Like most parents, my husband and I put a lot of thought and effort into planning birthday parties for our children. But in our house, celebrating "spiritual birthdays" has become as important as commemorating the days each of us was born.
For every Christian mom and dad, seeing a child develop a relationship with God is the high point of parenting. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. ? You should not be surprised at my saying, ?You must be born again' " (John 3:5,7). Once your children make that life-changing decision, why not celebrate?
We wanted to come up with a way to make our children's spiritual birthdays something special and exciting, yet we didn't want to trivialize them or turn them into repeats of regular birthday parties. So we came up with the idea of a holy birthday party.
While some elements of a holy birthday party echo regular birthday parties, we've tweaked them to create parties that are both kid-friendly and Christ-centered. To keep the day from becoming too hectic, we don't invite friends, just siblings and other close family members. Here are a few ideas to help you plan your own holy birthday party.
Sometimes, a child asks specific questions about becoming a Christian and a parent is able to lead the child to Christ right then. But more often the process is slower, and this makes pinpointing a specific date difficult.
That's how it was with our son. We weren't exactly sure when he first trusted Jesus, but after talking and praying with him, we were sure he had. So we chose to celebrate his spiritual birthday on a date we could easily remember, his half birthday. Not only was it easy to remember, it was far enough away from his birthday to give it significance. You might choose a date that means something to your family?the anniversary of your child's dedication or baptism for example. Whatever you decide, be certain to stick with the same date year after year.
What would a birthday be without cake? With a little effort you can make a cake that reflects the celebration. Many craft and cooking stores sell cake pans in the shape of a Bible. It's also easy to make a cross-shaped cake with a common 13-by-9 inch pan. Simply bake the cake as instructed, then cut the cake in half lengthwise. Cut one of the two strips in half. The long strip becomes the vertical plank, and the two shorter strips arranged on either side and anchored with toothpicks become the horizontal plank of the cross. With either cake, add sparkly candles to fire things up!
While most of us want to avoid the materialism increasingly pervading our children's lives, presents are associated with birthdays. We give our children a new Bible every year on their spiritual birthdays. There are an amazing number of children's and teen Bibles available. Since a child's reading comprehension increases significantly from year to year, a new Bible written specifically for his or her age group is a real treat.
We've discovered another benefit to yearly Bible replacements. We encourage our kids to jot important dates and questions in their Bibles. This helps them view the Bible as a tool for learning. Your child might mark the dates he learns a verse, or you might record the date a preschooler helps you tell a favorite Bible story. An older child can underline a confusing verse and ask you about it later. Knowing there will be a new Bible next year encourages children to make the most of the one they got this year?maybe even finish reading it before the year is up.
We like to include a few fun games in the party. One of our family's favorites is "pop the balloons." We stuff dollar bills into a balloon?one dollar for each year the child has been a Christian. The other balloons are simply filled with rolled-up paper. Even siblings have fun helping the "birthday" child pop the balloons and find the money. If money's tight, you could stuff the balloon with a scripture passage or a homemade "coupon" for a special afternoon with Mom and Dad.
We also give each person at the party a brown paper lunch bag filled with sweet treats. You can decorate the bags ahead of time or do it as part of the party. We like to write Psalm 119:103 on the bags: "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" Encourage everyone to offer a quick prayer of thanks each time they unwrap a treat.
After the party is cleaned up and your child is settled down, sit with her as she writes a letter to God. A younger child can dictate the letter to you. Have your child thank Jesus for the gift of salvation and write about how she's grown spiritually in the last year. Has she started doing her own personal devotions or having a regular prayer time? Did she learn to be kinder to her siblings? Has obeying become easier? Also, write down challenges she's facing right now. It will be exciting to see some of those challenges overcome throughout the next year. Have your child finish her letter by writing about the ways she'd like to grow closer to God in the coming year.
After your child has signed her name, turn the paper over and write a letter to her from you. You might note the growth you've seen, and of course, tell her how much you appreciate her. Mention specifics. This will offer her tremendous reassurance when she re-reads the letter in the future. And this record of her most tender moments will become a permanent legacy of God's love for both you and your child. Each year, laminate these letters with home laminating sheets (found in craft and general merchandise stores) and keep them in a binder.
If you prefer, videotape these reflections instead of writing them. Record each year's thoughts sequentially on the same tape. Whether you write or tape, encourage your child to look back at these in times of difficulty, when faith seems hard or when growth is slow. It will be an encouragement to both of you.
Our holy birthday parties are a lot of fun. But more important, they give us a unique way to help our children see that following God is a process, that each year brings them closer to understanding who God is and the plans he has for them. These celebrations help keep all of us focused on the joy God himself must have felt when we committed our lives to him.
Sandra Byrd is the author of the Secret Sisters Series(WaterBrook) for young girls. She lives in Washington State with her husband Michael, a chaplain, their two children, and a circus dog named Brie.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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