I've been experiencing what you might call a crisis of faith the last few months. With the approach of Christmas, the elements of this crisis were brought into sharp focus for me. I tried to help my kids understand the importance of giving as we prepared gifts and baked goods for others, bought items for children in need, and cheered them on as they chose some of their own gifts to give this year. They also got to make their own lists, of course, because part of what I wanted this year was for them to have gifts that made them happy. It's been a tough fall with moving and settling into a new neighborhood and new schools. We had hoped to have our basement remodeled by now, but it's not happening as fast as we'd like, so the kids are all still sharing one room. So did I overcompensate for all that by buying more toys than usual? You bet.
Through all of that, I found myself challenging my own beliefs about Christmas, religion, and faith in general. I read a news story that shook me up quite a bit. The writer argued that a belief in the afterlife was closely tied to our evolution of consciousness as a species. In other words, once we developed an understanding of our own mortality, we began to long for life after death and therefore created a system of beliefs to support that longing. This perspective had honestly never occurred to me. I wondered for years about the nature of God and the afterlife, but had truly never considered the fact that it might all be a colossal human invention. I have always been a seeker of evidence, and am also a scientist by training, so I couldn't discount this possibility. I had to seriously consider whether I and the human race as a whole were just the tiniest bit delusional. I had to concede that the possibility was extremely likely.
Around the same time, my daughter was experiencing a crisis of faith of her own. A couple of weeks before Christmas, she found a letter from Santa that she had received two years ago when she got hamsters for Christmas. The letter explained that the hamsters were family pets and needed to be well-cared for. She had been questioning the existence of Santa, and critiquing the various pieces of evidence used to support said existence. Guess she takes after her mama. Anyway, when she found the letter, she burst into my room and cried that we had lied, everyone lied, the whole world had lied to her. I knew how she felt. I calmed her down as best I could. Not wanting to burst the Santa bubble for her, I tried to help her find her own solution. She wrote Santa a letter saying that she wanted a picture to prove that he was real. Come to think of it, that would have helped me too--maybe I'll put that on my Christmas list next year. A picture of God, please, so I'll have proof for myself.
Ultimately of course, these questions of faith are unresolvable. Either you believe or you don't. For now, I'm still a seeker. I'm looking for a church that will help me explore these questions and consider the possibilities. That might seem counterintuitive, but I've found during the last couple of months that trying to confront these questions on my own is overwhelming and depressing. I don't want my children to feel isolated in their own journeys of faith, so finding a spiritual community that supports all of us as we make our way in the world is a crucial goal for me now.
And what about Christmas? Well, here's what I decided for now. That loving and giving to one another is never a bad idea, and no matter what the afterlife holds, our mission while we're here remains the same. To love as well as we can, especially the children in our lives. To improve the condition of others by giving as much as we can, and to share the gifts we have with the world. Those gifts can be monetary, but the really valuable gifts are the gifts of our time and talent. Those are the gifts I want to give in the new year, and help my children learn to find their gifts so that they feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their lives. They will have to decide as they get older what they believe about faith and the afterlife, but at least they will have people who love them to help them try to figure those out. And maybe that's enough.