I have just spent a very lovely morning with our pre-school service at church, ‘Pips Praise’. Lots of laughter, wiggling, dancing and listening. For me the morning finished with a conversation about the story we had listened to with a little one crawling under the row of chairs.
“I used all the stars [stickers making a starry sky picture] – there are so many”, “Can you count them?”, “No [giggles] there are lots”. “Abraham couldn’t count them either could he, that’s why God asked him to look. God wanted to promise he would have a family so big he couldn’t count them”, “God thought the stars were beautiful” [questioning my logic], “oh yes, but also to show Abraham his family would be so many he couldn’t count them. Did God keep his promise?”, “They had a baby.”, “yes and the baby was the start of a very big family, God kept his promise” [back to the picture and the stars and whether Daddy was going to like the picture like God thought the starry sky was beautiful…]
It reminded me, as I was chatting sprawled on the floor with a little one under the chairs that you have to be ready, steady to go when it comes to chatting Bible stories and what God is like. You never know when or where you’ll be when the conversation opens up. Children are so full of curiosity and questions, they are hungry to know and understand, and it seems to me that as soon as a question gets formed it can’t be held in for long so we need to be ready there and then especially with little ones – and my not so little autists!
Your heart should be holy and set apart for the Lord God. Always be ready to tell everyone who asks you why you believe as you do. Be gentle as you speak and show respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NLV)
Some of my coming alongside children and young people to share faith happen when I set aside a time – when I help run a club, or lead a small group time, or organize a mentor time… but most happens in those unexpected moments. This is especially true in family faith sharing, more often than not if we plan a particular time, or story, or prayer activity we have a small chance of it being meaningful and fruitful. It’s the unexpected opportunities that really open things up to talk about the things of faith. And it’s often a challenge because the unexpected moments are often moments we feel least ready, least in tune with God.
For example I remember vividly a particularly challenging day on holiday when B & A were very small. They had spent the day annoying and getting at each other. No game had gone smoothly. No conversation had ended well. Nothing had been ‘right’ for B, so meltdowns and inflexibility had shaped the day for all of us. And we as parents probably felt it more keenly on holiday with all the hopes of good family time together, fun and closeness. We were worn out, and by bedtime just wanted (needed) a brief moment of rest as we got them to sleep (even knowing it would not be long before one of them needed us through the night as usual). This bedtime became one of those unexpected moments, when I was worn thin and felt I had nothing left.
Andrew was bathing A, and I was wrestling an octopus – or was I getting B into pyjamas – when out of the blue, suddenly B turns and stops fighting me and says:
“Why do I always end up doing cross things, when I love A, and want to play. I want to do the right thing but it’s impossible.”
I can remember taking a small deep breath as I hung on her words and with my other hand reached for the children’s Bible on the floor by the bed. This was one of those moments. I turned to the pictures of the Easter story and we began to talk as we looked at them.
“It’s impossible for me too, and A, and Daddy. None of us can do the right thing all the time. Sometimes I shout when I am tired and cross, sometimes we don’t remember about something we have promised you will happen, sometimes I have unkind thoughts about people when I feel grumpy too. But I think my friend Jesus knows that, that’s why he came.”
B looked long and hard at the pictures and we remembered the story together.
“He did all this because he loves us, and he knows it’s impossible for us to get everything right. He knows we try, and try again, but he knows we can’t do it. And that has stopped us being able to be friends with him, and with Father God. So he came to help. I believe he came, and he died because of all the times we don’t get it right or do the right thing.”
Turning the page we looked at Jesus, alive again.
“God’s love is so strong Jesus came alive again. And that means he can forgive us completely – that means we can start all over again. And that means he is with us to help us when it is impossible to do the right thing on our own.”
We skipped some pages and looked at pictures of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples at Pentecost.
“Did Jesus do all that for me? Can he help me?”
“Yes he did! He loves you!”
And there and then we talked to Jesus together, saying sorry, saying we wanted to be friends with him, saying how we needed his help. And there and then, in the midst of our tired wrestling bedtime at the end of an exhausting and disappointing day B made her choice to become friends with Jesus who loves her. We carried on putting reluctant limbs into pyjamas, and climbed into the bed together to read stories. She snuggled in, and drifted to sleep. And I lay there next to her reeling with the surprise of the moment, and full of thanks to God for how he had helped me to turn from grumpy, tired Mummy mode and to find the gentleness, and patience and words to help her to understand just how loved she is.
…be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:2 NIV)
Being ready is the challenge! More about living in trust with God than about knowing loads. More about heart readiness. Being ready for the unexpected moments is as important as the regular faith habits (or irregular depending on how well its going!) we try to keep as a family. Moments are around every corner, and conversations open up when we least expect them. It can be bathtime, mealtimes, meltdowns, school drop off or pick up, in the park, in church, in the car, in season and out of season. My challenge is – be ready!
Have you had unexpected moments to share faith with your children?