“When we get to Heaven, will you walk me to see Jesus?”
This question that my 4-year-old asked me after our nightly prayer immediately triggered tears in my eyes.
To me, there is nothing more intimidating as a parent than talking to your children about faith, Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit. Coming from someone who grew up in church, this may surprise you. But for some reason, I feel a certain pressure to get it “right” because it’s been such a huge part of my life since I can remember. And if I’m being honest, I’ve had to somewhat undo the perspective I had as a kid or teenager (legalism, behavior modification, etc.), so I do worry about “messing up.”
To be fair though, I know it’s not all up to me. But the questions! Oh, the questions this kid comes up with usually leave my head spinning. I know how I would answer the question with a friend, but how can I explain this on a kid’s level?? Thankfully, by God’s grace, my son and I have had some pretty incredible gospel-centered conversations without me or my insecurities getting in the way.
But even still, I’ve picked up a few things that tend to work better than others. Spoiler alert: actions speak louder than words. Spending time with my son, reframing our discussions, and finding time to pray with him has worked better than any speech on why he should do this or shouldn’t do that.
1. Pray with your child when they express an emotion. During our conversations throughout the day, if he mentions that he is nervous or sad, I’ll ask him if he wants to pray about it. Sometimes he says yes, and sometimes he says no. It wasn’t until I started doing this that I remembered as a kid feeling so loved and free once I would pray about something with my parents. It’s therapeutic and it teaches us that no prayer is too little.
2. Let your child see you reading. I tend to be very private when I read a devotional, flip through my Bible, or journal. But my son walked up to me one morning while I was at the kitchen table and asked what I was reading. And it hit me. How I can expect him to be excited about the Bible and what it says if he never sees me read it?
3. Brush up on your Bible stories. My son LOVES when I tell him “Jesus stories.” The Storybook Bible is beautiful and we read that sometimes, but his favorite is when I’m lying next to him, looking at him, and I’m telling a story in my own words. I know his personality, so I know what storytelling styles he responds best to, and he usually asks for more. But before I began doing this, I had to brush up big time on some details that have gotten fuzzy since hearing them as a kid. Wait, how many people did Jesus feed again? Was it three loaves or five that He multiplied?
4. Show them grace. This whole parenting gig is TOUGH. And what I want to do is lose my mind on them sometimes. And I used to. I showed little to no restraint when my oldest was a toddler and working my last nerve or spilled his milk for the 50th time that day. But then I decided that I didn’t want to be a mom who yelled or lost her temper over spilled milk. I wanted to be a mom who showed grace to my children. It took some time and is still a process. I’ve actually been reading this book for the last year, which is also helping. The funny thing about showing my son grace is that it has been slowly teaching him how to do the same for others. We can’t expect our kids to do one thing when we ourselves model another. One day I’ll be able to tie in God’s grace in a bigger way to him, but right now, he’s learning that there is nothing he can do that will make us love him less.
5. Find out what your child is learning on Sundays and follow-up. Our church does a great job of letting the parents in on what the kids are talking about on Sundays, and I am so thankful. It’s a lot easier to talk to your child about what they talked about in church when you actually know what they talked about in church. I can’t wait until he is old enough to sit with us in church and be able to join us in singing worship songs, hearing our pastor, and watching us take communion.
I know it can be tempting to assume your child’s faith is being tended to by your church, but the older my sons get, the more I realize that Sundays are just a tool in our arsenal. As intimidating as it can be sometimes, I’ve come to see that talking to my children about faith is a daily conversation. There is no one big conversation, but a multitude of tiny talks and even more observations. They are watching and they are listening, and I continue to pray after we say our nightly prayers that some of the things we talk about are little seeds that will someday grow into an unshakable, steadfast faith.