Standing in the Gap

Biola students share their stories of living in religious tension at home.

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Standing in the Gap

Jonathan Hagen, Caroline Nam

Jonathan Hagen, Caroline Nam

Jonathan Hagen, Caroline Nam

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When we think of Biola, we often think of a place filled with people whose lives have been anything but difficult, where everyone has been a Christian from the time they were just a young child. Break away from the stigma! It is far from the truth.

Beneath the surface, Biola is made up of more than just lifelong Christians — it is a diverse community of people who come from all kinds of religious backgrounds and who bring suitcase after suitcase of issues from home. Not every student at Biola is fortunate enough to have a family full of believers; some struggle daily to work through the tension that exists between them and their family members.

Exploring the Tension

Imagine a life where you are the only Christian in your family. Your parents neither read the Bible nor believe in the power of prayer. Your brothers and sisters have no sense of moral direction and fill their lives with worldly things. Though tension fills your home, it’s kept to somewhat of a dull roar. You’re constantly questioning where you fit into this mess and how you should be witnessing to them without completely stepping on their toes. How does one coexist in the midst of this madness?

Winnie Fong, a senior psychology major, can speak to a situation similar to this. Fong’s parents believe in the power of luck and tradition and have not necessarily found a need for Christ in their lives. They did not raise their children in the church, nor did they immerse their family in prayer. Fong became a Christian during her sophomore year of high school, thanks in large part to two of her friends who kept pushing her to go to church. Though her parents had always been open to letting their children explore different philosophies and ways of life, they did not understand why Fong thought she needed God in her life. As a result of this, they would not allow her to attend church.

“I don’t talk to my parents about it because they wouldn’t be open to it,” Fong said. “They are very much set in their ways.”

So how did Fong learn to coexist in all of this?

Being completely honest with herself, Fong says she still has not found the strength within herself to stand up to her parents. She has learned to “turn off” her Christianity when she steps through the doors of her family home, forcing her into somewhat of a double life. The relationships within her family all revolve around a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of philosophy.

Maybe it’s a different situation. What if, from the day that you were just a preconceived notion, your parents had your entire life planned out. Whether it was becoming a doctor, lawyer or a psychologist, everything was mapped out from start to finish. You were raised not knowing if God was out there and not understanding what it meant to live a life that was glorifying to him. When you finally found your way to Jesus, the rest of your family had gotten lost along the way, creating a divide between you and them. Your newfound faith and trust in God’s plan is pushing you toward a different career goal and the gap is widening even more. Now you’re caught between pleasing your parents and pleasing God.

Caroline Nam, a senior Bible major, lived through this tough experience. Raised in an agnostic/Buddhist background, a switch to Christianity made for a rough turn in her family life. Her hardest struggle was the relationship she had with her father. Burdened by her religious choices and change in life goals, Nam’s father did not know how to interact with his daughter. And the feeling was mutual. Nam did not know how to speak to her father about life in general without witnessing to him in some way. Their efforts to have a normal father-daughter relationship grew weary and the time they spent together became nothing more than awkward pauses and long silences.

A third scenario: your brother and sister are your best friends. They are the two people you turn to in your times of need and the people you seek advice from when the ways of the world begin to weigh you down. Your parents are Christians, though they did not always think this way. Your two siblings are caught somewhere between your former Buddhist background and the idea that there is no higher power at all. Either way, life among them is not exactly a walk in the park.

Emma Santi, a senior psychology major, struggles with the fact that her two siblings do not lead Christian lifestyles. In the past, she has encouraged healthy discussion and tried to lead them to lives that are truly worth living for God. At this point though, neither of them is willing to hear what she has to say.

“We don’t really discuss spiritual or theological topics,” said Santi. “There have been times in the past where they would get really turned off by some of the things I had to say.”

Exploring the Solution

There are so many different situations that our fellow classmates and friends are struggling with, and these are just a few. The circumstances that surround these situations, and situations like them, are ones that should be treated with the utmost care.

So then, how do we learn to coexist in these stressful situations?

Patience. Give your family members the opportunity to grow in God’s time. Do not feel like it is your duty to transform them; you are planting the seed and God will water it.

Engage in thoughtful prayer. Immerse yourself in God and include others in your prayers. Pray with a kind heart and not one of frustration. Get plugged in with the community around you and lean on others for support.

Witness carefully.Be cautious in how you approach people, especially when they happen to be a family member. They are broken people, just as you are, so do not look down upon them.

Compassion. Have a servant’s heart and emit God’s love through your life. See them as God would see them.

Seize opportunity.If you see an open door, engage in healthy conversation.

Do not become stagnant. Tread carefully but do not become so afraid to engage that you end up creating more tension yourself.

A thought from Nam: “Don’t let things become callous. Be okay with being vulnerable and admit that you are scared for them.”

The question in your head may be, “What if I’m the friend of a person in this situation?” I’m glad you asked! Here’s a few helpful tools for you as well:

Have a listening ear. Be the friend that you would want someone to be to you. Listen to their stories with ears wide open and be sensitive to their situation.

Check in. Even if they do not come to you, let them know you care. Check in occasionally and make sure everything is going alright.

Pray with them and for them. Meet with them and pray for their family and for peace in their lives. Pray for them during your own time and ask God to give you wisdom in the situation as well.

Lastly is probably the most important of all, love. Love your family members unconditionally, regardless of what they believe in, because that’s what God calls us to do. Love them as Christ loves you and do not let any tension ever hinder that love.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Taking all these things into account, Nam was able to lead her father to the Lord; Santi is slowly opening the eyes of her siblings and is able to engage in more theological discussion; and Fong is still working through the tension, but now has these tools to help her.

A final scenario: Your mother raised you in the church. You and your two brothers attended Sunday School every morning and your father stayed home to watch the afternoon football game. As your brothers got older, they stopped attending church — it was just you and your mom sitting in the third pew every Sunday. One brother lost his best friend in a car accident, and the other realized that he was attracted to men and was tormented daily. Needless to say, they stopped believing there was a God. You chose God and they chose the world, creating a huge division between you and them. The tension is almost unbearable and makes any kind of conversation awkward.

This is MY story.

Look to your left, and then look to your right. Someone around you is bound to be struggling with a similar situation and you may be just the person to help! Do not be afraid to speak your opinion — it could be the right advice to help that person ease the tension that is present in their life.