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I have known Phoebe since she was a mere toddler. For almost a decade now, I have seen her attend church dutifully with her parents, sit in hundreds of Sunday schools classes, attend at least a dozen church retreats. She has been an active member in the church youth group – attended conferences, bible studies, skits, body worship, even a missions trip or two. She is good-natured, very mature, even-keeled, reliable. I’d trust her to babysit my kids.

 

 

This Sunday, after service, she gushed to me that she’d been accepted by a top tier college – my alma mater, in fact. I was glad for her – great school, exciting campus fellowship groups, solid area churches. She hesitated, then told me that once she went off to college this fall, she planned on taking a break from church. Not just for a month or two. But for all four years. A total break from church services, campus fellowship groups, other Christians, her daily quiet time.

 

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It was obvious that her mind was already made up. As I was trying to figure out a cool/sage/all-wise response, she explained that her faith was such an extension of her parents’ expectations of her, that nothing about it really felt like her own. Ever since she was young, she’d been plugged into the machinery of church, and had been so indoctrinated that she felt she’d never made a single conscious decision of her own regarding her faith. Most of all, she said, she was bored by church, and madly curious about the other side. She wanted to go on her personal rumspringa.

 

Rumspringa is a rite of passage practiced by the Amish. It describes a period of months or even years in which adolescents are released from the church and its rules, and allowed to dally in the “world.” After the period of rumspringa is over, the adolescent is given the choice to return to the Amish way of life, or stay in the outside world. Most return to the Amish ways.

 

Phoebe’s words made me reflect on my own children. Many years from now, they will be packing their suitcases and heading off to college. They, like Phoebe, will have spent thousands of hours in church, Bible studies, conferences, retreats, Sunday school classes, missions trips. And they, too, might wonder how personal and real their faith is. Dare I openly release them to their own rumspringa as they head off to college?

 

Dare I say: my son, I am placing on you absolutely no obligation to go to church or to join a campus fellowship group. If you want to go, great; if not, then that is your choice which I will truly respect. You are old enough to make your own decision here, and I release you from parental expectations, I release you into your own rumspringa.

 

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What do parents say to their teens as they leave them on campus? Is this subject ever even brought up? Are there just unspoken assumptions? Is it naïve to openly and verbally release your teen into a period of rumspringa? I usually make cutting-truth pronouncements, but on this issue I find myself ambivalent and uncertain.

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