by Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International
When our first two girls were preschoolers, we chose a popular Bible story book for bedtime reading because each page had a copy of a classical painting that matched the story. Only recently did one of the girls reveal that they had found some of the pictures frightening. I remember how this startled me because I never picked up on it when we read from the book each night.
Only as an adult did one of our girls tell how fearful she remembers being of tidal waves as a young child. We lived seven miles from the Atlantic coast of a West African nation and spent many happy hours beach combing for shells and learning to swim in the warm waters. It was a beautiful place. I still can’t fathom where she even heard about tidal waves. But, again, she didn’t bring it up at the time.
I wonder, now, how much of this reflects a failure to truly listen to our preschool children, the kind of listening of the heart that hears what is going on unspoken beneath daily chit-chat. Of course, even in tropical Africa, we could provide an environment that was rich with music and books, interesting people, pets and recreation, spiritual guidance and prayer, adventure and laughter. And all four of our grown children value their African heritage. But how good were we at listening? I wonder.
I don’t remember building very many ‘spiritual practices’ into our family life apart from bedtime prayers, grace before meals, praying over injuries and typical childhood crises. These were part of our life. But neither of us was from a liturgical background of familiarity with ‘spiritual practices.’ It was well before times as we know it now when these matters are given more attention. We call it spiritual formation in our mission community, the belief that children can experience the presence of Jesus in their young lives.
The emphasis is on experience. For many Christians this brings uncertainty and even fear because knowing Jesus in a way that is undeniably real is hard to manage at any age, to fit into frameworks of teaching strategies and is hard to measure. The Holy Spirit, Jesus promised, would come to us as a Gift to guide us into all truth, and nowhere that I know of in Scripture is this limited to the adult. I sometimes wonder how many grown-ups pay attention to the passages in John 14:15-21 or John 16:5-15.
Sadly, we adults often seem to conclude that if it’s hard for us to comprehend truth in Jesus, how can we expect children to recognize and experience it? Probably, it’s because we adults depend so heavily on our superior intellects that we forget that entrance to the Kingdom is based on having the faith of a child. How far short we often fall of giving young children the credit due them, the credit Jesus so well understood and valued.
I hope to do even more with my remaining years to remind us all of these matters. I want to applaud and encourage those whose vision is to provide young children with sensitive teachers/parents who will hear these children when they speak and when they don’t, and give them every opportunity God wants them to have to know Jesus personally and follow him, early on, with all their beings.
Let me end this with another item from my ‘Granny Brag Book.’ I have a granddaughter who, as a preschooler, showed an enthusiastic delight in studying maps. I even provided the family with a large world atlas and we would spend time together leafing through the pages as we talked about places far away from her secure, sunny neighborhood.
You can find a resource from Wycliffe Bible Translators, entitled #Fun Fact February that gives an interesting, little known fact, one for each day of the coming month. Consider downloading this and using it for a galloping, glad time of finding each of the twenty eight places on a globe or other form of world map, and praying about one item each day. It’s hard not to read them all at once, they are such fun. But they can also provide a springboard for a young child to find the countries on a map. This way they’ll explore God’s world, praise him for his amazing creativity and pray for needy children in faraway and close-at-hand places. And you can go along for the ride. Enjoy!
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.The world and all its people belong to him. Psalm 24:1 (NLT)