Helping a child through the first faith crisis

And when your children shall say, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say….  (Exodus 12:26)

Parents, you’d better be prepared. That day will come.

More than likely, the way children will ask this question will not be with upraised hand and respectful tone.  They will sound more like: “Why do we have to do this?  It’s so boring! I don’t get anything out of it!”  The word griping comes to mind.

Anyone heard that from your little ones?

But count on it.  They will ask that question, however they phrase it.  You’d better be ready with an answer, parents.

Six-year-old Matthew believed his mother totally, and that’s what caused the problem. He had heard and loved all her stories of Santa and elves and the North Pole . Now, he’s a bright child and he listens to the other kids. That’s how he heard that not only Santa and the elves, but also the Easter bunny and Rudolph and the entire galaxy of holiday characters were all figments of someone’s imagination. Fictions. Fantasies.

Remember, he’s six years old.  He was devastated.

“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, said 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 flying reindeer and elves and bunnies and fairies is that eventually the truth comes out. The child learns two lessons that change forever how he/she sees the world: those stories are not real and adults are liars.

I’m past eighty years old  but I can still recall the disappointment in learning the truth about Santa.  Now, I come from a coal-mining family. There were six of us children. This means that many times in my childhood there was nothing–nada, zip–under the Christmas tree as evidence that Santa existed. But I still wanted to believe. And, 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.

The friend who told me about Matthew asked if I would write something to help parents know how to teach a child that God exists.

Teaching a child that God exists

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 it is necessary to tell them about Jesus. No one comes into the world with a ready knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.

–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 have great imaginations and love to use them. 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.  And yes, he/she can handle knowing that.

–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. Dr. James Dobson recalls times when his family would be on an automobile trip and his father would recite 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 heard and concluded 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 a family with four boys had resigned his good-paying job to enroll in seminary and become a minister. And, rather quickly, they soon found themselves in financial need. One night as the family gathered to pray, seven-year-old Kevin said, “I need a new shirt. Is it all right 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 new shirt.” Night after night, that request became a regular part of their prayers.

One day a man from their church phoned. “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 thought 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.” His mother smiled and said, “Well, Kevin, you will be happy to know that Jesus has answered your prayer.”

“He has?” he said, eyes bugging out.

His brothers were in on the plan, so with that, the first brother went out and came back 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 grew to be 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 that working out over at your house?

One thought on “Helping a child through the first faith crisis

  1. I love children, and don’t want to take the “magic” out of any holiday, but wrestled with this myself and with my children. “If you lied about Santa, how do I know you’re not lying about Jesus?” This is a real thing….no easy answer…but I feel the answer lies in putting this in perspective….”It’s Jesus’ birthday….there was a person long ago named St Nicolas…(and relate that story), and every Christmas we remember him as well.” The best picture I ever saw on this was Santa kneeling at the manger saying “this is YOUR day, not mine.”

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