When my children were young, my worship goal was to keep them occupied during the worship service. I brought drawing paper for them to use during church or I grabbed the children’s bulletin as I entered worship so they would have something to occupy their hands during the adult oriented worship service.
As I watched them draw flowers, guns, airplanes, houses and stick figures, I felt slightly guilty, because I often heard the phrase “Children think they have to be entertained. They must learn to sit and listen in church. That’s what was expected of us!”
However, as I watched my children create, I occasionally noticed a picture of the altar or the communion table, indicating that God was on their minds. In fact, the post worship conversations shed new light on the airplane and gun doodling. They too, frequently had a connection to God.
As I collected my children’s bulletin artwork over the years, I realized I had been given a gift. I discovered that even from a young age, children are deeply spiritual and aware of the presence of God. Art and conversations are natural ways of encouraging their discovery of God.
I shared my newfound discoveries with my Pastor. She encouraged me to teach a Sunday school class on the unexpected theology of children. To broaden my research beyond my children’s faith, I asked a 3rd, 4th and 5th grade summer class to share with me their thoughts and drawings of God.
Conversation with Kids
I started the conversation by asking the following question:
“If God was sitting next to you in a chair and you could ask God anything, what would you ask?” This is how the conversation went.
“Was the big bang theory correct? I want to know how the world was created.”
Another child asked, “Why can’t I have the talent to be a gymnast? Everyone else can do that.”
The reply came from another child. “Everyone has different talents. I think you are so kind and caring. That is what your talent is.” (You could see a quizzical look and then an expression of satisfaction on the girl who asked the question. It was a new way of thinking for her.)
Another child changed the subject, “I want to know what my purpose on earth is?”
“Yeah, and where do we come from?” chimed another.
“Oh let’s not get into THAT again!” piped one child in a semi-disgusted manner. (The previous Sunday’s topic was human sexuality) “Why does the church have to teach sex education? The schools should do that job.”
I couldn’t help but remember the discussions in the 1970’s claiming values and sex education should be taught by the parents and the church…now children want to hear the information from the school!
A Fresh View of “Purpose Driven”
I finally got a word in and asked, “What is our purpose?”
“God just wanted someone to be on earth and wanted someone to be like God,” said one.
“I think we are here to worship God, said another.
The scientific minded child piped in again and asked, “Why did God make us evolve? Why didn’t he just make us the way we are? And why did he make the ice age?”
“Oh, oh, I have another question, can God split himself apart? If he is everywhere, he has to be able to do that!!!”
I asked, “How do you picture God’s face? The answers were abundant.
“I see him with a white beard and a red coat, like Santa Clause.”
“I think Jesus and God have a resemblance.”
“I believe that God brings me good luck. I prayed that I would get a good grade on my test. That brings me good luck.”
A child brought me a drawing and said, “This is how I see God’s face. The picture was of a throne. No one was sitting on the throne; however, above the chair you could see a halo. The child said, “You can’t see God’s face, only the effects of God.”
Another child asked, “Do you believe in miracles? I do…let me tell you a story. My mom’s friend had a baby, but the baby died before he was born. My mom’s friend was in the hospital and during the night a nurse came in to comfort her. In the morning she asked which nurse came in. They said that no one came into the room during the night. I think it was an angel comforting my mom’s friend.”
My last question was, “What is your favorite memory of church?”
I was expecting great theological memories of what they had learned. Instead, I lost control of the class after this answer. “Remember when the organ was struck by lightening during church? That was cool!”
From the Mouths of Babes
Cool indeed…the whole experience of “gong deep with little ones was cool and it led me to take a renewed look at the children’s art, too. I discuss my findings from that personal study in Part 2 of “Unexpected Theology.”
Meanwhile, please share your personal experiences with kids – from toddler to young adults – so that we can learn from one another.