My wife and I became parents for the first time nine months ago. What a journey it has been so far!
Naturally, we have been faced with questions that we never thought we would ever have to answer. Questions like, is my baby smiling at me because she’s happy to see me or has she just made a smelly deposit for me to clean up?
But there have also been more pressing issues that we have had to think about as we plan what type of parents we are going to be and how we are going to raise our daughter in the future. For example, when will her bed time be? How much TV will she be allowed to watch? How will we discipline her when she misbehaves? These are questions that all parents have to think about at some point of their parenting journey.
Navigating a child’s faith journey
One of the hardest parts of a child’s life for a parent to navigate is their faith journey.
In this regard, parents also need to address certain questions: Do I want to encourage my child to believe the same things that I do or do I want them to be able to explore their faith for themselves? Do I want to force them to go to Sunday School or should they be able to decide for themselves?
My wife and I have had some serious discussions about what we want to teach our daughter about God and faith in the future. Now before you get excited, I am not going to give away all of our perfect parenting secrets that will obviously never fail (definitely sarcasm), but I would like to offer some thoughts on this matter.
I believe that instead of suppressing a child’s natural tendencies and forcing our rules, views and opinions onto them, we need to emphasise their gifts and strengths. In fact, as my wife and I discussed what we could teach our daughter about God and faith, we began to wonder what she could actually teach us…
Awe and wonder
And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”Luke 5:26
One of a child’s greatest gifts is their natural awe and wonder at the world around them. A new-born is fascinated with light and colours; a toddler is entertained with the most basic toys (albeit for short periods of time); and young children are amazed at the adventures of life and the world around them.
We should learn to nurture a child’s sense of awe and wonder at the world, particularly as we try to teach them about God. God’s beauty is present in the wonder of God’s creation. It is often our children who are most acutely aware of this. We could even learn a few things from the way our children see the world.
Questions and doubts
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.Matthew 7:7
Parents seem to discourage questions from their children. This phenomenon is even more prevalent in Christian circles. For some reason, many seem to believe that a child’s questions will cause them to abandon their faith. However, I have found the opposite to be true in my personal faith journey.
My faith has been deeply enriched at times where I have questioned the status quo, explored my doubts, and pushed back at some of the things I have been told to believe are true after I have gained new information.
Often, children are asking better questions about God and faith than their parents. Rather than limiting these questions, we should be encouraging them.
Love and acceptance
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.John 13:34
Another under-appreciated gift of children is their innate ability to love and get along with each other. Children certainly seem to understand Jesus’ greatest commandments to “love God and love their neighbours” better than most adults.
Parents are quick to tell their children who they can socialise with and why they need to exclude certain people from their circles. While this approach may be needed in certain instances for safety reasons (stranger danger!), I wonder if we aren’t teaching our children to judge others and create categories of who should be in and who should be out. If we are honest, all our children need to do is watch how we speak about other people at home or at church and they will quickly learn that creating categories and divisions is the way that things are usually done.
But Jesus’ approach was different. Jesus always tore down the walls that were created by people. Jesus preached a gospel of love and acceptance. Our children often seem to have a better grasp of this gospel than us adults. Rather than stoking cynicism and judgement within them, let us learn from their examples of love and acceptance towards our neighbours.
The Golden Rule
To most parents, the golden rule of parenting is determining the best way to raise their children. Many parents think that they have all the answers and they need to pass them on to their children.
Often, the opposite is true. As we grow up, we lose our sense of awe and wonder, the desire to question and doubt, and even the ability to love as Jesus did. A child is naturally born with these gifts.
Perhaps the golden rule of parenting is less about what we can teach our children about God and faith, and more about what they can teach us. Let us remember that Jesus even instructed his followers to have a child-like faith (Matthew 18:3).