Arranged Faith

Arranged Faith

As a new mother, my friend frets about bullies on the playground. “What did you worry about when you were raising kids?” she asked.

I thought for a minute. Sexual predators…an unstable future…my fragile marriage. I had had many concerns. But then it came to me. “How to raise our kids spiritually without making them feel cornered.”

402b05ce-2496-4d4e-aa70-5a7276aa5b53Did you grow up in a Christian family, attend church, say grace, and go to Christmas Eve services? Maybe it was more intense—daily devotions, memorizing Scripture, bedtime prayers, and high standards. Maybe you went to a Christian school or were given a purity ring. If you’ve felt a deep obligation to embrace your parents’ faith, I am writing to you.

Does it feel like an arranged marriage?

MarriageA & E produced a shocking new reality show called, “Marriage At First Sight.” If you haven’t stumbled on any episodes, it’s about 3 men and 3 women who agree to legally marry a complete stranger. Experts in the field of psychology match the husband and wife pairs through in-depth assessments, but each couple meets for the first time on their wedding day.

Sounds disastrous, right? A show you can’t help but watch. And that’s what producers are banking on…a reality series with train-wreck potential.

So far, two out of three couples stayed together in Season 1, but in Season 2 all three ended in divorce. And the new matches in Season 3 look a bit shaky.

Still arranged marriages have been around for a long time in Jewish and Hindu traditions. In Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, arranged marriages are the norm. “Moon teaches that romantic love leads to sexual promiscuity, mismatched couples and dysfunctional societies. Unificationists believe that marriages arranged through the church and blessed by Moon are ‘sinless’ and foster the kingdom of God on earth, one happy family at a time.”[i]

Sad woman hugging her boyfriend couple problemsWhile the notion of arranged marriages seems outdated in our modern culture, the steamy fall-in-love-and-live-together-for-awhile formula isn’t working so well. Half end in divorce, even in the church. “Hot, hot blazes come down to smoke and ash,” to quote Joni Mitchell. But “a 1998 study found that 83% of the 2,075 couples matched by Moon in 1982 for the Madison Square Garden ceremony remained together.”[ii]

Regardless, any couple walking down the aisle are strangers to some degree and genuine intimacy needs to take shape for any relationship to last.

In arranged marriages, most of the courtship happens between the parents.

And so it’s an interesting analogy to think about, as parents bestow their preferences on their children when it comes to faith. Do kids growing up in Christian homes feel they have any choice in the matter? The answer should be yes…and that part comes down to the sincerity and finesse of the parent. The movie Footloose comes to mind. Let me explain…

Family funThe most important aspect of imparting our faith involves whether we live it ourselves. What do our kids see in us? Is it just church rituals or religious activities, or do they observe whether or not we are kind to the grouchy neighbor? Do they take note if we fail to keep our promises? Do they see any real experience of God in our lives—an answered prayer, provision in a time of need, hope in the face of great loss?

Mutter im Konflikt mit Tochter - Pubertt - StreitSecondly, at some point during their teenage years, we must release them. We can only take them to the threshold. They have to choose without any pushing from us.

“This is what I believe, but you will have to decide for yourself.”

This “choice” was magnificently and symbolically portrayed in the movie, Tree of Life. In the opening lines, the mother describes her faith…(watch it here.)

“The nuns taught us there were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Gets others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it and love is smiling through all things.

The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to You…whatever comes.”

She can only hope her three boys will find their way to God as they wade through disappointment, confusion, and a complicated relationship with their father.

African American Reverend holding babyJesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” And He asks each of us…

If you grew up in a Christian paradigm and made a vague commitment at Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation or another sacrament—what does it mean to you? Is it just an arranged relationship with God for some kind of security? It won’t last long if it comes down to religious habits. Why go through all the motions without any substance? A genuine relationship with God needs to form.

GodGod is real, and He can be known. If this is a new idea to you, read my book Closer Than Your Skin. Let me unpack for you the mystery of intimacy with God through my simple stories. I grew up in a wonderful church-going family and committed my life to God at age 14—but for the next 20 years, I didn’t really know God!

Yet my “arranged” faith evolved into a true love story with God—the most amazing experience of my life.


[i] Daniel Burke, USA Today,

[ii] ibid.


  1. this is a power filled analogy. rich!

    good job.

    suzee B