...we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.... we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.... -- 1 Thessalonians 2:2b, 7b
Last Sunday evening, I decided I would teach my children a little more about God. (see "Shepherding the Flock," Sept. 30, for earlier musings about this topic.) Although I was tired after a full day of activities, I was determined to make a habit of having a "Sunday Talk" with each of my kids before their bedtime. So I started with the youngest, who goes to bed first, and ended with the oldest.
My youngest, who is six years old, is the easiest one to talk to about God. I read to him the Parable of the Sower, as it is described in his children's Bible (The Spark Story Bible, "The Sower", pg.292-3). And I explained how the seeds represent our faith in God, and that the story tells us that sometimes mistakes in our understanding and/or difficult times in our lives make us doubt God, and that also the desire for money and toys distracts us from remembering God. But that if we trust God and keep listening to him, our faith will just grow and grow. "Like the big flower there," he said, pointing to the flower in the book. Yep, that's right.
Then he wanted to read me a story. As he was having a hard time deciding which one to read, I suggested that sometimes it's fun to just open the Bible at any old place and read what you find. So he opened the book to "Love is...", which is a child's version of Paul's ode to love found in 1 Corinthians 13. We talked about how we know we love each other, then I tucked him into bed. Success!
When my middle son, who is nine, was ready for bed, I told him I wanted to have our "Sunday Talk" again. The previous Sunday's "talk" hadn't gone very well, but I wanted to keep trying. He doubts that God is real, because, "God hasn't answered any of my prayers." I tried to explain that God doesn't always answer prayers in the way we expect, or that we don't always see how God does try to help us. And sometimes we ask for things that maybe God doesn't want us to have. He just didn't believe me. So I told him I would think about what he said, and decide what to do next.
This time, I tried to give him some examples of how God has answered my prayers. He didn't want to listen. The more I tried to persuade him to believe in prayer, the more upset he got. He even covered his head with a pillow. He said, through his tears, "You are trying to force me to believe what you believe, Mom. You are trying to force me."
I paused, trying to find a way to reach him, and said, "I'm not trying to force you to believe, Honey. I just want you to understand how prayer works, because I think mistakes in your understanding are what's causing you to doubt God." (I had been thinking a lot about the Parable of the Sower in relation to my children!) But I had to stop and reconsider things. Was I was forcing him to think like me? I had to admit the possibility. So then I tried to read him the Parable of the Sower. He was too upset; he didn't even want to listen to that. I finally gave up, said a sad "Goodnight, Honey," and let him fall asleep in tears.
After my oldest son, who is twelve, complained as well, I too went to bed in tears, feeling like a complete failure. My heart hurt. I had failed my children and failed God.
I woke up still depressed, at a loss as to how to reach them, how to teach them. Whether to even try.
I remembered the Dalai Lama's words: "The most important thing you can do is teach your kids to love." And I remembered the words I had read to my six-year old from his Bible, Paul's words about love: "If I use words that everyone understands, but don't have love, I'm just a clanging bell or a booming drum making noise.... Love is patient, love is kind, love doesn't give up. It never fails.... Love always protects, trusts, hopes." (Pg. 546-8) I guess love is what I need to work on. God will follow, if love is learned. Instead of teaching them how to love God, I need to learn how to love my children as God loves me. Why is that so difficult???
Why did I think that a forced, artificial, "talk" about God would work? Would I ever do this to someone else? Another adult? No. But these were my children. If I didn't try to teach them about God, who would? What if they learned to fear God; what if someone taught them that they would go to hell if they didn't believe? Does it matter what they believe, as long as they believe? Yes. It matters to me. I would rather they had no faith, than a faith based in fear. More importantly, I would much rather they believe in God's love.
Reading Paul's words to the Thessalonians above encouraged me to not give up. I just need to approach things differently. I need to try to find a compromise between what my two older children want (no guidance) and what I want (complete guidance). I need to ask and listen more. And, I need to teach without telling them what to believe.
So that is what I did. I asked my nine-year-old to make a compromise with me. I asked him if he would be willing to let me read him a story of my choosing. He said, "Yes." I asked him if he would be willing to let me read him some stories from the Bible. He said, "Yes." (!) I said, "I know you don't want me to talk about prayer, but would you be willing to let me talk about God?" He said, "Yes." Who was this kid??? The difference was astounding. Why?
Was it because we were both rested, and not so tired after a busy day? Maybe. Was it just the result of having given him a choice? Quite possibly. Was it the answer to a prayer? Most definitely.
Dear Lord, thank you for keeping me going, for giving me the encouragement I needed. And thank you for helping me to remember to listen not only to those of great faith, but also to those of little faith. Love always, Pam