Behavior and faith

I grew up in church. My major awakening was in 8th grade, when I consciously both accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and felt as though he had “picked me up and turned me around.” Looking back from that moment, I can see that God was preparing the way for me, and yet that moment seemed / seems somehow definitive.

Point being, one of the things that scared / scares me about having a child is how to raise her in such a way that I both “bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (PCA baptismal vow), and avoid having her thoroughly messed up and forever disgusted with Christianity. I used to half-jokingly say that I wouldn’t even mention God until she was 14. It seems there are so many very easy ways to bring up a child in a Christian home in such a way as to make them stumble. I remember reading in college Rousseau’s Confessions. Among other things, he claimed that a religious caregiver (aunt?) so carefully admonished and questioned him about sin that he, well, got all muddled and freaked out about it.

I think that behavioral instruction and discipline should be kept as simple and concrete as possible for this age of nearly three years. Tell and model what I expect. Give the simple concrete consequence when / if she disobeys (such as a timeout or losing the toy she wasn’t cooperating with). Express approval and appreciation when she meets expectations.

Lately when she does something annoying and observes that we get annoyed, she’ll ask “Are you happy with me?” We try to be honest and simple — assure her that we love her even when we’re angry, and that yes, sometimes certain behaviors annoy or anger us. When relevant, we’ll also explain that we’re just in a bad mood and irritable, and apologize.

At this point this is all at a very surface level — she is aware of emotions in herself and in others, can express them, identify them, etc. She’s beginning to link behaviors and emotional reactions. I don’t think she’s aware of consciously choosing a behavior in an effort to provoke a particular response. Yes, sometimes she disobeys while looking to see how we will respond, but I think it’s surface-y, not calculated or manipulative in the same way such behavior would be in an older child or adult.

So I don’t think I’m ready to talk to her about sin — or at least about how sin grieves the heart of God. I’m not even sure I’m ready to talk to her about God’s commandments for behavior. Our parental commandments seem to be sufficient focus for now.

I’ve told her that Jesus died for our sins, to pay the price for them, because he loves us so much. Whenever we take Communion, I explain that again, and remind her that this meal is a special way to remember what he did for us. I think that when she is readier to understand, she will ask about that word “sin” or something else about this. And when she asks, I want my primary focus to be on sin as the condition of being separated from God — particular sins mattering partly because good is good and bad is bad, reflecting God’s own nature and our design, and mattering even more because they break the relationship we are meant to have with him. (I just need to work on phrasing that explanation in toddler terms.)

Sometimes we’ve told her about her baptism, but I’m not very good at explaining that one yet, and since the Walkerton church has such a small congregation, we haven’t seen any infant baptisms to remind us to talk to her about it. We tend to talk about it when we look at her photo album, which includes pictures from her baptism day.

She also has a children’s Bible, and we read in it the stories that she chooses. Again — when she is ready, she will ask more about the Garden of Eden story, or about others.

I want to talk to her about Bible stories, sacraments, praying, and all, as things that are true and that can be left to stand as they are for the most part. I don’t want to intrude explanations where no sense of needing an explanation is felt yet, and I especially don’t want to make all Christian things about some kind of moral application. The best application of every part of Scripture, every bit in the worship service, etc, is to believe in Jesus — to put one’s trust and hope in him, confident of his love and gracious salvation.

Again, not that I’m okay with bad behavior — but at this point I don’t feel it necessary or appropriate to connect behavior and faith.

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10 thoughts on “Behavior and faith

  1. As a non believer partially raised by a woman who placed all of her faith in God-help her see the divinity in the world around her, and see it as essentially, inherently joyful and good.

    Growing up RC, I was struck by the “ooga booga booga” nature to the lessons. Not that God loves us and wants us to love, but that I could be spanked at any moment.

    I envy those of you who believe and are filled by a gentle peaceful love-a light that shines on others. I hope you’re able to encourage that in Amy. 🙂 Sin as a child-made no sense, as the only bad things in my life had been done TO me.

    • Thordora, thank you for your perspective. I want very much to be sure that God’s love and the goodness of his original creation is the focus — and that sin, when we talk about it, makes sense and isn’t a “God’s just out to get me” kind of thing.

  2. Teaching children about faith is a fine line that is hard to balance. I don’t personally believe that children can truly understand sin and the sin condition until they are near the teenage years – near the time when they start to become more self-aware. I think God’s love and grace are the best focus while focusing on the great stories of the Bible, and of course, as much talk about Jesus as they can process without being too heavy handed. Personally, I like the quote from St. Francis the best: “Preach the Gospel today, and if you must, use words.” Children are mimics and they are also able to see through us completely. The most important thing is for us to live as true Christians in God’s love and grace every day – they will see it.

    I would suggest being very careful with children and the organized church – things just aren’t the way they used to be. There are some “interesting” leaders and teachers in the church nowadays and kids in children and youth groups can be downright hateful. Neither one of my kids will set foot in church anymore – and it is because of what they have seen and how they have been treated by the other kids in church since they have been old enough to comprehend. They both believe, but have no use for the organized church. I was talking to my son on the phone recently and at one point encouraged him to try to go to church while he is away at college. His comment was that he didn’t think he would – he said he was tired of people not living what they claim to believe. I tried to soften it and say something about “well, not everyone is that way….”, etc. and his response was telling. “Yeah, but I’m having a hard time finding anyone in church who is.” Such is the state of the church today. Raising children up in the Lord is going to be harder than ever….

    • Larry, the church is wayward, for sure. I hope that Amy will be able to come to us if and when she is hurt or disappointed or confused or whatever about things that happen at church or BSF or whatever, and I hope that we will be able to comfort her, help her make sense if sense is to be made of it, and direct her to God who alone loves her perfectly.

  3. We’re muddling thru that stuff too. I’m remembering back to when we taught 2’s & 3’s at church, and keeping it to the basics…the Bible is God’s word, we talk to God when we pray, God loves us, etc. With behavior it’s a lot of boundaries & consequences, and yes lots of apologizing on mom & dad’s part when we lose our tempers. Trying to remain as relational & connected as possible, especially when he’s in trouble.

  4. As a raised-nonbeliever, now believer, I’ve struggled with what and when to teach my children. My 5 year old has only recently developed a conscience. Before she could recognize when she did wrong. But now, she recognizes it AND feels badly. So we’ve kept it real simple. How the feeling badly (butterfly feeling) is her conscience and that means she did bad. We pray together and talk about how that makes us feel better. So far she seems to understand. We’ll build on it as she grows in age and maturity.

  5. Hi Marcy, I just watched a ton of your videos. My favorite is Diddle, Diddle Dumpling.

    I think you’re right on about the sin issue and not talking with Amy about it until she asks. I can’t believe the questions that are coming out of my children right now. I’m only praying that God is quiding my every word.

    Not too long ago I was giving my testimony to some friends who were over for dinner. The word “hell” comes up a lot with my testimony and I’ve told the story to about every visitor we’ve had so the kids are being exposed to it regularly in a second person kind of way. But this time Chloe, just out of the blue said, “Mama, what’s hell?” The room went silent and even my husband who is the main answerer of questions like that couldn’t say a word. I just said this as quickly as it was spoken by the Holy Spirit, “Hell is total seperation from God.” That was all she needed, she nodded her head and kept on eating. I know it was meaningful for her though because she knows how important our relationship with God is and she knows that God loves her and cares for her, so she knows that hell is not a very pleasant place if we are seperated from Him forever.

    I just loved watching you and Amy on the videos. You sound and look like such a happy Mama!

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