WRITE: Words with Friends: Author Carol Barnier
Although I first met Carol at the Florida Christian Writers Conference back in February of this year, I’ve known her name for some time. We’re both homeschool moms, and Carol is known as an expert on dealing with children with hyperactivity (check out her SizzleBop website for more information). We’re both members of Word Weavers International (Carol serves as a mentor, helping start new chapters) and work together to produce the group’s electronic newsletter each month. So yes, I consider this author a friend, and I’m delighted to share both her work and her responses to some questions today.
Carol, in your latest book, you’re not just writing about prodigals in general; you’ve been one, an atheist at that. Take us into the mind of an atheist. What was your journey like?
I’m a pastor’s kid. And lots of people think “Okay, that explains it.” But I really don’t think it does. My parents were really pretty good parents. My father, in particular, was this amazing Christian model for me. He was brilliant, humble, and the real deal. What I heard from the pulpit was exactly what I saw in this man’s daily life. Someone approached me at a recent conference and said, “Yeah, but was he intense at home? You know, bringing lots of tension into that house?” And that’s when I realized that not only did he not bring tension in the home, on the contrary, he was funny. Truly funny. He was the thing that broke tension in the house, and anywhere else for that matter. He was a Barnabas, an encourager. So I can’t look to my parents as a reason for losing faith.
Like a lot of kids today, I just wanted my faith-based world views to make sense. I needed to be able to comfortably and reasonably defend what I was told to believe. That was part of it. Then there were some things that I look back upon and feel they were truly bad theology. But I didn’t know that at the time. And so when I wasn’t easily able to find answers to my many questions, I stepped away from the Judeo-Christian beliefs I’d been taught. I began looking at other religions. Finding them lacking, I turned to philosophy. After several years of exploring many other world views, I was indeed left an atheist.
I jumped into this new belief with all I had. I joined the American Atheists. I passed out anti-Christian literature on my college campus, especially when the on-the-green evangelists showed up each spring. I took on anyone with a faith and challenged their views. I loved getting hold of a young Christian, freshly out on their own. I was what every Christian parent hopes their child won’t run into. But today, that’s a fruitless wish. While I was more unique those many years ago when I was in college, today, kids like me are common, perhaps even the majority.
Prodigals have been around since Old Testament days. Why are we hearing so much about them now?
When we think of prodigals, we often think of a sort of James Dean, tattooed motorcycle punk, flying across the countryside, getting plastered and causing trouble. But today’s prodigals are often hearing a different call from culture. There is a battle for the mind going on. I categorize kids who leave the faith into three groups: Rebels, Doubters, and Dismissers. The Rebels are still part of that James Dean model. They are pushing hard against the values of their parents and they don’t care who knows it. The Doubters are having world view questions. They need faith statements that make sense, a world view that is defensible. They don’t want to step out of church and feel stupid for having views that are too easily challenged. The Dismissers are actually the ones I worry about the most. The have considered the faith of their parents and have decided it’s no longer worthy of their attention. They often find the views laughable; certainly dismissible. These are the folks that are hardest to reach.
I’ve heard you say that this is the “Golden Era” for atheists. What do you mean by that?
Well, when I was an atheist, it was pretty uncommon. Even in academia, I didn’t run into atheists behind every corner. I had to seek them out, which took some effort. And. . .I was frequently called upon to defend my atheism. The burden of proof was on me, not on the person of faith. But the pendulum has swung in completely the opposite direction. Now, agnostics and atheists are everywhere. God-denying books sit on the top of the New York Times best seller’s list for months. Some atheist proponents, like Penn Jillette or Richard Dawkins, have an almost rock star status. So being an atheist has a cachet to it.
I’ve also heard you say you really didn’t want to write this book. Can you explain?
Well, I’m not exactly proud of my journey. I stepped away from God’s plan for me, and in the process, made two lovely people—my parents, pretty miserable. When I became a Christian, I sort of kept this part of my life on a shelf. I was pretty steeped in church culture so I could pass as someone who’d never been anywhere else. But I began to see others going through such difficulties in responding to their own child who was doing many of the same things I had done. I started thinking that maybe I had learned a few things along the way that might be useful to parents. And then God started working on me. In the end, I felt Him nudging me and saying, “It’s not enough to just accept my grace and be quiet about it.” So, I began to share.
You tackled some widely-held beliefs in your book, saying that some of them are outright myths. Tell me your thoughts on Perfect Parenting.
Yeah, that one is pretty commonly held. Even if we don’t say it directly, in a million ways we betray that we think this. If a kid messes up, we assume that bad parenting was at play. Sometimes that is the case. But not always.
I guess my clearest response to this is that if perfect parenting resulted in perfect children. . . Adam and Eve should have been flawless. We should not have seen in them an arrogant wish to be like God, a willingness to disobey clear and direct instructions, and a desire to not only sin, but to pull others into or to blame other for their own sin. Yet we saw ALL this, right out of the box, from kids who had the parent, a perfect parent.
If God himself can have children who make bad choices in spite of good parenting, what makes us think we’re exempt? While we have influence over our children, we don’t have control. And the older they get, the more and more that can become apparent.
Carol, thanks so much for sharing with us through your writing, your speaking, and through this interview. I know God is using your experiences, both positive and negative, to draw others closer to Him.
Do you have experience with a prodigal? Have you fallen victim to the Perfect Parent syndrome? Carol and I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.
Watch Carol teach on being a prodigal
Free downloadable Study Guide for Carol’s most recent book, Engaging Today’s Prodigal