Last year I was invited to speak to a Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers group on “teaching the gospel to very young children.” I immediately agreed, interested in returning to a subject I haven’t considered in a while.
But I was surprised by some further dialogue between me and the woman who invited me to speak. She said they were all eager to learn of any resources I had used and might recommend.
Resources? I didn’t recall any specific resources I’d used to teach my children the gospel. Yes, we had taken them to church and Sunday School. We had talked with them about Jesus and sung songs about him and read Bible stories together. But we never had a regular time of family devotions. I had never routinely used a specific Bible story book.
I was pretty sure that I had no resources to recommend.
Instead, as I thought it through, I wondered if maybe we teach the gospel to our children not only through church and Sunday School attendance, through Bible stories and songs, but also by living it ourselves.
It seemed to me that the latter was essential. And so I began thinking about those aspects of our lives that might most impact our children’s reception of Jesus. And I began to think about the small world of our homes–the foundational space in which children spend the majority of their time and through which they perceive the world–as having an atmosphere through which Jesus might be understood and welcomed.
We all know that our words can only go so far. What we say–if not aligned with what we do and how we live–will soon ring false. While our children are young, we might believe these misalignments have no impact: for example, my failure to forgive someone who hurt me might not affect my child at all.
But maybe you’ve heard this: “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die” (Marianne Williamson). We know that a hard heart is a hard heart, that failure to forgive–no matter how far removed the offender might be–impacts us far more than it does the person we’ve failed to forgive. And that hard heart impacts our children–no matter how young–because, as parents, we create the atmosphere our children live in.
That’s how I began to think about sharing the gospel with children: as an atmosphere. Yes, we teach them, we tell them that Jesus loves them; that he died to save them; that they are, in fact, in need of saving. We take them to church and Sunday School. We read the Bible stories, we do the crafts. We may have the Advent countdown wreath and calendar and candles, the resurrection eggs for Easter. But if we ourselves are not living in a relationship with Jesus that opens us to change by the Holy Spirit, then all that we’ve taught, read, or said to them will somehow and ultimately ring false.
The atmosphere of our homes will show our children that Jesus is beautiful–or it won’t.
Since I began keeping this blog, I have valued it as a place that would be welcoming to everyone: Christians, people of other faiths, and people of no faith. That said, this series of posts is patently Christian. It is also (clearly) for parents, care-givers, guardians, or for those who wish to be. Still, I hope this series won’t alienate anyone. No matter your faith or family, what is true about Jesus is true for everyone, whether or not you embrace it. And by that I mean, in part, that the things I write in these posts will in many ways be applicable to child-rearing even if the parent is not a Christian. The upcoming post about criticism, for example, has meaning for all children and households. It’s also true of forgiveness, as mentioned above. It’s true of wholeness in relationships and in oneself. So if you are a reader of this blog (and especially if you are a parent), I heartily invite you to read–even if you don’t believe the gospel.
Which requires another point of introduction: What is the gospel? The gospel is fundamentally this: peace with God through Jesus Christ.
It is the basis of Christian belief:
Again, you don’t have to believe in the gospel to read these posts, but they will reference it often, because the gospel is not just a system of belief, but the means to a relationship with the living God, and this relationship changes us, heals us, makes us more compassionate and loving. These changes impact how we live in the world and–of course–how we treat our children.
Finally, before I begin the posts themselves, it’s vital that I say this: my husband and I never lived up to all that I’m going to recommend. Never. We certainly tried, but as are the other components of the gospel, that bit about everyone being “fundamentally broken and hurting” is true, and we are no exception.
No one parents perfectly. Ever.
These posts are based on my experience as a parent, a friend of other parents, a daughter, and a teacher. They are meant to be an encouragement and a reminder, ways we can check ourselves and think about how we are living in front of our children. We can always do our best, and each of us means to. But all the good that we do–and all the good in this world–comes from the goodness of God. And the more we rely on him in everything–maybe especially parenting–the more we see his kindness, mercy, and joy in our lives.
I’ve thought and prayed about these posts a lot. I’m excited to finally be writing and offering them to you. I welcome comments, conversation, and questions.
And I pray that reading them is a gift to you and your family.
The posts will be available here beginning on Wednesday, January 29 and will appear thereafter on Mondays. That’s my plan, anyway. 🙂