Nurturing a child's faith is a parent's responsibility, and joy
Posted in , Mar 17, 2010
As every parent knows, children possess a very active inner life and can be surprisingly curious about religious and spiritual matters.
Consider a few of the questions our daughter, Katy, and her little brother, Brinck, asked when they were young:
• “If God is invisible, how can I know He is real?”
• “When Jesus was born, was it before or after the dinosaurs?”
• “Mommy, what happens to me after I die?”
I was also surprised to observe that even at the tender ages of five and six, my son and daughter were already being exposed to the darker sides of human nature.
Even within their seemingly sheltered worlds they grappled daily with complex emotions of rejection, temptation, peer pressure, guilt, anger, anxiety, sadness, and loss—all part and parcel of growing up and being human, but confusing and painful nonetheless.
From the start, I knew I very much wanted my children to have a strong faith to help them as they grew. Typically, a child’s religious education includes enrollment in Sunday school, familiarity with the Bible, and family rituals such as routine prayers at meals and bedtime. But over the years, I learned that that’s not enough. It takes a personal, intimate relationship with a loving God to breathe life and meaning into these religious traditions.
Here are five tips for helping your child grow in faith:
Children enter this world with a tremendous capacity for faith. For children, believing in God is instinctive. Jesus recognized this when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17).
As parents, it is our privilege and responsibility to nurture our children’s God-given faith.
2. Learn with your child.
And don’t be surprised when your child teaches you! I know a woman whose father died shortly after her wedding, and over the years she continued to grieve that he would never know his grandchildren.
“Don’t be sad about Grandpa,” her four-year-old son said firmly one day. “Don’t you know he’s watching us through a hole in the clouds?”
Now clearly this is not a theologically orthodox view of the Christian afterlife. But her child spoke with such assurance, and with such simple faith, that she was jolted into accepting the reality of eternal life.
As you attempt to answer your child’s tougher questions, you may find that your own faith is challenged. But in the end, you will gain a clearer understanding of exactly what you believe and why. And remember, when there seems to be no satisfactory answer for a question, don’t be afraid to suggest looking in the Bible, or consulting a pastor, minister or priest.
3. Remember, actions speak louder than words.
How does your relationship with God figure in your own day-to-day life?
I remember a mom who, whenever their pet hamster escaped, invited God to join the search party. And when we lived in New York City I knew a dad who, whenever he encountered a down-and-out person on the street, offered a gift of food—an apple, or a sandwich from a nearby deli. When asked by his 10-year-old son why he did this, he answered, “Because this is what Jesus expects me to do.”
And I’ll never forget the afternoon when our daughter was in sixth grade and playing soccer and one of her classmates took a terrible fall, badly twisting her ankle. The girl’s mother immediately ran to her side, and began to pray—not in a loud, showy way, but naturally—instinctively. Which brings me to…
4. Pray with your child.
In addition to regular prayers at meals and bedtime, look for opportunities to include your child in spontaneous, conversational prayer. Talking to God in this way shows how prayer can be a part of daily life. This is the intimate, natural way that Jesus prayed.
5. Tell your child what you believe.
Don’t be shy about this! And pay attention to the inner nudging of the Holy Spirit. One Christmas Eve when Katy was five years old, and I was tucking her into bed, I found myself gently steering our talk from Santa Claus and the presents under the tree to what we were actually celebrating. Without planning it, I suddenly found myself telling Katy who Jesus was for me, and the story—a simplified version—of how He had come into my life.
There is an ancient and beautiful phrase in the Christian sacrament of Baptism that promises our children are “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” As a mom, it’s a phrase that I find incredibly comforting,
I repeated it to Brinck just the other day, as he was pulling out of the driveway after a weekend visit home. “Yeah, yeah, Mom,” he rolled his eyes. “I know.”
He knows. My sprit soared. For this broken, flawed and ever-praying mother, this was not only good news. It was the best news I could ever hope for.
Kathryn Slattery is a long-time Contributing Editor for Guideposts, and the author of several books including her memoir, Lost & Found: One Daughter’s Story of Amazing Grace, and her new book for children, If I Could Ask God Anything: Awesome Bible Answers for Curious Kids.