Jesus Angst

Today’s guest post comes from Melissa Davis, who tells us “I currently live in Utah, where I spend most of my time trying to raise my 4 kids. I earned my B.S. and M.S. degrees in English from Utah State University. I currently teach online literature and writing courses.  I also love to study nutrition, and am in the middle of trying to earn a graduate degree in Human Nutrition, which probably will take me another 20 years. If I ever get any spare time I love to read, write, cook, and spend time with family and friends.”

I try and keep a straight face and calm demeanor as my 5-year old son Gavin tells me “I don’t like Jesus.” He had not announced this out of the blue. In fact, it was probably my own fault since I had asked him, “Don’t you want to go to Primary and learn about Jesus?” I should have known that he would be honest and straightforward, and to him, not liking Jesus is not any different than not liking a kid at school, or the Easter bunny, or our rambunctious cat. But Jesus isn’t a kid at school, or the Easter bunny, or our cat, and frankly, I’m not sure what to say. I’m afraid if I start to talk about how great Jesus is, it will backfire on me. I’m afraid that saying nothing will somehow be a form of silent agreement.

Gavin is the most defiant of my children, and his religious exposure has differed from my older children. He spent the majority of his life living in south Texas, where our community was highly religious and highly conservative. When Gavin turned 3 and I looked to enroll him in pre-school, the most highly recommended school in our area was a Trinity Episcopal school, which had an extremely religious curriculum. Each day started out with chapel, and every time I asked him about chapel, he would shrug his shoulders and sigh. If I tried to pry further, he would admit that he thought chapel was pretty dull. Sometimes, Gavin would come home and say random, Christocentric things to me, such as “Our God is an awesome God,” or “Mom, Jesus has the whole world in His hands.” He was very serious as he told me these things, almost like he was trying to really figure them out for himself.

Every Sunday, we have a new battle. Our family starts to get ready for church, and Gavin will ask, in complete earnestness, “Do I have to go to church today?” He never wants to go, never wants to see his teachers, never wants to learn new songs. In fact, he isn’t really sold on much of anything with our church. He never volunteers to say the prayer, and sighs if we ask him to help. He laughs and runs around all through Family Home Evenings, or else sits on the couch and plugs his ears. He told me that he is not getting baptized when he turns 8, and only changed his mind after his older sister told him that he wouldn’t get a baptism celebration with treats and presents from the grandparents. There’s nothing I say that seems to motivate or excite him in the least when it comes to our church.

Even more worrisome to me is what I should share with him about my own experiences. How do I tell him that really, I spend a good deal of time at church bored as well? Really, sometimes the lessons are so dull that I want to cry instead of sit through five more minutes of debate about the exact hue of Joseph’s coat of many colors. I, too, want to sigh sometimes and ask, “Do I have to go to church today?” I have spent many an hour contemplating my own beliefs and feelings about not only religion but more specifically our church and its doctrines. However, to me, the church holds value, but that is something that is intangible, and difficult to articulate, particularly to a 5-year old.

11 thoughts on “Jesus Angst

  1. I’m going to take a walk around the corner to get to this topic, so let me apologize.

    I enjoy the research presented by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences. His definition requires that he find a specific area of the brain that is stimulated during the performance of an intellectual task. His mission is to help our culture diversifies from the hyperfocus on the first three I’ll list to add 5 more: math, language, spatial relationships, music, kenesetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and pattern-finding in flora/fauna.

    Readers lobbied him to add spiritual/ religious/ metaphysical intelligence, but Gardner couldn’t find a unique area stimulated during religious experiences.
    I think this is because any of the 8 intelligences can host religiou experience.

    People find God in a variety of acts, in a variety of venues. Teaching early morning seminary taught me that. Not all people find God through close textual analysis at 6 am. Some find the divine in music, in dance, in nature, in a good heart-to-heart, in marathon running, in service, etc.

    I have a 14 yo son who is high energy and a non-conformist, so sitting quietly in rows does not help him connect with the divine within himself, his fellow saints, or the universe. He also has learning disabilities, so manipulating texts does not come easily. I talk to him about showing respect for other worshippers on Sunday and encourage him to find God in places that work for him, recognizing that his path to the diving may differ from mine. He is very nonjudgemental, roots for the underdog, and is a compassionate.

    Church was hard for him until he was about 10. When he was younger, I gave him an unofficial calling to hang out in the foyer, helping the parents cheer up their cranky babies/toddlers. It took me a while to think of that, but it was a win-win.

  2. I have a son who has been the same way for a number of years. He’s now six and is generally not too difficult at church most weeks. My biggest problem was the fact that we moved several times while he was in nursery, and he doesn’t handle transitions well so each move meant months of trying to get him used to the nursery again. He is also very stubborn and doesn’t like to be told what to do, and he thinks church is boring (who doesn’t when they are 4?). Things have been improving as he has gotten older. He can read now, so I bring copies of the Friend for him to read. We’ve also lived in the same ward for a few years and having a consistent Primary experience is helping a lot. Mostly, I just don’t make it a big deal. I’m firm, but loving and say that in our house we go to church. End of story. I never ask if he wants to go because I know what he’ll say (and I still think it’s more about the external things than any dislike of religion). We read scriptures almost every night, and a lot of times he doesn’t want to participate, so I just tell him he has to sit and listen. I also pray often to help me understand him and what will help him feel the Spirit and I pray for him to feel the Spirit at church.

  3. I have three little boys (ages 9, 6, and 3) and all three of them have days – more frequently than I care to admit – that they don’t want to go to church. Like Jessie above, we explain that going to church is what we do on Sundays in our family. And I love what KDA said about different people experiencing religious feelings differently.

    But I also have admitted to my oldest, in particular, that sometimes I don’t like church much either and sometimes I don’t want to go. But I go because it’s important to keep commitments, especially when people are counting on you (I teach a class every week), I go because I know that’s where my Heavenly Parents want me to be, I go because I feel better when I do, and I go to help others. I think it’s okay to validate their feelings and let them know that they aren’t the only ones who think church is boring sometimes.

    President Hinckley mentioned that every new member needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nourishing in the gospel. I think that applies to children, too. Everyone needs a friend – I think it goes without saying that it’s hard to go some place where you don’t think you’ll be missed if you’re not there. For the responsibility part, depending on the kid, giving them an assignment (helping a younger child, keeping an eye out for new families or visitors to help them feel welcome, handing out programs, setting up chairs in their classroom, whatever…) can help them feel needed. And nourishing in the word – I think that can happen at church, but often it’s a combination of church and home efforts.

    Good luck – and know you’re not alone! :)

  4. Wow! I love all these comments! I just wanted to say thanks for sharing these awesome ideas. How smart to apply president Hinckley’s advice to children, to be honest with our children about our own feelings, and to be aware that our children each feel the Spirit differently.

  5. Hmmm, I wonder if in an ultra-conservitive christian school they used Jesus as a means to guilt the children into good behavior. This could sour anyone to do anything for Jesus. I wonder if you take Jesus out of the church equation and only bring him up when identifying blessings he would begin to see Jesus in a different light. For example, We go to church because it’s a commandment, in our house we follow God,I know sometimes it can seem long but we receive blessings for choosing the right, what are some blessings our family receives from choosing the right?
    I am sorry, I am not trying to judge it’s just what came to mind. I hope it helps.

  6. I wish I knew the right answer for you- but I love what KDA said about people finding God and spiritual connection in different ways. I totally believe that. Yes to helping him find what is meaningful to him. Good for you allowing him his own thoughts and more kudos for trying to guide him, rather than force him to finding faith and desire.

  7. I’m with EmiG. Our now six year old started complained about church (especially Sacrament meeting) when he was five. Both my husband and I immediately told him that we are often bored in Sacrament meeting, but that we don’t go to church to have fun or be entertained, we go because … and we gave him several simple reasons (because really there are a million reasons to go to church, many of them already mentioned). It seemed to do the trick (for now anyway :), because he’s never complained about it or acted antsy in Sacrament meeting again.

    Although, this conversation is making me think that I should use this trick in some other areas right now. Thanks!

  8. This must be hard. My only thought is to listen. Listen to him and to the Spirit. Maybe not wanting to go to church is not really what’s going on. Maybe it is, maybe it’s just his personality to not want to ‘have’ to do something, but sometimes what is vocalized is just a branch, not the root.

  9. I get really bored in Gospel Doctrine. And my six year old begs not to have to go to Primary. And we go anyway, beca

  10. About six years ago my husband and I went to the adult session of stake conference. Our inspired stake president told us by changing one word in a phrase can make all he difference. Change the word HAVE to GET. So instead of saying, “I have to go to church.”. You say, “I get to go to church.”. Say, “I get to go visiting teaching.” Just changing that one word gives a whole new meaning to a lot of things. Now I see going to church, visiting teaching, serving in my calling etc as a blessing not a drudgery. My husband and I model this way of speaking for our children and when we catch them saying “have to” we have them restate what they said using “get to.” This has helped a lot with our gloomy teens and grumpy 8 year old. The 8 year old even corrects me!

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