You probably went on the retreats. Did the service trips. Sang the songs (and even knew the hand motions). Maybe you even wore some Jesus swag on your neck or wrist (remember those cool saints bracelets?) You went to Church. You prayed before meals and bedtime. At Church you found a group of people who accepted you for who you are. It was where you could have good, clean fun and hang out with the opposite sex without raising your parent’s eyebrows.
And you BELIEVED. You believed in a God that loved you as His own beloved child. God and Church were a major part of your life. Maybe they still are. Maybe you still believe. Maybe you still do all of the above.
But maybe you don’t.
According to the most recent studies on religion in America, the fastest growing religious affiliation is the “nones:” those who don’t associate with a denomination or official religion. A large number of the nones are people who grew up Catholic. This means many of us, many of our family members, and many of our friends, either no longer believe, or we live out our beliefs privately or in a vacuum with little everyday application and no community.
So what happened?
Maybe life got really hard and so Church didn’t seem to have the answers anymore. Maybe life got really good and so Church didn’t seem to have the answers anymore. You met different friends. Or your politics put you at odds with others in your church. Or you moved away and never found a new community.
Or maybe you just stopped. Maybe you aren’t sure why. Maybe you know exactly why.
But whatever the reason, for those of us adults who left and are looking back at our childhood or adolescent faith, what do we make of it now? As I see it we have two options when considering the faith of our youth.
Option 1: Santa Baby
As children, most of our parents taught us about Santa Claus. A fictional character (based on a long dead, historical person) whom we believed was still alive and played an active role in our lives. He saw our good and our bad, and from him we learned some fundamental and important lessons about life: to do the right thing even when no one is around, to be generous and loving to those around us, to believe in hope and joy in the world. But then we grew up. We learned the lessons and discarded the fantasy that initially taught them to us. The fiction was a useful tool that had served its purpose. Now we are older and wiser and have no need of such myths. For many of us, this is how we stopped believing in Santa Claus as children. For many of us still, it happened yet again in our teens and twenties when we stopped believing in Jesus.
Or maybe I didn’t stop believing in Jesus exactly, maybe just his church? Or the historicity of his resurrection? Or that he really hears and answers my prayers? I don’t know, but something changed. It’s not like how I used to believe. Maybe I’m past all that. Church taught me to love myself and value serving others and I’m thankful for that but I’ve learned those lessons now.
Maybe, just like with Santa Claus, we tell ourselves that we learned the REAL meaning behind the myth and don’t need the fable anymore. But there is another possibility.
Option 2: Narnia
In C.S. Lewis’ famous series of children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, a group of English children find themselves, by various plot devices, transported back and forth between their world and the magically fantastical realm of Narnia where they take part in all sorts of adventures. (I’m not sure I need to have a spoiler alert for a book published in 1956, but just in case you haven’t read the 7th Chronicles of Narnia Book, The Last Battle, and are planning to: SPOILERS AHEAD!)
In the final book, the children from the previous books are returned to Narnia one last time for an apocalyptic show down with evil. All of the children return except for one: the oldest sister, Susan.
"If I have read the chronicles aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?"
"My sister Susan," answered Peter shortly and gravely, "is no longer a friend of Narnia."
"Yes," said Eustace, "and whenever you've tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'"
"Oh Susan!" said Jill, "she's interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up."
"Grown-up, indeed," said the Lady Polly. "I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."
In the end, Susan, a great hero and queen in the earlier stories, misses out on the adventure of a lifetime (and much more) because she has become focused on less valuable but more socially respectable pursuits.
How many of us have rationalized our way out of Church? Or God? How many of us have written of the faith of our youth as juvenile? Naïve? Foolish? Out-dated? We think things like: Nobody goes to Church anymore. Maybe I’ll go when I have kids. Maybe when I’m older and have more time. Church was nice and I needed that in high school but not anymore. I DO still go with my parents sometimes when I’m home. Anyways, I’m still spiritual.
But maybe, like Susan, in our quest to cast off the childish, we have also cast off a key prerequisite for faith and happiness: our ability to be childlike.
“He called a child over, placed it in their midst and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like Children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” - Matthew 18:2-4
Perhaps our adolescent faith was naïve, but perhaps our adult faith (or lack thereof) has also grown cynical. If you do feel like you’re missing something that you used to have, if you feel like there are parts of your life that are less rich without a faith community, there a few ways back to Narnia (magical wardrobes aside).
1. Get in touch with a friend who still goes to Church. Ask them to talk sometime and tell them what you are thinking.
2. Go to www.masstimes.org, find the closest Church and go to confession.
3. Praying for a few minutes every day. Simple, informal, honest conversation with God. Ask Him to lead you where he wants you.
4. Visit www.catholicscomehome.org. They have lots of resources for helping you get connected.
“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Mike Tenney has spent the past 15 years speaking, teaching, and leading
worship and retreats for youth and young adults of various backgrounds and faiths. Mike has been a featured musician and speaker for many events including Catholic Undergrounds, Life Teen XLT's, Theology on Taps, Christ in the City, and the CFC Youth Conference. He teaches Theology at St. Vincent Pallotti High School and directs the LifeTeen band at St. Mary of the Mills in Laurel, MD. He is also the director of liturgical music for Encounter the Gospel of Life Service Camp. You can find more about Mike and his ministry including online talks at www.MikeTenneyMusic.com