser for their school. Their school competed with another school to see who could sell the most tickets to the game, and at the game there were going to be lots of fun activities for the schoolchildren, including the principal of the losing school getting a pie thrown in his face. It was just the sort of fun community event we would have supported 100% had it not been held on a Friday evening.
I realize there’s a lot of room for debate even among Sabbathkeeepers about what constitutes proper Sabbath observance, and some Adventists might be quite happy with attending a hockey game on Friday night. That’s sort of a particular in-group argument, and not really the point I want to pursue here. Let’s just take it as read that this hockey game, while a fun and positive event, is also the sort of secular and commercial event that would be out of tune with how we, as a family, observe the Sabbath — and explore the question that’s really bothering me. By raising my children in this particular religious paradigm, am I robbing them of something? Will they someday resent us for the hockey games and other events that were “stolen” from them because of our religious choices, imposed upon them?
We’ve had some lively discussions over at Ship of Fools on whether parents have a right to “indoctrinate” their children in their religion, and the general consensus (not that there’s ever anything much like “consensus” on the Ship) is that everyone, even atheists, passes on their worldview to their kids whether they want to or not. But if you observe religious practices, particularly ones that are rigid in some ways (and Sabbathkeeping can certainly fall into this category), then you’re leaving yourself particularly open for the charge that you’ve forced your children to miss experiences they would have liked, and to live through experiences they didn’t like (my son has an opinion on 45-minute sermons!), in the name of your religious beliefs.
The thing is, there’s no way to know how they will view this without knowing what their own spiritual journeys will be like as adults, and that’s the one thing I cannot know. I look back on my own upbringing in the church and I am so grateful for it. I think growing up with solid and unquestionable spiritual practices lays a foundation for those practices in adult life. I can think of two things — taking a day of Sabbath rest every week is one, and tithing 10% of your income is another — about which I often hear people say, “Oh, that’s a wonderful idea, I’d love to do that, but I just couldn’t fit it into my lifestyle, even though I’d like to try.”
For me, there’s no question of “try” — these things have been a part of my life since I before I was aware of them, and so I don’t have to make any effort to fit them into my life: my life has been shaped around them. (I will point out that my husband did not grow up with these practices and is arguably more observant about both Sabbathkeeping and tithe-paying than I am, so it is obviously possible to adopt such practices as an adult, but I do think it’s more difficult). Despite the odd few interesting classes or concerts I’ve missed because of Friday night or Saturday scheduling, I am deeply grateful for a non-negotiable day each week which is completely dedicated to rest, worship and renewal. It’s the reason why I can sit here blogging, guilt-free — or, earlier this afternoon, lying by the fire reading — when I have the hugest pile of dirty dishes you have ever seen in the kitchen sink downstairs. (We had family over for dinner last night, and the water buffalo is not doing his job!) Sabbath rest is simply a part of how I live, and so I view the fact that I was raised with it as a gift, rather than something that was stolen from me.
But I can see how I could so easily have turned out with the opposite view. I know far too many people who have been scarred by a fundamentalist or conservative religious upbringing, people who were made to carry a huge burden of guilt for trivial “sins”; people who have struggled to emerge from a worldview that simply didn’t fit them; people who are angry about having been baptized as infants into a faith they have never accepted as their own. And people who are angry about having been raised with no faith at all, and left to figure it out all on their own.
It’s a big question mark for parents — what isn’t??! — and all we can do, I think, is to teach kids the things we think are important, try to do it with love and not harshness, and give them the critical thinking skills and the permission to seek and find their own truth as adults.
I don’t know what my children will come to believe. I would be happy if they both grew up to be active but fairly liberal Seventh-day Adventists, exactly like me and their father, but honestly I know the chances of them adopting our exact same views are slim (and who knows if that position will even be a valid choice in 20 years?). I want them to be interested in spiritual things and pursue a relationship with God in a way that’s meaningful to them. I am prepared for the possibility that they will be angry with their parents for some of the religious observances we imposed upon them. I hope they will be grateful for some, too. I even hope they will be mature enough to be able to say, “I haven’t chosen to follow exactly the same path as my parents, but I am grateful for the foundation they laid down for me; they taught me what they thought was right.”
They weren’t too cut up, in the moment, about missing last night’s hockey game. They seem to have already accepted “things we don’t do on Sabbath” as part of who we are as a family. Last night we had various relatives over for dinner and they had a good time and didn’t brood about what they were missing. My dad taped last night’s hockey game off the local cable channel for them and we’re going to watch it later to see if the pie-throwing and other hijinks made it to air. And tomorrow we’re going to a Fog Devils game with some friends from church, which I hope will help make it up to them.
I hope they won’t feel I’ve robbed them; I hope I haven’t. But it basically boils down to the perennial parental hope that we’re not messing up our kids too badly, and as we all know, only time will tell.