Passing on the Faith
From the Mouths of Babes: How Children Teach Adults
Children teach us about sin and worship.
I love to hear my daughter pray. At two and a half, she has a few basic prayers that she regularly recites: "Tank you Jesus for all da bressings, and mommy and daddy and mammy and papa and all da friends. Amen," is one of my favorites. Often mammy and papa will get a double, triple, or quadruple mention. But one evening recently at dinner she sort of got off track and missed the point of the whole thing. She wanted to sing the doxology, which we sometimes do at dinnertime. She calls it "Praise Fadder," because of the last part, "praise Father, So-on, and Holy Ghost." We all started to sing, and she immediately interrupted us and told us to stop. "Charis do it," she demanded. Apparently, she wanted this doxology to be her doxology, and hers alone. So, after silencing Paula and me, she came to the finish. "Praise Fadder, Son, and Hody Goat."
After we stopped laughing at the thought of a holy goat (I know, how could we!), I couldn't help but note the irony in her prayer—and that the whole incident likely reflected much of the way we followers of Jesus behave. We want to sing about God's glory, all the while seeking our own. We want to shush those voices that would join ours, for fear that they might drown us out. We want to be heard above the crowd, not blend in with it. We want to offer a doxology in which we are the star, not Christ. Odd as it sounds, we want to be glorified in glorifying.
The idea is not that these and other lessons can't be gotten apart from our children. Surely they can for they are found in Scripture. In fact, they cannot be understood as lessons about God apart from Scripture. But children have a way of becoming enacted sermons that bring to life the lessons we've heard for years but perhaps never fully appreciated. Children are in a sense living parables. They live out their sins openly and unapologetically, while we live ours subtly, disguised, and disingenuously. As a result, we sometimes don't see our sins until our daughter sings them to Jesus at the dinner table.
In a sense, children are to us all like the child in the often-told story of Augustine's conversion, whom he heard singing over and over again, "pick it up and read, pick it up and read." From this, Augustine felt impressed to open a nearby Bible. Immediately he turned to a passage that then and there led to his conversion. Though theological questions and much searching led up to this moment for Augustine, I find it striking that a child's voice, not a grandiloquent argument, seems to have played a pivotal role in the decisive moment for one of the Church's greatest minds. Perhaps there is simply something about the presence of children that leaves us all longing for our own innocence.
The point is that by observing the everyday goings on of our own children and those around us, all of us, if we pay attention, may discover through children the encouragement to return to the Book and read it afresh, that we might "grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:15, NIV).
Children teach us about creative thinking and play.
Children do more than show us our faults. They also reignite our creativity and help us discover joy in the ordinary. Recently during a very busy and stressful time at work, I had come home and sat down in the back yard with my daughter when she asked if we could blow bubbles. I said sure, and it proved to be the highlight of my day. As I blew the bubbles, Charis chased them and popped them, laughing and cheering at each one as though it were the first, as though she had never done it before. There was something immensely therapeutic, even cathartic, about the whole thing and I found myself wondering at what point in life had I forgotten how to play.
Jerry Ireland works as a missionary with the Assemblies of God, and is currently a PhD student in Theology and Apologetics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.