I’m sure we all know people who have been put off Christianity because It’s been “rammed down their throats.” Some parents sit on the fence about how much to “force” their children to do with regards to Christianity for fear of “putting them off”. So, what should we, as Christian parents, do? Is it possible to force the Gospel too much? Should we let them choose? Should we “force the issue”?
From before our children had a concept of what words meant, we were reading to them. Each night, pretty much from birth, our girls got a story just before bedtime. If they could “listen” to a story, then they could “listen” to a Bible story. So after a story about Stripy Cat or Peter Rabbit, we brought out a Bible. Of course, neither understood the words. But then, neither did they when we read a story. (Side note – reading helps language acquisition so it’s never too early to start!)
We met resistance with both girls at one point or another. Bring out a story with pop-ups or a sing-song rhyming book and they were hooked. Bring out the Bible and both at close on a year would cry and close it. Why? I have no idea! But, we persevered.
When our oldest started to talk, she loved her Bible and it became a “book” she chose to read. Before she was 18 months, she could name and identify some of the Bible greats in her small board Bible.
Christmas approached and I was determined to try from the start to keep the focus where it should be. We had an advent nativity set and learnt about a new character each day. At a mere 17 months, my daughter knew the names of the characters in the Nativity story.
This is all good and well and children can rote anything you teach them (or don’t wish to teach them!) but do they really internalise the truths they are being taught?
I have come to realise why children were so important to Jesus because a childlike faith is a beauty to behold.
At Easter time, we decided to read the story a few times from different Bibles so that when Easter arrived, she knew what we were remembering and celebrating. The empathy from this little soul emulated in her tone as she flipped to the appropriate page.
“Jesus sore!” she whimpered.
Then she would flip to the next page and joy sparkled in her eyes.
“Jesus is risen. He’s all better! He’s not sore anymore!”
We spoke about sin and Jesus “cleaning our hearts”. She would tell us that Jesus lives in her heart.
And each time that she seemed to grasp, in her little mind, a little more, my heart warmed. Jesus welcomed the little children because their unquestioning trust and faith put cynical adults to shame.
When she was born, we got two vinyls put up in her room. One was Jeremiah 29:1,
Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you were born, I set you apart.
The other, one I had truly taken on,
For this child I have prayed and the Lord has granted the desires of my heart. (1 Samuel 1:27)
She wanted to touch them one day so I lifted her up to run her fingers over the raised letters and read it to her. From time to time, she would point to them and “ask” for them to be read by saying “Dat”. Soon I realised that she understood all of the words in the second verse. I started saying the verse for her and stopped to see if she could fill in words. Well, blow me down, she managed! My not-yet two-year-old soon knew verses by heart. And it just showed me that children could be taught from a young age to memorise the Lord’s Word.
As she’s become older, she makes her own deductions. And albeit sometimes incorrect or slightly skewed theology, she’s nonetheless starting to understand Biblical truths.
My parents’ dog died. She, one day, suddenly said,
“Kaiser died. Kaiser’s in heaven with Jesus.”
No prompting. She had internalised a truth and applied it laterally.
The other day she was looking out the window with Daddy’s binoculars and commented,
“Mommy, I’m looking at all that God’s made.”
Neither myself nor my husband have said these words to her, and, unless she’s remembering a Sunday school lesson from last year (!!), she’s taken a truth and understood it.
At times, when she has disobeyed, we’d sit with her and tell her that we were cross, that she hadn’t listened and that it made Jesus sad when she didn’t listen to us. Sometimes, we’d pray and ask forgiveness then and there. One day, without prompting, she closed her eyes and murmured the following,
“I’m sorry, Jesus, for not listening. Please forgive me.”
It was another (of many) instances that she had disobeyed and we were having a conversation about it in the car. I asked,
“Does Mommy love you even when you don’t listen?”
To which her response was,
I explained that although it made me sad, I always loved her. I asked her,
“Does Jesus love you even when you don’t listen?”
Needless to say, I would much rather she was assured of Christ’s unconditional love!
Just moments ago, I left the girls reading together. They sounded so cute together that both my husband and I peeked around the door to hear my daughter saying,
“It’s nice to hold hands.” (The younger didn’t think so!)
Then, upon seeing my husband who was about to intervene for the sake of the younger,
“Daddy, I’m teaching her to pray to God.”
My favourite was a day she sat next to me on the couch paging through a small book.
“Shh, Mommy. I’m doing my quiet time, ‘kay?”
I was suddenly aware how what my husband had said to me a few months earlier had a profound impact on her. I used to tell her that it was her time to be by herself and read her books while I did my quiet time (It takes a lot for me to concentrate). But my husband used to let her in and allow her to cuddle on his lap.
“Don’t you get distracted?”
“Yes, but she needs to see us reading our Bibles and praying.”
And that’s what it’s all about! Examples. Showing children that God is a part of everything we do and that we depend on Him for everything. They will go through stages in their lives when they will want to stop going to church or not read the Bible. For us as children, those things were never negotiable. And, being a minister’s daughter, I have sadly witnessed many families over the years who have given their children the option of going to church (obviously other things matter too). Each one of those children, without fail, have slowly stopped attending or their attendance has dwindled. It may or may not be indicative of their own walk as well. But, by us taking opportunities; stopping what we’re doing to read the verse or the Bible story they ask for; playing worship songs in the house; reading our Bibles in front of them and, as a family, bringing our needs before God, our children witness what it means to live out our faith and see answers to prayer.Tags: Bible, child, childlike faith, children, church, comprehension, death, faith, God, heaven, Jesus, kid, kids, life, love, pray, quiet time, read, story, teach, train, understanding