Sometimes we struggle to talk about Jesus in natural ways with our children. It’s easy to read them a Bible story about Jesus, but it’s harder to apply that story as a situation unfolds. This month three parents share how they talk about Jesus in their homes and other ways that they foster spiritual growth in their children.
We recently received bad news. My stepson’s grandma was in a car accident. At 11, Sam is meeting that brutal intruder, death, for the first time. We talk and then pray aloud. It’s a messy, tearful prayer, but that’s okay. Jesus hears the words beneath the words.
At times like this, when eternity creeps close, it’s natural to talk about Jesus.
Other times we’re less comfortable. Why is that? Maybe talking about Jesus—or even saying “Jesus,” as opposed to “God”—feels disrespectful. Maybe we know only a transcendent God, powerful but unapproachable. Maybe, lacking positive male figures in our lives, it’s hard for us to imagine a loving heavenly Father. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll say something wrong.
Thing is, God doesn’t say in Deuteronomy chapter 6, “Tell your children about me if you’re comfortable” or “A few words at meals and bedtime, and we’ll call it good.” He says, “Talk about [me] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”—pretty much all day. But before that—interesting!—he says he wants his words “upon our hearts.” We first take in the Word—in worship, study groups, personal devotions. It fills our hearts and then naturally flows into our speech.
Some of my kids’ college classmates recall their childhood Christianity as an onerous system of rules they couldn’t ditch soon enough. They’ve been taught that Jesus is a squinting judge, noting slip-ups on his blackboard in the sky. Others view Scripture as a loosey-goosey text, open to any interpretation they please. Here Jesus is a backslapping buddy who wink-winks at sin.
When it comes to talking about our Savior, I wonder whether it’s less important to teach children values than to teach them they’re valuable. Children—all of us—are so valuable that Jesus died for us. When the Father looks at our children, he doesn’t see dirty, undeserving sinners he’s compelled to love. He sees his bright, shiny, holy children! They’re so loved it’s safe to be openhearted, to confess their sins; forgiveness is theirs! God’s excited about the opportunities he’s got on the calendar for them. He’s right there with them, and he delights in them. What they do for him today and tomorrow matters, and he can’t wait to spend eternity with them.
BC (Before Children), I had this vision of family devotions: bright-eyed little cherubs with chubby hands folded. Broccoli eaten, candles burning, Bach playing. Pfft. I didn’t foresee fidgety legs and droopy eyes (mine!), not to mention lessons and practices that cut supper short.
But that’s okay. We can talk about our Savior anywhere. In the car: I liked that sermon. Did you? In the kitchen: God really answered our prayer, didn’t he? In the middle of a hug: You’re forgiven, kiddo. Will you forgive me? At bedtime: Jesus loves you, and so do I.
With Jesus in our hearts, on our lips, and in the room, the line between sacred and secular disappears. It’s all God’s world. And eternity—that exciting prospect—is always close.
Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his preteen son.
Our kids attend a Lutheran elementary school where they hear the Word of God every day and see it applied in all aspects of school. Sometimes I find myself getting a bit lazy when it comes to fostering spiritual growth in my kids or creating opportunities for the Holy Spirit. The Lutheran elementary school does such a good job already! However, I’m pretty sure Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it,” was not written solely for the teachers at school. So how can I help train my children?
The first thing that came to mind was to have a nightly family devotion. I searched and read reviews about devotion books. I made my selection, and one night I pulled out my new devotional book. The kids said, “Oh, that’s the one we are using at school.” Not fair! I started reading it anyway. It was obvious that my kids were listening in school (good thing) because after reading the title of the devotion, they’d say, “This is the one where . . .”
Experiences like these have really led my wife, Kelly, and me to focus on discovering new and varied ways of helping our kids grow spiritually. We are always searching for different ways to complement the exceptional work done by our pastors and teachers.
Nightly blessing has been an important practice in our home. Every night we spend time singing our bedtime prayers, talking to God, and then blessing one another. That regular time of prayer and blessing has become a cherished time.
How about the morning? Since I leave for work at the crack of dawn, I’m not home to help send everyone out the door. My grandfather always said, “Never leave the home without prayer and Scripture.” So I printed out about 50 different passages, and I attach one to the door before I leave.
When Kelly and the kids leave, they read the passage together or take it along and read it in the car to help focus their hearts on the Lord for the day.
One more idea. A friend of mine recently wrote a devotional “book.” It’s not a traditional devotional book but more of a family thanksgiving journal. Our family is now coming together at some point during the day and sharing what we are overwhelmingly grateful for. We are recording this in a thanksgiving journal, and it allows us intentionally to focus our thoughts on God’s blessings. We don’t do this at the same time every day. I’m less concerned with making a “devotion-time rule” and more concerned with using this as a casual but consistent way to demonstrate the love we have for our Lord with one another.
Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a daughter and a son.
My husband and I pray daily that our family will glorify God with our lives. The habits we have established in our home reflect that desire. We pray as a family, worship and sing praises at every opportunity, and study our Bibles frequently. Our hope for our children is that they will continue in faith and enjoy an eternity with their heavenly Father.
Here on earth, the devil is always working to lead us away from Jesus. Recently our three-year-old shockingly insisted, “I no want to pray to Jesus. I pray to Pete the Cat!” A few days later our nine-year-old confided to us that she feels that our family puts Christ on the back burner at times and it bothers her.
I was a bit stunned by each of these incidents. My inner pride wondered how the children in my Christ-centered home could say or feel these things. I wondered if we are pointing our children to Christ with every breath? I pondered the ways that we can do a better job of this.
The Bible doesn’t share a recipe or a daily schedule for Christian parents to follow, but it is full of guidance and reassurance. Isaiah 55:11 says “. . . so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Incidents that stun our complacency help us refocus and change what we are doing, but the Holy Spirit is at work in my children’s hearts even when my parenting and Christian example are imperfect and when my family life becomes unfocused.
We want our children to have a true love for the Lord and a focus on him. We are always mindful of this as we put household routines into place. But routines are not necessarily born of faith. True praise and worship come only from the knowledge that Jesus died in our place. Thanks to Jesus, heaven is ours. When we keep our own joy about this amazing sacrifice at the forefront of our lives and live our days proclaiming that joy, our children see and hear us. We do make mistakes, but God says that his Word does not come back empty.
We guide our families with God’s Word and with an example of faith in God’s promises. Then we can rest in the assurance that God’s Word is powerful. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. We have a faithful God who loves our little ones more than we do. As we learn in Matthew 18:12,14: “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? . . . . In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”
Wendy Heyn and her husband, Juerg, are raising three children ages 3, 7, and 9.
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Volume 102, Number 3
Issue: March 2015
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