G-dís Place In The Life Of A Teen
"Shabbat Shalom everyone!" my son shouted as we entered the synagogue on a beautiful Saturday morning. "You can sit with Rachel and Hannah as long as you are quiet and respectful." I then reminded him that if he was on his best behavior that he could help the Rabbi lead Ein Keloheinu later in the morning and most likely be a 'hallah helper' at kiddish.
This was my life every Saturday for years. Naturally, my son has since progressed from Ein Keloheinu. In 2014 he became a Bar Mitzvah and is currently working toward his confirmation. He works as a madrich at our synagogue's religious school, is a member of United Synagogue Youth, visited Israel last December and will be a counselor at camp this summer after years of being a camper.
So it seems that we did everything "right". He's bright, well-adjusted and has a strong Jewish identity. Except for one tiny thing... at age 16 he is convinced that G-d does not exist.
When he first announced to me that he didn't believe G-d existed, I was actually not surprised. We are taught as Jews to question everything and no one said G-d’s existence was off the table! Also, there is the fact that he is 16. I am not sure that many 16 year olds believe in anything besides their friends, food and sleep. Of course this is an exaggeration. I know my son, and many other teens, have a lot on their minds. School, college, peer pressure, and, thanks to modern technology, politics, pop culture and the environment to name a few subjects.
When he first shared his feelings with me, I told him that I respected how he felt and that I wanted us to continue to have an open dialogue about the subject. He agreed. My first question of him was, "Well if you don't believe in G-d, why are you continuing with your confirmation?" He replied, "All my friends are."
Okay no surprise there. More than half of his original Hebrew school class, kids my son has known pretty much all his life, are getting confirmed this spring.
I then asked him if he could give me some deeper answer about his feelings with regard to the existence of G-d or lack thereof. I assured him that I was curious and was not planning to try and talk him out of anything. I just wanted to understand.
We had a brief conversation that afternoon and have since touched upon the subject over the past several months. He believes that all religions are a construct of humankind; their sole purposes to dominate and control people. He explained that he doesn’t believe in heaven and hell, and that the words of the Torah were written by men based on fiction not fact.
I asked him what he though about nature. How did the universe come to be without any G-d? "Its all science mom! Everyone knows that!" was his answer. I invited him to think about the idea that perhaps there was more than just science at play. I did not try to change his mind, I was only hoping to expand it.
I have been grappling with what to say, or, what not to say in response to my son. One one hand, I want to invite him to think about topics like community, faith, and spirituality. How does one have a spiritual life if one doesn’t believe in G-d? Does my son even aspire to have a spiritual life? How does community play into this equation for him? He feels deeply connected to his Jewish community and there is something very profound in that connection. Perhaps he is too young to understand these concepts.
I took some time for personal reflection, did some reading and came across Proverbs 22.6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” At first I chuckled when I read it. This really hit the nail on the head, given my situation!
After pondering on it for a while, I must admit I shed a few tears thinking about the "good old days". All of those Saturdays will not ultimately be lost on my son…at least I can hope that this will be the case. I have no regrets and wouldn’t change a thing.
There is no specific conclusion to this story as it is very much a work in progress. I don’t bring up the subject very often for a variety of reasons.
First, like most families, our everyday life takes up most of our time. My son is busy with school and his friends. My husband and I are busy with work among other things. Most of our dinner conversations cover topics like school, the latest news story, what our plans are for the following day or for the rest of the week. Pretty benign, yet very typical of most dinner conversations I suspect.
Second, and much more to the point, I do not want to push the issue. At the delicate age of 16, my son already has a lot on his mind. I also have to wonder if he might dissociate himself further from Judaism if I choose to harp on the issue with him.
Parenting is hard. Part of parenting is knowing when is the right time to let go of certain things. I sincerely hope that, as he ages, my son will once again find a connection with G-d. When I experience feelings of doubt I remind myself of the quote from Proverbs.
My personal connection with G-d brings me great comfort and naturally I want the same for my son. I also understand that the world often looks very black and white to a 16 year old. Nuances are sometimes lost on a person whose brain is still very much developing.
I do not want to force a belief upon my child. I want to give him the room to grow into the adult that he needs to be. Even if the picture is not one I might have painted for him. Like many things in life only time will tell. I am more than willing to be patient with him even if its challenging at times.
This is what we do for our children, because we love them.
Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below to share.
What is God's gender? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 700 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.