How to Become a Better Fielder of Your Children’s Questions
by Dillon T Thornton
You and I are a lot alike.
First, we have the same responsibility. We’re not just parents; we’re parent-theologians, the ones primarily responsible for opening up the Bible to help our children understand God, the world, and themselves. Second, I’m guessing we’re alike in that our children have questions. So. Many. Questions. If questions were dollars, I’d be wealthy enough to buy the Eiffel Tower. Not the small one from Las Vegas. My boys ask about all sorts of things: How do airplanes work? Why does Donald wear a tie with no pants? (Duck, not Trump.) What are these McNuggets made of? (Nobody knows.)
One of their all-time best questions arose in response to something we had been learning in our family worship times. I had been trying to teach the boys that, while God is distinct from His creation, He is always at work within His creation. This is not an easy concept to comprehend for a child who wears Lightning McQueen underwear, as I would soon find out. Later that week, my youngest son Cullen had an appointment at the dentist. When he’s brave at the dentist, we generally reward him by taking him to his favorite donut shop, which, it just so happens, is located right in front of the dentist’s office. Strategic on the dentist’s part, I’ve always thought. On this particular day, the grandparents took Cullen to get his delectable, post-dentist treat. He was just about to take that monstrous first bite when, suddenly, he paused, looked up with a petrified expression, and asked: “Is God in this donut?” The grandparents promptly replied, “Ask your daddy.”
Your children and mine will have questions, questions about sin and salvation, good and evil, God and grasshoppers, theology and pastries. We can’t know when these questions are coming, but of this we can be certain: every inquiry is an opportunity to “train children in the right way” (Proverbs 22:6).
Here are three steps you can take to become a better fielder of your children’s questions about God.
1. Listen sincerely.
Formative instruction occurs in the natural rhythm and activity of life. Every day is a string of teachable moments; we chisel our children into Christlike men and women as we walk the aisles of the grocery store with them, gather around the dinner table, ride down the road in the truck, or take a Sunday afternoon walk along the beach. In a sense, we are always teaching our children. Our charity and our irritability teach. Our responses and even our silence teach. Many of our children’s questions will seem silly or inconsequential to us, which means it will be very easy to brush off their inquiries. Remember that we want to foster, not repress, curiosity. Moreover, we want to encourage our children to bring their questions to us. (There are so many other places they could go, like the internet. And the internet, though distracting, is never distracted; it always has time for our children’s inquiries.) The next time your child asks a question, regardless of how silly it seems, stop whatever you’re doing, give him or her your undivided attention, and affirm the importance of the question. Obviously, it’s something that matters to him or her.
2. Answer with accuracy and clarity.
Every inquiry is an opportunity to “train children in the right way.” But this means that we, the parents, must know the right way ourselves, and we must be able to give directions in child-friendly terms. In other words, we must be able to answer our children’s questions with both biblical accuracy and clarity.
Christian parents are responsible for the spiritual development of the children under their care. I am convinced that most parents feel this responsibility, though they have not been adequately equipped to fulfill it. Children of faith need a diet of healthy teaching; and in the home, parents are the preparers of truth. The problem is that many parents are lacking in culinary skills, at least figuratively speaking. This is precisely why I wrote Give Them Jesus. The goal of the book is to guide you, parents, to a deeper understanding of the core truths of the Christian faith, and along the way to arm you with appropriate language, helpful illustrations, and relevant object lessons, so that in the end you will be better prepared to pass these truths on to your children.
3. Take them on a journey of discovery.
We want the home to be a place of inquiry and discovery. We create such an environment by giving our children permission to ask questions about God, validating our children’s questions, answering their questions with biblical precision, and then showing them how to find answers to their own questions by searching the Scriptures. Let’s say your child asks, “Will God love me forever?” A prudent parent-theologian will not merely answer, “Yes.” He or she will also take the child on a journey into the Bible. “Yes, son, God will love you forever, and here’s how we know this: go grab your Bible and let’s look together at the end of Romans 8.” This is a step beyond providing a clear answer; it’s pointing our children to the source, to the place where they can find the answers to all of life’s big questions. When we take our children on the journey of discovery, when we lead them to the Bible so they can drink deeply of the greatness of God, there will be born within them a God thirst that can never be satisfied by any lesser stream.
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