Teaching children about God brings smiles

The mother of a toddler told me that her son had started calling her God. “I didn’t get it,” she laughed, “but we finally figured it out.” Every mealtime, the family grace included, “Thank you God, for this food.” Since she had prepared and served the meal, the child came to the only logical conclusion for a two year old. God and Mommy must be the same person!

As I child I often heard my parents pray for missionaries. Their prayers inevitably included words like these: “Lord, watch over your servants toiling so hard on the foreign fields. Bless and keep them safe as they plant seeds of truth. Water and watch over the field, and when it’s time to joyfully bring in the harvest, send them others to help!” He could pray up a storm, my Dad.

For most of my early years I too prayed for missionaries. “Lord, please bless the missionaries who work so hard in the cornfields.” I said, unaware until years later of my parents’ stifling their chuckles. I imagined missionaries planting corn kernels in the black earth; watering with watering cans like ours, then, at harvest time, playing tag among the cornstalks with fellow missionaries while picking corn on the cob. I always wondered what they did with all that corn.

I think carefully about my God comments and faith stories these days; even the prayers I pray with my young grandchildren.  I try to imagine what’s going on behind those wide eyes during the church services we attend. As did I, I expect they’ll also get a few things skewed.

If you attended church as a child, did you wonder why the prayers never ended “ah-women!” rather than “ah-men!”? Why the Lord’s Prayer included that part about God forgiving us our trash-baskets as we forgave those who put trash in our baskets? Why we sang hymns, not hers?

Little Derek, or so the story goes, had a cold one Sunday, so stayed home from church with a sitter. When his family returned, his big sister carried a large palm branch. Derek asked about it. “People waved them as Jesus came by on a donkey,” she answered.

Derek considered that a moment. “That figures,” he said, pouting a bit.  “The one Sunday I stay home, Jesus actually shows up!”

If you follow Jesus and have a child in your life, prepare for a few grins – and lots of questions. Provide straightforward biblical answers and gently correct concepts they’ve twisted. Recognize that understanding may not come till later. Remind them (and yourself) often that Jesus loves them and has a plan for their life.

Most important, lead by example. Children detect the stench of hypocrisy faster than flies sniff out trash. But they also sense the sweet presence of Christ in those who follow him. One day they’ll understand that for those people, Jesus shows up every day, not just on the occasional Sunday.