Psalm 139 tells us that God is present in the life of even an unborn child. Once that child is born, our job as parents is to nurture her understanding of that relationship. And we can do that from day one.
Scottie May, assistant professor of Christian formation and ministry at Wheaton College in Illinois, says, "The grace of our God enables parents to prepare and maintain an environment within the home that allows the Holy Spirit to begin forming children even before they are able to speak. Couple that with the strength of the local faith community to form and nurture the child, and it is not uncommon for a child to grow up never knowing a time when she or he did not love the Lord Jesus and want to obey and follow him because that child has been surrounded by God's prevenient grace."
How you nurture your child's relationship with God will vary from child to child. Here are a few guiding principles to keep in mind:
Let faith happen. Your child will discover God in a whole host of waysfrom the songs you sing to the way you comfort him when he cries. Everything you do for and with your child contributes to his understanding of love, which will eventually frame the way he understands God's love.
In The Christian Educators Handbook on Spiritual Formation (Baker), John Dettoni writes; "Grace works with the whole person, not just with a soul to be saved or a mind to be taught." Know that in simply being a loving, responsive parent you are reflecting God's grace to your child.
Create "God sightings." Children living in Old Testament times experienced what my friend Joan calls "God sightings"; daily, visible evidence of God's active presence. Think of it: God in a cloud by day, the flickering glow of a pillar of fire by night. Food from the heavens. Water from a rock.
You can create present day "God sightings" by pointing out places you see God's hand in your life. Thank God for your food, your clothes, your home, and show your child how to do the same. Notice God's creation whenever you can. Make God a real member of your family who is talked to and about often.
Look for God in your child. Pay attention to what God has placed in your child at these early stages: an awareness of him, an affection for Christ, a compassionate heart, a desire to pray, a sense of joy.
Most of all, notice your child's curiosity about spiritual things. Almost every child who knows about God will ask endless questions about him. Respond gently, faithfully, and prayerfully as the Holy Spirit leads you.
Strengthen your own faith. Your child's faith will grow more complex as he gets older, so use these early years to dig into your own questions of faith and deepen your understanding of God's love for you. Let your child see you studying God's Word and prayerfully seeking his guidance.
Accept the mystery. Humbly accept that there will be parts of your child's faith that you don't understand and trust that God is holding your child tenderly in his hand.
Growing the faith of our children is perhaps our most sacred task as parents, but we are merely partners with our great God in this journey. It is his grace alone that brings the soul of even the littlest child to meld with his own.
Mary Maslen is the Early Childhood Specialist for Awana International. She makes her home in Illinois.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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