Does Having Children Make You More Spiritual?
I can say largely that my entire spiritual development has taken place in front of my children without them really knowing the impact they have had on it. It would be difficult for me to separate the two where on one side there would be the raising of my children and on the other would be the maturing of my faith, because the real world experience for me has been that raising my kids has been the primary instigator for keeping and maintaining my faith, and the keeping and maintaining of my faith as been the source of parenting approach for my children.
To be fair, I would not be considered a great man of faith by the elites of the Christian task force. I cuss, drink, don't really believe in miracles (including the virgin birth and physical resurrection), and am okay with a lot of liberal ideas (like LGBT inclusion, legalized abortion, and true religious freedom (the one where being a Christian means that you do not get to be an asshole to the rest of the world by restricting healthcare access to your employees, because of your religious beliefs.... but those are discussions for another day). And to boot, I do consider most of the Bible to be symbolic literature contrived for the most part by the authors to reflect their own religious experience and not to in any way inform us about history or science. Bushes don't burn without turning to ash. Seas don't split. And men don't float up to the sky (is Jesus still floating through space to get to heaven?).
So when it comes to being the ultra disciplined person who has memorized his Bible passages for the week, prayed 45 minutes every day, gone to his three church services for the week, kept his spiritual brothers accountable, and made every social interaction with those outside my faith as awkward as possible, I fall incredibly short. But there is one thing that I have learned about my faith, my relationship with God, and my spiritual development in having kids that I think I may have missed when I was much younger. Something that I simply didn't see back then, and maybe if I had I would not have had the trauma that I have now from institutional religion.
So here are a few things that I think being a parent has indispensably contributed to the shaping of my faith...
1. It's hard to have pride when your kid is naked on the playground peeing on the other kids. I have been "that parent". You know the one you have to look down in shame, because looking up may be too painful to accept. I've been the father yelling at his children in the grocery store. I've been the father expecting too much from his kids when they are doing their best to impress me. I've been the father not listening to his children who have valid reasons for doing what they were doing, but my male-rage simply wouldn't listen. I am Homer Simpson, and until you've realized that there is a Homer Simpson in you, too, then one of the great truths of the Christian faith may not be completely in your grasp.
I've heard in church how we are all "sinners" and I've had those moments in my seat where I've definitely thought the pastor was going too far to shame and abuse his congregation into feeling sorry for themselves. I've left church services like that feeling like shit, and that God would punish me so fast and hard if I had not just heard that sermon so I could repent of all the wickedness that I was practicing. It wasn't until I became a father and experienced the darkness in myself that I truly learned what these imbecilic preachers were trying to say, but were too ignorant themselves to articulate in a healthy manner.
The truth of the matter is that I am a weak human. I get caught up in the wrong things, and I do stupid and selfish things all the time. I can't help but harm my precious little ones, because I am simply not qualified to give them the kind of life that they truly deserve. No one is. And here is the earth shattering secret that this has taught me.... it's okay.
I've had days where I've gone from making my kids cry (unnecessarily) to laughing and joking together like we were the last ten seconds of a 90's family sitcom (age drop). The key for me has been that I accept myself as a weak and sorry excuse for a human being. I've apologized to my kids. I've eaten crow. I've swallowed my pride more times then I can count, because at the end of the day I will do anything to make sure that they have a father that is worthy of their memories.
And the thing that so completely crushes my ego is how willing and eager children are every time to simply forgive and have fun. Sure, they may need a little therapy later on in life, but in the moment after I have had one of my male induced "make my children cry" sessions, and I realize it and work it out with my kids (and especially the wife), we are able to simply go back to those more enjoyable family experiences. This is something that the real world has never been able to match, and it was something that church and religion simply failed to teach me when it came to my own spiritual development. But when your a father you realize that you simply do not have time to wallow in your own mistakes. Your kids grow up too fast, and they will one day be adults looking back in you in the way that you look back on your parents. Don't let those opportunities pass you by to give them the memories that you would want for yourself.
2. It's hard to be calloused when you would spend any amount of money to get professional pictures of your kids. I'm the kind of guy who gets teary eyed for inspirational movies, but feels bothered when actual people tell me about their problems. The reason, I think, is that I've experienced my own fair share of personal trauma, as a kid and as an adult. Wounds tend to get calloused over time, and when you suffer emotionally it can be hard to orientate yourself those emotions in normal interactions.
But when you see your own offspring run toward you at full speed with arms wide open and the most ridiculous grin on their face it is impossible not to have your heart grow an extra size, like the Grinch. Kids have this incredible talent to completely disarm their adult opponents, and it is something that church and religion completely missed when I was younger. And I remember hearing sermon upon sermon about the majesty of God, and his Almighty attributes. I've seen and experienced my own fair share of emotional manipulations from the elites of the Christian task force, but it was all a mere husk of the true intensity I've encountered in the face of my dear children. Those naive peddlers of emotional narcotics and pimps of "conversion" theatrics were not able to give me the slightest glimpse of the magnitude of passion and bigheartedness I've stumbled into in being a parent.
I have no problem admitting that to my kids I am probably like the stone wall that I used to cringe away from when I was a little one myself. I tend to be reserved and stoic. When I express my concerns I come off as aggressive or angry, because there is no balance to my emotional palette for others to experience. But I've felt the force of the sneak attack hug that has completely immobilized my normal built-in defense system, and I know that no amount of pain that I have in my past is worth missing out on the pure joy that exists in the frivolity of little children. A parent is privileged beyond what any spoiled billionaire is capable of knowing.
And when it comes to my kids I can do nothing, but try and give them a kind of life where they can live out in their adult life with the kind of rapture that I experience when I see their joy unleashed. I have no time to waste being cold and distant as a father. My kids have given me a gift far beyond any value that could ever be measured, letting them think that for one second it is okay or acceptable to be anything less then a fully engaged person would be a miscarriage of opportunity. The fact of the matter is that our children give us far more then we could ever give them. They show us a joy that has been stomped out of us by adulthood and a thirst for life that has been squeezed out of us by the real world. Life is hard, and it is too easy to get used to it, and become hard ourselves. Religion, despite its appeals to the heart, never moved me the way that my children do. I worship in their playground, and I am exalted while playing with dolls.
My children have given me a sense of wholeness and vulnerability that I would never have accepted as normal without them. This has opened up for me a whole new spiritual dimension of seeking life for its simple pleasures and making the most of every opportunity.
3. It's hard to be cynical when your child loudly asks inappropriate questions in public. If you've ever heard a child ask, "Why is that man so fat?!" in what could only be a superpowered voice designed simply for the parents embarrassment directed toward the woman standing next to you in the grocery line then you have a taste of what a parent has to go through every single day. But the sad fact of the matter is that the child is asking what you were already thinking about in your own head.
Our instincts as parents is to cushion the world from our children's innocent prejudices. In hushed tones and closed-in conversations we tend to privatize the discussion about social responsibility when our kids' natural and naive questions about race, sex, diet, disabilities, and manners arise while their exemplars of interest stand but mere inches from our personal bubbles. Having children in public is the ultimate outsider test that any philosophy professor could imagine, because it puts people in situations where we must interact with those outside our normally considered tribe, and it forces us to acknowledge the institutional devices that separate us from them.
No matter how much I heard about unity, love, or peace from the pulpit I never quite understood it until I was asked, "Why is that man black?" on the sidewalk while a black man, very aware of the question just asked, passed by me and my child. It was only in that moment that I fully understood the importance of raising my child to question their built-in biases and prejudices toward other people. The church was powerless to prepare me for this.
The problem for me is that I am a very individualistic person (that's a smart way of saying that I am selfish and isolated). I could care less if the world burned as long as I had my own private island with the friends I liked (trust me, we all have friends we don't like) and my family. And it's not that I have any hatred or embitterment toward the world to think this way. I simply hold to the idea that everything works best when we all take personal responsibility for ourselves, and that too much confusion and mistakes go unaccounted for when we involve ourselves in the drama of others unnecessarily. And trust me, I am not here to defend this way of life for anyone, because if you want to be a parent then you pretty much have to throw individualism in the garbage. No individualist would answer in public that the reason that man is fat is because she made poor choices in her life, oh, and that woman just looks like a man, because she also doesn't value herself enough to be feminine. Regardless of how we indoctrinate our children in private our public instinct is to always cushion the outsider from our hard prejudices, and this is the Achilles heel of individualism. The tribal identity always bows to global inclusion when children are present.
In all truth, I would rather give up on the idea of church and a spiritual community as a whole, if it were not for my children, because there is just something lost on me when it comes to the gathering of like minded people, and the first is that there are no like minded people. But there is something about my children asking questions that push the boundary of social acceptability, and that is their enduring curiosity that inspires me to keep the dream alive that this thing called, "church" really is possible in the real world. The reality underneath the cold and impersonal material we call flesh and bodies is that we all are similar and all are capable of relating to one another. The fat woman was a daughter at one point, like my own, and I would want her to feel confident and accepted like I want my own children to feel when they grow up. If it was not for curiosity it would be too easy for me to close myself in my own little world, but my kids keep poking holes in that fragile bubble and forcing me to look at the faces of those I might normally dismiss. Life is too short, and kids grow up too fast to waste time on being cynical and closed off from the world.
So, in conclusion, let your children wear pajamas to school on "Pajama Day". If I could encapsulate everything I have learned about my spiritual journey in parenting it would be that my children more than religion has taught me about humility, living fully, and embracing other people ever could, but underneath it all the main enemy that my children have exposed in my spiritual quest is fear. I have no problem admitting to the fact that I am a selfish, brutish, male-enraged egoist, and there are many jokes to make at my own expense to highlight those points, but the reality underneath that is that I am deeply terrified.
I know this because of Pajama Day. Once a year toward the end of school the administration allows children to wear their pj's to school for the day. Every year my kids get so excited to participate in this event, and every year my reaction is exactly the same... paranoia. "What if my kid is the only kid wearing pj's?", "How in the world is my kid going to play on the playground wearing pj's?", "What if, (GOD FORBID!!!) my child accidentally exposes themselves, because their pj's are too loosely draped on their bodies?", "Will the cool kids also be wearing pj's?", "What if this only entrenches negative labels already placed upon my kid from their respective peer groups?" And so on...
My mind simply cannot handle Pajama Day.
Oh, and I have tried to deter them from this horrific fate. Foolishly have I tried to reason with my children about the possible outcomes of Pajama Day only to be thwarted by confounded looks upon their faces, like I was the crazy mom from Carrie warning them, "THEY'RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU!!!" But for my kids these fears are what's irrational, and seeing that sense of courage has always forced me to allow them to wear pj's on Pajama Day. I may be a long way myself from every being able to wear my pj's in public (regardless of the trend to do so at certain grocery stores), but I know that I want my kids to feel like they can on Pajama Day.