To think that a newborn can experience God may seem odd. One mother of a 6-month-old said, "Isaac just discovered his feet. That he could understand who God is seems funny to me." But Dr. Cathy Stonehouse, professor of Christian education at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey (Baker), says that from the very early days of life, children acquire critical pieces to build into their image of God. "Consciously and unconsciously, parents communicate their images of God to their children," says Stonehouse.
Here are some ways you can help your baby experience God:
- Instill trust. "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Luke 18:16). Jesus called the little children into his Father's kingdom, even as infants, so it's never too early for earthly parents to introduce their babies to God. "The foundation for a child's faith in God," says Stonehouse, "is the trust that begins at birth."
As you lovingly respond to your child's needs and build trust, she will see the model of what a faithful, trusting relationship with God can be. "Parents' unconditional love gives children an experiential base for the theological words that come later. Every part of a child's development has some relationship to the spiritual," says Stonehouse. If the initial trust between parent and child is broken, the child later may be unable to trust God and his love for her.
- Model unconditional love. "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:9). Paul understood that people tend to model the behavior they see around them. "A baby spends many hours lying comfortably in the arms of her parents looking into their eyes. She can see that love and adoration," says Stonehouse. If a baby does not experience this unconditional love, then she begins to feel rejected and unworthy. As with trust, a child's first experiences with parental love will impact her future understanding of God's love.
- Live out the truth. "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children … " (Deut. 6:6-7). Don't be afraid of the responsibility of teaching your children to love God; be excited about the possibilities! While it may seem too early to "teach" your baby about God, you can model what it means to live as a Christian right now. You wouldn't think of depriving your baby of food or shelter, so it's only natural to include God as part of her daily life as well.
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