I was reflecting recently about why some of my children have not, as yet, embraced the faith they were baptized into and brought up within. There are several reasons I can think of:
1. I am a parish priest and have uprooted my family so many times within the course of my ministry, tearing them from schools, peer groups and friends, that they are understandably resentful of this God who has called their father away without considering their needs.
2. It may be because it is a natural part of the growing up process that children rebel against their parents at some stage? If I was an atheist they may have insisted on becoming believers of some sort because, subconsciously perhaps, they did not want to conform.
3. It may be a more straight forward reason like they genuinely don't/can't believe or because I have presented a form of Christian faith that is all about rules. In my behaviour and, lets be honest, transparent hypocrisy I may have presented a less than accurate presentation of a God who is pure love and grace or a faith that is old-fashioned and irrelevant?
4. Or it may just be that because Christianity is not 'cool' and it's always far easier - and more understandable - to conform with the beliefs and practices of your group of friends than be like your parents - the ultimate shame.
Perhaps you can think of other reasons that I may have overlooked? But there is one more reason that until now I had not considered. It may be that the impression is given that if you become a Christian you will in some way lose that sense of individuality which is the fear of every young person today. Ask any youngster and many of them want to be famous and different. Although they wear what is fashionable, listen to much the same music and have much the same role models whom they look up to, they will still tell you that they don't want to be like everyone else. They are individuals in their own right who want to stand out from the crowd. To be a Christian therefore is, for them, a threat to their freedom to be themselves. And I have to agree that there is always that danger. I have seen many a 'normal' person become a Christian and all of a sudden change and become in their dress, behaviour and way of speaking, like so many other believers. They do seem to lose the ability to think for themselves and become either clones of their ministers or priests or the person who led them to faith.
It happened to me, for a while, and it took some effort to break free of this conformity and become myself. In fact you could say that I am still in the process of discovering and becoming who I really am. It's only as I am honest with myself and God that this is happening and although I cannot claim to stand out from the crowd, I know that now, finally, I am becoming me. It needs honesty and acceptance. Honesty, about who I am and acceptance, that with all my flaws and failings God really does love me - the real me. In fact His Son died for that 'me' - the real one - not the actor or the false 'me' I have created in order to be loved. And so the Christian walk is a process of allowing God to tear off the layers of the false 'me' so that I can discover the real 'me' underneath. The one God made and died for.
So if my children are afraid of becoming like me, they needn't fear. For if they do discover God - and I pray every day that they will - they will find that God does not want them to be anything other than who they are. It's the only conformity that really counts.
In the words of St. Irenaeus: "The glory of God is man fully alive." Alive in the sense of being wholly him/herself, wholly human.