When asked, "What’s God like?" one lad quipped, "He buys His clothes at Big and Tall." Over Sunday dinner, Mom asked her young son what he learned in Sunday school. Confidently, he replied, "We learned about God, Moses, and Batman." When my daughter Lynsey was eight-years, she wondered aloud, "What does God do on His day off?"
Children are spiritual beings. They, like us, were born with a desire to know their creator. They will ask naive questions or give confused answers in their quest to know Him. Parents must recognize that a child’s questions, misunderstandings, and doubts are not disrespect, but invitations to spiritual development.
As the parent of a tender, impressionable child, you have multiple occasions to teach your child about God. It’s sobering to realize that from birth to 18-years – when he graduates – 85 percent of a child’s waking, learning hours are spent in the home. The home, not the school, is a child’s major class and parents are the first and most important teachers. The scholar and theologian, William Barclay counseled, "There are no teachers so effective for good or evil as parents." The Bible recognizes that parents are extremely influential and commands, “Fathers . . . bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”(Ephesians 6:4). In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, parents are directed to impress God’s instruction on their children when they walk, lie down, and get up. Summed up, this passage means that we are to consciously and daily work at being our child’s religious educator.
Two moms were chatting when one said, “My son goes to a Christian school so he gets a Christian education.” The other replied, “My child goes to a public school and she gets a Christian education too, everyday in our home.”
Rest assured you do not have to be perfect to be your child’s spiritual equipper. Many parents have shared with me their self-doubts. They felt they’d “mess up” or not give the correct answer. It is natural for parents to want their child to receive accurate guidance. Thankfully, we don’t have to have all the answers. If we are authentic, our child will see our deep belief and dependence upon God, His goodness, mercy, wisdom, and power. Many have said, do your best and God will do the rest. Wisely, one mother recognized that she didn’t always have to "quench the thirst" of her son’s spiritual needs but it was her responsibility to "create the thirst." To be effective in creating your child’s thirst here are a few practical suggestions:
eize any occasion to speak of God. Each morning I wake my daughter Laura for school with, “This is the day the Lord has made...” Although, Laura’s not always ready to “rejoice and be glad.” This is my way of reminding her that each day is a gift from our Creator.
On colorful autumn days when the leaves are a rainbow of vivid colors, I remind my children of the beauty God gives His children. Often I’ll quote Goethe who said, “Nature is the living, visible garment of God.” We can make any circumstance our platform to teach our child spiritual truths.
One mother told me she helps her son with verse memorization. “It is amazing what my 4-year-old will learn to the tune of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’” she said. I applaud parents who teach their child Bible verses because it is “putting on the armor of God” for life’s battles.
Weave spiritual lessons into daily conversations. With the warm weather we enjoyed one spring, Laura and I did some gardening on our daffodils and day lilies. As we knelt in the dirt, I explained the importance of clearing away old leaves and debris from the emerging plants. This will allow them fresh air and sun for growth. “It’s like that in our lives, too” I went on, “We must clear away attitudes and behaviors that keep us from growing toward God.” Even when we’re running to or from sports, school, or church we can sprinkle our conversations with spiritual instruction.
Around your home, place visible reminders that testify to your faith in God. I remember the bronze cast of praying hands Mom and Dad had for years in our living room. The well-read family Bible remains on their coffee table today. Now, as a parent, I tape up Bible verses on mirrors, the refrigerator, and even on my car visor. The ones in the car humbly remind me that my children are watching my attitudes towards other drivers. Ask yourself, “Does my home have visual symbols of my faith?”
Walk the Talk. Children are visual learners. What they see has more impact than what they hear. Our beliefs about God must be lived out rather than just told to them. If we want our child to accept the Father’s forgiveness, we must forgive. If we want our child to know that God is long-suffering, we must be patient. If we accept God’s grace then we must extend grace. If we want a child to understand charity, we must give even if it’s used clothing to a shelter. One father testified that for him, this means going the speed limit to model obeying the law. Parents are God’s ambassadors – of His message and His image. What are we teaching our child about God through our behavior? Consider Martin Luther’s sobering comment, “I have difficulty praying the Lord’s Prayer because whenever I think of my own father, who was hard, unyielding, and relentless, I cannot help but think of God that way.”
Participate in regular church attendance. Belonging to a community of believers supports the Christian education done at home. Perhaps the Sunday school lesson, music, or pastor’s sermon will generate interesting questions for dinnertime conversation. Regular church attendance puts your child in touch with teachers, leaders, and other Christians who can help satisfy his spiritual thirst. It’s also a lesson in cultivating friendships with those who are like-minded in spiritual matters (Proverbs 1:10, 15). May this powerful example of living be a pattern your child will follow. William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, said that the kids he sees who are ground in faith, morality and decency had parents who took the time to instill these in their children. It is those kids, says Bennett, who can overcome the world. He explains, “When there is Christ, there is grace. And it’s in that grace that we can stand firmly rooted.”
Today – in every way – make your child thirsty for the God who loves him with an everlasting love and who will enable him to overcome the world. What an enormous thought and significant opportunity!
©2005, rev. 2010, Brenda Nixon.
As a parenting speaker and writer, Brenda Nixon (http://www.brendanixon.com/) is dedicated to building stronger families through parent empowerment. She's host of The Parent's Plate radio show www.toginet.com/shows/theparentsplate and author of the award-winning The Birth to Five Book (Revell).