We are admirers of private companies like Chick-fil-A that decide to honor the human need for a day of rest and renewal – i.e., a weekly Sabbath – by closing their stores on Sundays. However, they do take a few knocks for it from time-to-time. Here is one on the good clean fun side – an April bonus edition of the Faithkeepers blog – to share this with your kids…it’s really cute.
It is from an interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner in the January 1999 issue of Educational Leadership magazine. Some may recognize Dr. Kushner as the best-selling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People and other popular works.
In the article, the interviewer asked Kushner how a parent rather than a teacher can “help a child experience God?” Here is Dr. Kushner’s answer:
“Somebody once asked me how to convince a 9-year-old to believe in God. I answered that you can’t convince someone to believe. The question is: how can you teach a child to recognize God?
A task for parents, not teachers, is to create a catalog of moments in which children can recognize that God has intervened in their lives. When they have been sick and they get healthy, when they have done something naughty and they are forgiven for it, when they have gone out of their way to do a favor for somebody else and they feel good, when they see how beautiful the world is on a sunny day or after the first snowfall of winter, those are experiences of God.
Children need two things to nourish their souls. They need a sense of ritual and they need a sense of magic. If parents don’t give those basics to their children, it is the same as not giving them basic nutrition. I consider it a form of child abuse.
A child’s world is overwhelming and out of control. Doing things in a prescribed way gives them a sense of reliability. Whether it’s church every Sunday, candle lighting on Friday night, or certain prayers, they need predictability.
And they need the magic, the sense of specialness. In my own tradition, it might be just holding a child up to kiss the Torah as it is carried through the congregation. In the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, it might be the incense, the robes, the mystery, the music.
The sense that there is a reality beyond the reality of everyday life and that there is something wonderful about this – that is what nourishes the soul.”
Of course, you can gather why this resonates so much with us at Faithkeepers. Because at our core, our mission is to provide you with resources – ideas, encouragement, symbols, and more. It’s all about helping each other ensure that a strong faith takes shape in our children and young people as they grow up, through habit (practices) and through a sense of personal discovery (the “magic” Kushner speaks of).
Some parents have joked that taking an infant or toddler to church is comparable to struggling in a wrestling match. Both parent and child leave the church with shirt tails hanging out, hair ruffled, and skirt shifted to the side. According to the latest research on brain development, this may be a battle worth the fight, for it could lay the groundwork for a rich life of faith.
Researchers have found that the environment has a tremendous impact on the brain “wiring.” Positive interactions with caring adults will stimulate the connections in the brain to grow, affecting how a child will learn and interact later in life.
While wrestling is not exactly a positive interaction, surrounding your child with positive, loving members of a congregation, including teachers, pastors, friends and families is valuable. These caring folks will spark the “connection” that wires your child to God and a life of faith. The solid foundation of love learned in the early years will decidedly influence your child’s actions and relationships later in life.
Just as intellectual or emotional development begins at an early age, so does faith development. Your job as a parent is to nurture your child’s faith, so that love and grace will support life’s journey.
Dr. Ray Pickett, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology, in Chicago states it this way: “Life itself has many deaths and losses. There are poor grades in school rejection of jobs, struggles with friendships and intimate relationships, physical and emotional abuses, illness and death of loved ones. Parents and mentors should help children realize that God is with them in these struggles, leading them to new things.”
Professor Pickett continues: “Out of death, comes new life. A loss of a job leads to a better job, loss of friends lead to a better understanding of who they are, loss of people brings new connections to others.”
How then can you support your child’s faith journey – in addition to wrestle in church? Here are some ideas and observations worth considering:
- The faith of a young toddler is based on intuition and feeling. A child learns to trust and experience God’s love through your touch and the many ways in which you nurture your child.
- Pray daily for love, forgiveness, guidance, patience and humor. Your child will understand God as you receive and show these gifts of grace.
- Read simple books or sing simple songs about God’s love.
- Take your child regularly to church. It may be a struggle at this age, but children learn through repetition and routine. Church is where your child will meet others who care for God’s children.
- When you are in church, engage the child in the service. Help your child learn repetitive phrases such s “amen”, sit toward the front so your child can see, count the number of crosses the church, watch how people pray, etc.
- Teach your child simple prayers to pray at mealtime and bedtime and share stores of your faith.
- A child’s faith grows when you provide opportunities for practice. Helping with simple chores or helping people in need are two simple ways to show God’s love for others.
- Embed your faith into your family identity and lifestyle.
A child connected to Christ will experience the richness of love, grace, compassion and forgiveness. Why wait to teach your child about God’s love? Give this wonderful gift by “wiring their brain” with faith now.
In “Part 1: Unexpected Theology,” I described conversations I’ve had with children and their ideas and beliefs about God. What I found is that Children have many of the same questions as adults about God.
Children are deeply spiritual beings at the beginning of life. They want to know: How were we created? What is our purpose? How do we communicate with God?
These are basic life questions. The parents of the children that I’ve conversed with have done a remarkable job of providing ways to nurture their understanding of God. In addition to talking with kids about God, I’ve also studied their perspectives through their art. The experiences have been truly enlightening.
Art is a natural way to explore a child’s deep thoughts about God. Over the years of working with kids, I’ve collected a number of examples. Some of them are from my own three children; others from children in our church or other congregations.
1. Our family traveled to Australia. My 14 year old daughter, Lauren, was intrigued by the story of the mistreatment of the aboriginal people and their spiritual beliefs.
When we returned to Texas, the bulletin cover at church on the first week back stated, “Draw a Picture of Jesus.
This prompted her to wonder how the Aboriginal people would draw Jesus.
As you can see it reflects their view of themselves with the tattoos. The discussion after church focused on the different ways that Jesus may come to each of us.
By listening to different viewpoints, we can learn from each other.
2. This 7 year old saw Jesus as very nice and loving.
The hearts show how all-encompassing Jesus love is.
3. A 4 year old drew this picture of Jesus on the Mountain.
Jesus was with the child sliding down the mountain.
Jesus was a friend in this child’s daily life.
My 11 year old son, Ben, drew a maze. He said there are many paths to following Jesus.
The important thing is to find Jesus.
5. A classmate of my 10 year old son Andrew died in a car accident in the 1st grade.
The classmate’s death affected my son deeply; it was still on his mind when he completed this collage 3 years later.
In the artwork, the child who died (at right) is being teleported to heaven. Once there, he has a party hat on because he is with Jesus.
(My son had questions about the literal travel details of getting to heaven and concluded that being with Jesus must be fun!)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Through the eyes of a child my understanding of God was expanded, simplified, and enriched.
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.