Faith Like a Child
by Kathryn Slattery
As the mother of two children, I understand that growing up isn’t easy. Likewise, it’s not easy being a parent in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world. It doesn’t help that we are living today in what many theologians call the “post-Christian” age. Secular humanism, materialism, a decaying popular culture, and extreme political correctness have worked to create a perfect storm of moral murkiness that daily challenges our children’s spiritual well-being.
What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s true?
Today, more than ever, children need to be informed and reassured that God is real, that He personally loves them, and that He has a unique purpose for each of their precious lives. The Bible teaches that there is but one sure way for a child to access and internalize these powerful spiritual truths—and that is through a personal relationship with God’s Son, Jesus.
I was nineteen years old—a bewildered and spiritually unformed college student, far away from home—before I ever heard the Christian gospel presented in a clear, easy-to-grasp, meaningful way. The word gospel literally means “good news.” To this day, the moment I first heard the gospel and asked Jesus into my heart remains the single most important, life-transforming, personally helpful event in my life.
Too bad, I’ve often thought, so many years passed before I heard the gospel and believed. Even as a small child—especially as a child—might I not have benefited from the priceless gift of a personal relationship with Jesus?
Yes, it is true that our children enter a world filled with distractions, dangers, obstacles, and challenges to their spiritual well-being. No doubt about it, being a twenty-first century parent is not for the faint of heart.
But the good news is that our children enter this world with a tremendous capacity for faith, eager to know God. You could say that kids are born hard-wired to be in a personal relationship with their Creator. This is because for little ones, believing in God is instinctive. It is as natural as breathing. Jesus recognized this when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18: 16-17).
As parents, it is not only our privilege, but our responsibility to nurture our children’s God-given faith. Typically a child’s Christian formation includes involvement in Sunday school, familiarity with the Bible and routine prayers at meals and bedtimes. But that’s not really enough. It takes a personal, intimate relationship with our loving God to breathe life and meaning into these religious traditions. This is because Christianity isn’t a religion that’s simply about Jesus and His teachings, but a relationship with the living Jesus.
We can know Jesus in many ways, of course. He is our Lord. He is our savior. For little ones, however, I have found that simple friendship with Jesus is a concept that is most easily grasped. We know from the Bible that friendship is important to Jesus, who made a special point to tell His disciples: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I have called you friends” (John 15:13, 15).
So, how do you introduce children to Jesus as their friend—their very best friend—in a real, meaningful way?
The answer is surprisingly simple: Pray with your child. In addition to rote prayers at meals and bedtime, look for opportunities to include your child in spontaneous, conversational prayer. This is the intimate, natural way that Jesus prayed. In fact, Jesus was so comfortable and close to God that when He prayed, He called His father “Abba,” which in His native Aramaic language means “Daddy” or “Papa.”
It’s important to remember that our children really do believe and take to heart what we tell them. So when it comes to talking about Jesus—who He is, why He came to earth, and how He can live in our hearts today—don’t be shy. Keep it simple. Keep it natural. And pay attention to the inner nudging of God’s Holy Spirit.
One Christmas Eve, when our daughter Katy was five years old and I was tucking her into bed, I found myself gently steering our talk from Santa Claus and presents under the tree to the spiritual heart of the season. Without planning it, I suddenly found myself telling Katy who Jesus was for me and the story—a simplified version—of how He had come into my life and become my friend.
And then, together, we prayed the simplest, yet most profound prayer I know: “Jesus, I love You and believe in You and in Your Father, God. Thank You for forgiving me when I make mistakes and for loving me the way You do. Please come into my heart now and live in me, and be my savior and friend. I love You, Jesus. And I’m really excited about being your friend, too.”
Yes, it is true that kids today need all the help they can get. But how reassuring it is to know that Jesus is wanting and waiting to live in their hearts as the greatest friend they will ever know… listening, loving, protecting, and guiding them along life’s way.
Kathryn Slattery is a longtime contributing editor for Guideposts and the author of several books, including her new book for children, My Friend Jesus. Other books include: If I Could Ask God Anything; Heart Songs; Lost & Found; Grandma I’ll Miss You; The Gospel for Kids; and The Grace to Grow. Her writing has also appeared in such publications as Today’s Christian Woman and Angels on Earth. Kathryn, who is known as “Kitty,” and her husband are the parents of two grown children. Learn more about Kitty’s work at her website: www.KathrynSlattery.com and on Facebook.