Six-year-old Matthew believed his mother totally, and that’s what caused the problem. He had swallowed whole all the stories of Santa and elves and the North Pole which she had fed him ever since he was a baby. Now, he’s a bright child and he listens to the other kids. That’s how he found out that not only Santa and the elves, but the whole gamut of childhood companions–the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, etc.–are all figments of someone’s imagination. Fictions. Fantasies.
“You lied to me,” he said to his mother. Caught red-handed, she hemmed and hawed and tried to put the best face on it. “Honey,” she said, “these are childhood legends, every parent tells them, my mother and dad told them to me. It’s part of growing up.”
“You lied to me,” said Matthew.
The lady who told me about this child, the son of one of her co-workers, also informed me that he has recently prayed to receive Christ as His Savior and has joined the church. Most of us are a little older when we take these steps. But, as she said, he’s not your average kid. Which explains what he did a few days later.
Matthew and his mother were in the van going somewhere. “Mom,” he called from the backseat. “Yes, Matthew?” “Mom,” he said, “Do you swear to me there is a God?”
“Oh, honey,” she said. “I promise you with all my heart and soul.”
The trouble with creating a fictional world populated by Santas and flying reindeer and elves and bunnies and fairies is that eventually the truth comes out. The child learns two lessons that changes forever how he sees the world: those stories are not real and his parents are liars.
I’m sixty-five years old and I can still recall my disappointment in learning about Santa Claus. Now, we were poor, a coal-mining family and many years in my childhood there was nothing–nada, zip–under the Christmas tree as evidence that Santa existed or knew that we did. But I still wanted to believe. Like Matthew, I wanted to know the truth about Jesus, whether he is real or not. In my case, I asked my older brothers and sisters. They were completely cynical about Santa, but assured me Jesus was the real thing.
My friend who told me about Matthew suggested we write something to help parents know how to teach a child that God exists. I’ve thought about it a week and this is my effort.
Actually, I wonder if we even have to teach a child God exists. They almost seem to come into the world with that knowledge. It seems more that we have to work to unteach them. However we do have to tell them about Jesus. No one comes into the world with a ready knowledge of the Savior.
So first, it’s a matter of establishing credibility with the child. Does this require parents to jettison all imaginary characters and customs? To do away with the Santa tales and traditions? Some parents have answered ‘yes.’ Personally, I’m not so quick to go there. After all, children love to use their imaginations. The imaginary world of a child has room for all kinds of fantastic (based on fantasy, get it?) characters–from Winnie the Pooh and Piglet to Mickey and Minnie to Alice and Dorothy to Barney and Thomas the Tank Engine. The wonderful Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are fantasies, written to entertain children while providing vehicles for the parents to teach them about Jesus. A child can enjoy imaginary people and fables, just so long as he knows these are pretend.
After establishing a parent’s credibility, nothing convinces a child of the reality of God and Jesus Christ like seeing the parents living out their faith. James Dobson recalls from his childhood times when the family would be on an automobile trip and his father would recite the latest chapter of Scripture he had memorized while his mother sat on the other side of the car with an open Bible, checking him out. Not a word was said to little Jimmy in the back seat, but he saw and learned this was important stuff. Mom and Dad really believe this.
Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary tells how a child in his city learned an unforgettable lesson about God. The father in that family of four boys had resigned his good-paying job to enroll in seminary and become a minister. As with a lot of others in that situation, they soon found themselves in financial need. One night as the family gathered to pray, seven-year-old Kevin told his mother, “I need a new shirt. Is it all right for us to ask Jesus to give me a shirt?” Mom assured him it was indeed and they prayed for Kevin a shirt.
Each night after that, Kevin would say, “And don’t forget to ask the Lord to give me a shirt.” Night after night, that request became a regular part of their prayers.
One day a man from their church called their home. “Mrs. Johnson,” he said, “as you know, I manage a men and boy’s clothing store. And we have some shirts here we’ve not been able to sell, and well, I know you have four boys and you might could use these shirts.”
She said, “Oh, yes, we certainly could. What size are they?”
He said, “Well, that’s the unusual part. They’re all size seven.”
That night as the family gathered for prayer, little Kevin said, “And Mom, don’t forget to pray for my shirt.” Him mother smiled at him and said, “Well, Kevin, you will be happy to know that Jesus has answered your prayer.”
“He has?” he said, eyes bugging out.
The other brothers were in on the plan, so with that, the first brother went out and came back in with a shirt, which he lay on the kitchen table in front of Kevin. “Wow, this is great,” said the seven-year-old. Then another brother came in with a second shirt and laid it on top of the first one. “Two? I have two shirts? I just asked for one!” he said. And the third brother brought in another shirt. By now, the first brother was back with another shirt. Shirt followed shirt, which they kept piling on top of the first.
The stack in front of Kevin was twelve shirts high. By now, he was crying, he was so happy. And his mom and dad were also in tears..
Howard Hendricks says, “Out in Dallas, Texas, there is a little boy who has no trouble whatever believing that there is a God and that He answers prayer.”
Before my children believe in God for themselves, the plan is for them to believe in the God of their fathers (and mothers).
As I say, that’s the plan.
How’s the plan working over at your house?