Inquiring Minds: Answering Kids' Questions
This piece first appeared as the cover article in the October 2006 issue of The Church Herald.
Recently, my six-year-old daughter announced that she no longer wanted to go to church. Her four-year-old sister echoed the statement. I hadn't expected rebellious attitudes toward worship at this stage, when Sunday school still included snacks and crafts. I began to reflect upon reasons for attending church. Later I revisited the subject with my daughters, explaining that God delights in our worship. I reasoned further that we can learn about him at church, enticing them with the topics of upcoming Sunday school lessons. Finally, we discussed that going to church brings us closer to God - someone worth knowing.
Although my daughters agreed to give church another try, and several weeks later even decided they loved it, I began to see that a larger problem loomed. What other questions and challenges were lurking that might catch me and other caregivers off-guard? Colossians 4:6 urges us to "know how you ought to answer everyone," including children.
The following questions and answers address common challenges, problems, and situations faced by Christian caregivers of young children.
1. What should you say to children when their prayers aren't answered?
Teaching children to pray can prove rewarding, especially when they start to initiate prayer on their own. The delight can turn to panic, though, when children fail to see answers to prayers and begin to lose faith.
In such a situation explain that God loves to hear our prayers, and wants us to ask him for things we need. Furthermore, he always answers all of our prayers, meeting our needs in the way that is best for us. We may not always see or understand his answers, as Ecclesiastes 11:5 points out, "Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother's womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything." However, we can trust in God's love and provision, as promised in Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."
2. How should you respond when your children do not want to go to church?
Explain that God loves us and longs to spend time with us. By going to church, we take the time to worship him and learn about him, receiving his guidance and help for each day of our life's journey. Children may still argue, though, that church is boring. In his article, "Aw, Mom, Do I Have to Go to Church?" at fbbc.com, pastor Art Kohl points out that their reluctance to worship is to be expected, simply because church isn't as entertaining as much of their world, including TV, movies, and video games. He notes, however, that life is not always entertaining, and urges parents to teach this lesson to their children, instilling in them the discipline they need to sit still and listen. If children drop out when the going gets boring, they may give up on jobs, relationships, and responsibilities later in life.
The article also cautions against letting children be influenced by their peers who do not go to church. This type of behavior will encourage them, later on, to follow the crowd instead of making their own decisions. Finally, he warns against hypocrisy in parents. Unless we live godly lives and are faithful in our church attendance, we should not expect such behavior from our children.
3. What should you do when your children notice your mistakes and sins?
A child's parents are the most important teachers he or she will ever have. Mom and Dad, as primary role models, have a tremendous amount of influence over children, with ample opportunity to shape their attitudes, values, beliefs, and behavior. Unfortunately, though, we make mistakes that children observe and even mimic.
In her article "Whose Child Is That?" that appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Christian Parenting Today magazine, Karen Morerod suggests five steps for parents to take when children notice their parents' shortcomings and imitate their bad behavior. First, admit your mistakes to your children, showing genuine regret. Children will respect your honesty. Exemplifying forthrightness also teaches them to admit mistakes they make, and gives them the message that an occasional blunder does not spell tragedy. Next, encourage your children to imitate Christ, letting him set the example instead of you. Third, pray for help with your limitations and weaknesses. Next, especially as children grow older and more independent, allow the Holy Spirit to guide them and their decisions and behavior. Finally, don't let guilt over your bad examples drag you down. Know that you are forgiven.
4. When tragedy strikes, how do you explain to children that, in spite of the pain and turmoil, God still loves them?
Tragedy presents a multitude of problems. Children grieve, as adults do, when tragedy affects their families personally. Furthermore, confusion and even anger can enter the picture when children wonder why a loving God lets bad things happen.
For personal tragedy, such as the death of a loved one, Sharon Marshall's article "Grief Matters," from the winter 2003 Christian Parenting Today, makes several pertinent suggestions: explain to children that eventually we will all die, remind them that Jesus wants us to be with him; reassure them that the friend or relative, if a Christian, is now with him in heaven; and console them by expressing grief over the loss, but also the hope of seeing the person again in heaven.
In addressing children's confusion and anger about why the tragedy occurred, explain that pain and suffering are a part of our world. Having endured death on the cross, Jesus experienced agony. Remind children that God did not design the world this way. He wanted us to live with him forever in the perfect Garden of Eden. By breaking God's rules, an action he cannot ignore, people in effect chose separation from him, which always results in suffering.
If children then ask why God does not intervene to prevent Christians from getting hurt, remind them that we have all sinned. Although Christians may try to live godly lives, we are still sinners and are not immune from harm. Also point out that he often does prevent disasters.
As a contributor to the web site explorefaith.org observes, more often, instead of physically protecting us from danger, God intervenes emotionally and spiritually in our lives. He knows when we grieve. He cares deeply for us, sharing our pain, mourning with us, and experiencing our loss even more than we do. The Bible is full of references to God's efforts to console us, including Psalm 23:4 ("your rod and your staff—they comfort me"), Psalm 91:15 ("I will be with them in trouble"), Matthew 5:4 ("Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"), and 2 Corinthians 1:4 ("who consoles us in all our affliction"). Reassure children of God's love with these verses, and encourage them to share their confusion and pain with God in prayer, as David did in Psalm 13.
5. Why doesn't Dad go to church?
In all families, children will wonder at some point why certain people they know do not go to church. If Dad or Mom is a non-believer, they may first ask about that parent, but even children with two Christian parents will eventually face the more general question of why their friends or neighbors are not all churchgoers.
Perhaps the best response looks at why Christians attend worship. Explain to children that God loves to spend time with us. By going to church, we make time for him, worship him, and receive his love, support, and direction. Point out that not everyone understands the importance of worship, but we hope and pray some day they will.
Jim Clark's article "Spiritually Parenting Solo in Christ," posted at heartiight.org, has several additional suggestions for Christian spouses of non-believers. These include praying faithfully for our non-believing family members, working to strengthen our marriages, and openly discussing with our spouses the values that we should share with our children.
6. Do dogs go to heaven?
According to Randy Alcorn's article "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?" (Summer 2005 Christian Parenting Today), the Bible doesn't specifically state that dogs or other pets go to heaven. However, Romans 8:21-23 suggests that animals are present in God's kingdom. More importantly, the article points out that God delights in heaping blessings upon his children. James 1:17 also reminds us of God's generous nature, stating "Every perfect gift is from above." God's reuniting us with our pets in heaven therefore wouldn't come as a surprise.
Reinforcing these ideas, my pastor, the Rev. Fred Herwaldt, cites Psalm 84:3: "Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God."
Reasoning that since "God delights to have a sparrow's home at his altar," he asks, "Why wouldn't he delight in the bark of a dog and the meow of the cat?" He concludes that God takes joy in everything he makes and affirms that nothing will be lost from his creation. He also points out that heaven will be full of surprises, but not negative ones. Instead, "the surprises there will be of intensification, immensity, imagination, bigness, glory, beauty, and joy."
7. Is it OK to include Santa in Christmas celebrations?
In her article "To Santa or Not to Santa," posted at suitel01.com, Sylvia Cochran suggests not overemphasizing Santa or going to great lengths to convince children he is real, but still including him as part of Christmas. When children question you about Santa, explain that while the holiday celebrates Jesus' birthday, people have come up with fun ways to mark the occasion.
One of those inventions is Santa Claus, a myth that grew out of true accounts of Saint Nicholas, a third-century bishop who reflected God's generosity by using his inheritance to assist the needy and vulnerable. (For more on Saint Nicholas, visit stnicholascenter.org.)
Copyright © 2006-2013 by Jennifer Kirsch. All Rights Reserved.