Q. Now that our daughter is 3, she's asking more challenging questions about God. How do we help her understand God when we still have lots of faith questions of our own?
A. When a young child's natural curiosity turns to things of faith"What color is God's hair?" "Where did I live before I was born?" "Who is God's mommy?"many parents find themselves stumped. But at this age, children are less concerned about the accuracy of the answers than with discovering the wonderful mystery of God.
Preschool children are particularly open to accepting that there are some things about God we just don't understand. They are in the process of learning so much about the world around them that they expect that some questions don't have answers. So when a 3-year-old wonders if God is a million miles tall, it's okay to tell her you don't know, or to ask what she thinks the answer might be.
Tell the stories
God intended parents to nurture their children in his wisdom, grace, and ways so they will put their hope in the Lord (Ps. 130:7). Wise parents start this nurturing with Scripture, God's self-portrait. Find a preschool Bible to help introduce your child to some of the great stories of God's Word. Read aloud or role-play the stories of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Daniel, and Esther.
Be honest about the questions these stories raise, and ask the Lord to guide you as you and your child discover more about God together. Encourage your child to dig into Scripture by asking her, "Which person in the story would you like to be?" or "I wonder what God is telling us about himself in this story?"
Check your vision
If you haven't already, it's essential to think about your own understanding of God. A parent's "God concept"how they perceive Godinfluences young children profoundly. Parents who believe God lovingly crafts us tend to parent with respect, tenderness, and grace. By contrast, parents who believe God is a harsh judge will tend to be more authoritarian.
If you struggle to think of God as a loving parent, talk to your pastor or a Christian counselor and work through this issue. In the meantime, do your best to show your child that God is our loving Creator whom we can trust to care for us and guide us.
Keep it simple
Guiding the growth of a young child's faith can feel like fitting a giraffe into a refrigerator. But children don't need us to be deep and profound, just honest. If you ask an adult how to get a giraffe into a refrigerator, we tend to think, "Let's see, if the giraffe is 20 feet tall and the fridge is " But ask a preschooler and the answer is simple: "Open the refrigerator door."
In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, God instructs parents to "impress [these commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." In other words, live your faith. The best way to help a young child develop faith is to model it for her. Wake up and sing a song praising God for a new day. Go for a walk and talk about the wonderful world God made. Celebrate another day together as you cuddle up at bedtime. Encourage your preschooler to talk to God about everything, and let her know that God listens and talks back! Make God a regular part of your life, and God will become as real as Grandma or Aunt Cindy.
LIKE ANY OTHER KIND of development, spiritual formation is a lifelong process. So don't worry about covering all the bases right now. Relax and enjoy watching your child discover the wonder of life with God.
Mary Maslen is the Early Childhood Specialist for Awana International. She makes her home in Illinois.