The day before kindergarten, he quizzes me, wants to know what he’s going to learn at his new school. I place containers into his lunch pack like I’m putting together a puzzle.

“Well, you’ll be working more on your letters and numbers,” I tell him. “You’ll learn how to tie your shoes, how to check a calendar, maybe how to tell time on an old round clock face. You’ll learn to raise your hand before talking, to wait your turn, to stay in your seat. You’ll learn how to use the computer. You’ll learn all kinds of things.”

It all sounds good to me and I’m sure that this will have him hopping, skipping and jumping to school on the first day. But, when I look up from the lunch pack, there is his lip curled under, no smiley face to be seen.

“But I thought I was going to learn about God there,” he tells me. My heart breaks a little. This will be the first classroom he’s entered that doesn’t have Jesus at the center. This is a first step in sending him out into the broken world on his own. And now I have to tell him…not everybody believes in God.

I know there’s a way to carry childhood faith into the unbelieving world and let it grow into mature, deep relationship with God that overflows into thoughtful relationship with our fellow human beings, whether or not they believe as we do.

I’ve read much about a young man who practiced his faith and followed his convictions quietly instead of making an obnoxious stand, who gave his all at the work set in front of him, who found favor in the eyes of his teachers, who loved the mystery of God even when it made him feel like an oddball, who prayed faithfully even when it was against the rules, who stood ready to give a gentle answer for the hope that was in him and to lend his expertise in time of need…even to those who treated him harshly.

Isn’t Daniel the poster child for living in the tension as an authentic believer meeting secular society, for interacting confidently yet respectfully with all kinds of people coming at the questions of life from all different directions, with all different attitudes?

I remember one summer between college and married life, when I walked the streets of Barcelona with a group of European friends. From the start, I had prayed for God to grant me favor in their eyes. We were all studying to become teachers. And on top of the coursework I was studying how to live in the tension, how to dance to happy music with my friends and how to be silent when they did the Tarot cards because they hadn’t asked my opinion, how to share a bathroom and how to speak carefully when asked why I believe even more strongly in an embryo’s/fetus’ right to continue growing than I do a woman’s right to have her belly to herself, how to know each other as full human beings rather than as a list of political stereotypes, how to cook up convenience dishes from our different cultures and hear each other’s stories over meals shared, how to read my Bible and chat with the Lord at the window of my room…even in the company of skeptics.

By the end of the course after all the time spent as a big happy family, one friend looked at me puzzled, said in his British accent that I was quite pensive…a word he never thought he’d use to describe an American Christian. We friends learned with one another and we learned from one another. And I felt my faith grow all the stronger living and loving in the tension.

Back in the kitchen, my son helps me tug the zipper around his lunch. It stretches taut with all the items piled together in one pack. “Keep pulling,” I tell him. There will be tension, yes, but it doesn’t have to intimidate. He will learn this. He can press on with love and calm confidence like Daniel did. And he can speak in gentle reverence the mystery of God whenever he is asked.

{What’s your story? What advice do you have for thriving in a culture that doesn’t necessarily match your belief system?}