Most of us bow under the weight of more than a few questions about children and how they come to faith. How do children believe? When are they able to believe?
Clearly, belief is possible for children. Jesus said in Luke 18:16, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Somehow, kids get Jesus. They recognize light and are drawn to it.
My children are now adults. Young adults, but they are adults. While raised in the same home by the same parents, with basically the same spiritual teaching (Jesus time just about every night, Bible songs, plenty of talk about Jesus), their journeys toward God have differed from each other’s, and from their father’s and mine.
Eva and Ethan asked Jesus to come into their hearts when they were five and three years old, respectively. It was near Christmas. I’d done a teaching in children’s church on the "gift of Jesus," and when we got home, Evan and I talked with them separately about whether or not they wanted to accept this gift. While we hesitated to "manipulate" them into the kingdom, we also didn’t want to miss a moment of readiness. Were they ready? Each was. Each bowed and prayed with us.
Through the years that followed, we continued having Jesus time, praying together, and learning about God in Sunday school and in everyday life. As my children matured, youth group was big for them both. There they made friends, watched their youth leaders role model the faith, and participated in missions trips abroad to impoverished worlds.
In their teen years, both my children questioned God. For a season, Eva bolted from the lifestyle in which she’d been raised, but even in her time away, she now reports that she felt God’s presence. Upon her return, she eventually recommitted her life to God and pursues a relationship with Jesus today.
Ethan held on to God a bit longer but began to question his faith on a more philosophical ground. He’s still traveling toward truth, investigating, wondering, and at times, denying a need for God.
When my children have hit such bumps along their spiritual treks, I’ve questioned: just what was it that happened in their early years? Was their commitment to Christ real? Did they mean it? Did they understand it? I think back to moments like Ethan’s buck-naked-from-the-shower six-year-old pronouncement, "Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins!" or Eva’s wide-eyed comprehension at age five that the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, and a certainty rises up inside me.
Like all of us, children come to Jesus in a process. Whether at three or five or twelve or sixteen or twenty-one years of age, like us, children can give all they know of themselves to all they know of Jesus. And like us, the process of coming to Christ continues as the process of human development continues. The more we discover, the more we have to surrender. Tiny twinkles grow into true lights.
As moms and dads and teachers and pastors and shapers of children, our job is to influence them. God’s job is to reveal himself to them. Their job is to seek faith for themselves. How can we do our part? Here are some "little light" suggestions to layer into the days of our young:
• Create a regular "Jesus time." Providing a simple, predictable time to talk about God is vital to young ones. They grow to expect discussion. Questions bubble up in their minds. Prayer becomes a habit.
• Give each child a Bible. There’s something very special — and sacred — about sharing the privilege of Bible carrying and reading and holding with the very young. Graduate each reading level with that of your child.
• Find a family church. Miss Debbie taught our children throughout the elementary years. They looked forward to her warm hug and happy face each Sunday. Beyond those years, youth group leaders invested in their lives and made the difference in whether or not they’d drag themselves out of bed and drive the distance to church.
• Keep a journal for perspective. As adults, there are times when we can see what God is doing in our children’s lives, and remember it better than they can.
• Sign up for service together. When children see the needs of others, they grow in their understanding of how Jesus meets their own needs. Allowing a child to help another person leaves a lasting impact.
• Build meaning into the holidays and holy days. I fully enjoy the secular celebrations attached to many of our holy days. They’re fun. But without the meaning underlying such memorials, the days and nights are throwaway fun. Take the time to underline God’s gift of his Son, Jesus, with a Jesus birthday celebration and a manger display at Christmas.
Children often begin their faith experience as tiny twinkles with sincere commitments to Jesus. As influencers, we can light the way home for them. I can help my children know the Jesus I know. As they grow, their faith must grow in the process of giving more of what they know about themselves to more of what they know about Jesus.
Elisa Morgan is president and CEO of MOPS International, Inc. (www.MOPS.org), based in Denver, Colorado, which provides resources and encouragement to moms of young children. Her daily radio program, MOMSense, is broadcast on more than 750 outlets nationwide. A nationally known speaker, Morgan is the author of The Orchard, Mom to Mom, Meditations for Mothers, and Naked Fruit , editor of Mom's Devotional Bible and Mom, You Make a Difference, and coauthor of What Every Child Needs, What Every Mom Needs, Children Change a Marriage, Make Room for Daddy and Real Moms. Elisa's newest book, Twinkle: Sharing Your Faith One Light at a Time, released in December 2005, encourages readers to share their faith in simple and everyday ways. Elisa and her husband, Evan, live with their family in Centennial, Colorado.