Resources for My Mixed Faith Marriage

Rachael lives in Arizona with her husband and three kiddos. They moved to the desert from the green hills of Virginia where she did a PhD in religious history and gender. 

Early in our marriage, my husband and I joined the growing ranks of mixed faith marriages when it became clear his spiritual path no longer tracked with the LDS church. Such marriages have risen from around 20% in the 1960s to around 40% or more today, but while we are in considerable company, that didn’t make me feel better about our prospects. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s survey of interfaith couples in Til Faith Do Us Part not only found these marriages were significantly more likely to end in divorce, but in those that remained intact, the families tended to be less religiously observant and parents were more likely to delegate their children’s religious instruction to institutions outside the family.

Our faith divergence did, in fact, put our marriage through the ringer, but in part because of how charged the question was regarding our children’s spiritual development.  How would I teach our kids about prayer when my husband wasn’t sure there was a God who heard them? How would I share from a scriptural text he no longer held sacred?  How could I share the sustaining elements of my faith in a way that left my husband room to contribute spiritually on his own terms? And how would he have the time and space to even figure out what that meant? How could we give our kids spiritual nourishment when we were wandering and warring in our own spiritual desert?

It was about this time I came upon Lisa Miller’s Spiritual Child – a book that breathed much-needed oxygen into our conversations. Miller is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University who has carved out a niche field of empirical spirituality– think vast cross-cultural studies, MRI scans, twin studies, genetic research and other tools to measure the beneficial effects of spiritual beliefs and practices. Her book Spiritual Child claims that spirituality is a natural human endowment, one that parents can nurture in their children even without being entirely sure of what they believe or practice themselves. This spirituality, or “inner sense of relationship to a higher power …[or] higher presence… that is loving and guiding,” manifests in children in their innate sense for love, altruism, reflection, ritual, wonder, and transcendence. Parents who nurture their children’s spiritual explorations contribute to an empirically impressive immunity against depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and a host of ills that plague children and adults today.

Recognizing the innate ways in which children, unimpeded, connect with a higher presence alleviated much of the anxiousness I felt about the impact of our mixed faith marriage on our children’s spiritual development. I had fretted over studies of how these types of marriages inevitably passed on incoherent or contradictory belief systems resulting in children who believed nothing at all, and this truly pained me. I had let go of trying to keep my partner in our faith tradition once I realized that his experience of Mormonism was depleting him spiritually and depriving him of the chance to find wellsprings that would truly nourish him. I realized I’d much rather him find the Divine outside Mormonism than lose it within. I wanted at least that for my children. Miller’s work reassured me that this was nothing I had to inculcate– it was rather something I could allow to flourish, with scaffolding and trust. 

But what did that scaffolding look like? And how could we provide it together? Despite my husband no longer having any religious affiliation, neither of us wanted him to be on the sidelines, nor rush him into adopting something he didn’t believe just so he could contribute something (indeed, these efforts ended up being acts of egoic will, rather than genuine spiritual outgrowth). He supported me taking the kids to church, listened as I prayed at meals and nighttime and offered his own versions on occasion.  But there were spiritual sensibilities that shined in him that I lacked– and while he was content to let those grow and enter organically into the lives of our children, I felt the need for explicit conversations and engagement. So we decided to revive FHE. 

But three weeks in, we were already out of steam. Coming up with topics that we both felt good about was harder than I expected– not because I felt we had such different values, but rather we lacked the vocabulary. (And the sleep, let’s be real; the constant fatigue of juggling our personal, marital, and professional stressors while parenting three young children did not leave us much by way of physical and mental resources.)

Fortunately, it was about this time when I discovered Uplift Kids— a program developed by a group of contemplative Mormons and former Mormons that, in essence, gave me exactly what I was looking for: an FHE-styled curriculum that would sit comfortably in the shared space of my husband’s and my spiritual values. The founders, Jon Ogden, Drew Hansen, Amanda Suarez, and Michelle Larson hatched Uplift Kids after a nine-month mindfulness and spiritual development course with Thomas McConkie’s Lower Lights community. Deeply influenced by Lisa Miller’s work as well, they felt drawn to providing resources to parents seeking to “nurture their child’s natural spirituality” with recourse to the world’s wisdom traditions and the best of science.

I scanned the titles of more than a year’s worth of weekly lessons on spiritual foundations and practices like compassion, living simply, forgiveness, and signed up for a sample lesson. I appreciated the lesson’s framework– a preliminary section, “Parent’s Devotional,” offered questions and readings to foster personal engagement with the topic before introducing the rest of the material to kids. The material featured whimsical illustrations, engaging curated videos, and simple activities and questions, broken down by age (“littles,” “kids,” and “teens”). When I signed up, the membership gave me access to the full lesson library– which included additional resources like blog posts, interviews, and an incipient wisdom library.

Implementing it has been largely a success.  The sections for “littles” and “kids” were the right register for our 3 and 5 year olds, and while we’re still squeezing it in before their attention spans expire, the fact that my oldest often asks whether it’s “family fun night tonight” seems promising. Sure, she’s a sucker for videos of all kinds, but I’m still happily surprised when she invokes material we discussed in the right contexts– reminding me to work on my “turtle strength” (an illustration of “patience” from the Strengths lesson) when I start to lose my cool, or talking about how her sister showed “compassion” at the park when she offered to push a little boy on the swing.

Personally,  I appreciate the way the lessons are patterned with the rhythms of the seasons, giving an organic structure to my own devotional practices. While they are developed such that we can follow the outline on the fly (and have often done this), I like to spend the week marinating in the material and using that as a baseline for customizing them as we need. My one complaint is being remedied as I write this– I’d enjoy more direct engagement with wisdom texts in the curriculum, but in their current stage, they function more as epigraphs to the lesson. The team is highly responsive to user input, and I’ve learned they are in the process of expanding their wisdom resource library, which will make it easier to integrate and engage. (Though if you are approaching the lessons from a particular faith tradition, it would certainly be easy to incorporate your own selections). 

The wisdom library, resources, and lessons at Uplift Kids seem valuable in many contexts; I’ve shared Uplift Kids with my sister-in-law, who with her husband has left the LDS church but is looking for spiritual infrastructure for her kids; with my book club of LDS college friends who want to share more ecumenical resources with their children; with my sister, who has a foot in and a foot out of institutional religion, but cares deeply about instilling a spiritual compass in her kids. I resonate with Uplift’s vision of expanding access to the practices, values, and texts of the wisdom traditions; to me, it echoes Mormonism’s ambitious project of truth-gathering, and it is that theology which amplifies instead of competes with my partner’s and children’s spiritual explorations–and my own. 

I am grateful that something that once felt laden with loss has turned out to yield nourishing fruits and unexpected growth. And while I don’t know what our personal and family spiritual journeys will look like a year from now, let alone twenty, I do know that whereas before, I felt alone and dispirited, I now feel like our family is in this together.

Comments

  1. Thanks for talking about these resources that I was not aware of. A much needed and much appreciated post.

  2. Thank you!

  3. your food allergy says:

    The Uplift program seems to me a small example of what amazing things the church and adjacent groups could accomplish if they unleashed us all from correlation. There is so much collective energy, imagination, creativity, and goodness in our LDS community, can you imagine how Sunday School, primary, the youth programs, and the missionary programs, could be transformed by harnessing this?

  4. Thanks for the pointers you’ve given! If you don’t mind me giving another in return, I’ve really enjoyed the podcast Marriage on a Tightrope, run by a couple who, like you all, started out both LDS, but ended up one in the Church and one out. They tell their own story of things they’ve tried across the episodes of their podcast, as well as interviewing guests who have helpful perspectives (including Jon Ogden from Uplift Kids).

    https://marriageonatightrope.org/

  5. Rachael says:

    Ziff- thank you for pointing out that resource! I just spent some time listening to it and it seems they’ve produced a warm and helpful podcast for a wide audience, even outside the LDS context. Thanks again! I’ll look forward to listening to their episodes in the future.

    YFA, I agree it’s a wonderful example of grassroots creativity, energy, and goodness. Perhaps with the shift towards ‘home-centered church,’ there will be a greater expansion of creative personal and communal spiritual resources.

  6. Rachael, I’m so glad you’ve found it helpful! Thanks again for your post!

  7. Active member with grandkids here. I would have loved to have done it with my kids. Two of my kids are doing this with theirs. One is active, one not.

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