It is the moment that many Christian parents anticipate from when they first become a mom or dad. A call is given from the altar to come forward for all those who feel the spirit of God in their heart and wish to make a profession of faith. The first chords of the hymn ring out from the piano or organ and next to you an eager eleven-year-old bursts forth from his seat so as not to miss this opportunity. It is almost surreal as you watch your child, not so long ago a baby in your arms, say those life-changing words: “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.”
For me, this statement once felt like magic words – if I can just get my child to say them, then we will all be in heaven together one day. It seemed like the finish line in some ways – like no matter how much I screw up the rest of this parenting thing, at least I have got them to the point that their eternal salvation is guaranteed. I could see it in the assured smiles of those that had gone before me and the anxious ones of those whose children had not yet taken that step.
When my first son had made such commitments four years ago, I was elated. I could not contain my happiness and excitement. I was overjoyed – much like my church family that came through to wish my younger son well last week. This time for me, though, felt different. While I was still so proud of my son and his earnest and heartfelt desire to be part of the church global, I found a mix of melancholy and even anxiety creep over me. I had the Profession of Faith blues.
Why would a Christian parent feel anything but elation at such a momentous and important decision? It vexed me. I had to sit with this mixture of feelings for a while to understand. I think it comes down to this: the United States is a very different place than when I made my own profession of faith 35 years ago. I was supported not only by my parents, family, friends, and church, but also by societal structures that favored my faith formation. There were no sports practices on Wednesday nights in my small town growing up and certainly no games being played during the Sunday morning church hours. The question among my classmates was not if I was a Christian but what church I went to (which was not a question of judgment but just of conversation). I was walking the “normal” path with mentors to guide me and peers to walk alongside me. Frankly, it was easy and comfortable to be a Christian.
When I started my own parenting journey, the Sunday School classrooms at my church were teeming with other young adults starting their own families. We would raise our children together, and these same people remain my closest friends almost two decades later. My children could literally be at the church seven days a week between preschool, youth sports, and worship. I experienced how important the church community was in raising my children and developing my own faith.
So why the melancholy then? Why was I holding such differing emotions in tension within me? I guess it hit me for the first time how much harder the Christian walk will likely be for my son. Once he goes off on his own, will he be able to find an authentic Christian community? Will he meet friends or a life partner with similar beliefs? Will there be a place to guide and shepherd his family if he chooses to have one? Will kids his same age, his peers like the ones in Uvalde, abandon the church altogether if they perceive we have abandoned them? So many questions swirl in my head about the church of the past and where it is going in the future.
I thought it ominous that his Sunday School lesson for that week was about the stoning of Stephen – a persecution not from the atheists or unbelievers but from religious traditionalists who could not stand for the new way of believing that Stephen espoused. What type of persecution will my own son face? I do not think it will be from the atheists, as Christians are often warned about. In my experience in this country, most could care less and are far more tolerant than religious types. They do not scare me. Much more often my beliefs have been attacked from within the group I am supposed to belong to.
I worry about the ones who tell him his version of Christianity is somehow less than or heretical because his mother is a minister, his friends are of different faiths and races, he works with refugees, he believes in scientific study and research, he loves people as they are, or a host of other things that do not fit with some other vocal “Christian” interpretation. Will he be able to stand up to them if it means risking the only Christian community he can find? Will Christian nationalism be the only voice he hears shouting above all? Will he be able to live an authentic faith without pressure from both sides?
I really do believe that God is doing a new thing with the church. I wrote about it in a previous Word & Way article called “Let the Mutant Church Arise.” The unhealthy structures that led to abuse of power are being torn down. The corrupt old ways are dying to make way for the new. I just fear for this generation that will live in the midst of the turmoil. I hope we have trained them well enough that they will stand firm in the face of great change just like Stephen and the early apostles did. It will be so much easier for this generation just to check out – to live a life of personal devotion without the beauty of community.
The generation just one click above my children is already filling up the “spiritual but not religious” ranks. They are through with the hypocrisy of the church and will no longer support an organization that does not practice what it preaches. There are so many other options and things vying for their time. It is easy to drift away. I have hope for God’s church universal in the long run, but the decades to come, for the first time in my life, scare me.
Deep down, I can trust that at least in the struggle, God will be close to him. In the long run, this knowledge will break me out of my funk and these Profession of Faith blues will be blown away by the Spirit. I know my son has eternal hope, the most beautiful gift. I know it is a personal decision he has made and will be his own journey to take. I recognize that an easy or comfortable faith does little to form us and shape us in the image of Christ.
I also am acutely aware that there are parents out there, especially this week, that would give anything to have reached this moment with their own child. I am sincerely grateful. I guess my prayer is that he gets to experience, as I have, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven – that he finds a beautiful Christian community that is loving and accepting as I have. My son is one of the most hopeful, earnest kids. I have often joked that he is my golden retriever child for his good nature, love of life, and friendliness. My prayer is that he can find his pack and not be forced to run with the wolves.
Sarah Blackwell is a contributing writer at Word & Way and a 2020 graduate of the Gardner-Webb School of Divinity. She is a former deacon and volunteers with youth and young adults at Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the end of another school year, she encourages everyone to take a moment this week to thank a teacher. Follow her writings at proximitytolove.org.