Originally published on PracticingFamilies.com
I am often amazed at the spiritual insight of my nearly four-year-old son. On a recent trip to the store, Ketch asked me, “Dad, what is most important in life?” This is not like the indefatigable “why?” after each level of explanation of reasons that a car needs gas or the sky is blue. This was a specific question about our values. It was a teaching moment because I truly believed he was asking a question for which he was prepared to hear my answer.
“Son,” I began, “being grateful for your life in each moment is the most important thing, but always strive to do more and be better because this communicates with God and others that you appreciate the gift of life and want to make the most of it.”
I was very proud of my response. Simple, straightforward, and true.
To my amazement, and utter joy, Ketch unhesitatingly replied, “Dad, everyone knows that.”
It is challenging to know how best to share your faith with your children. Unlike language, faith expresses itself and is understood through more than observation and effort – would it be so simple! They may perhaps know that we are Christians by our love, but what exactly faith is involves specific descriptions, deep analysis, excellent communications, and the ability to integrate external influences (e.g., other family and friends) as well as personal preferences, intuition, and freedom, all while balancing age-appropriate content with the urge to prepare their spirit and help them set theological priorities.
When Jesus, in Matthew 18:3, said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” the point he makes is that the way a child relies on his father for instruction, sustenance, and love without the least worry or second thought is the way we should rely on God. This reliance, perhaps more than anything else, is the cornerstone of faith. As adults, we have been hardened to the pangs of the world – we know the “real deal” and it isn’t pretty. We’ve been let down by our parents, friends, and colleagues. We’ve lost jobs, houses, and loved ones (despite the prayers). Our lack of childish faith is what allows us to simply get by each day, even if that means low expectations, anxiety, mistrust, stress, and depression. At least we’re being realists, right?!
Jesus is not asking us to be immature or naïve in our childish faith. Not at all. Instead, he is calling us daily to the rebirth of our spirit, sustained over time, which is full of curiosity, experiments, and learning. A mindset hardened by the “real world” has given up on mystery and truth. It no longer has hope. St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In faith, we have the confidence to seek the truth with a mind that is renewed each day and open to testing what is good and bad, right or wrong.
So, when you tell a child that what is most important in life is gratitude and hard work, you are not telling them anything new. It is all they know! All day, every day, people around them care for their every need and they never worry about it. And every day, they are working like super-computers: solving problems, gaining language, onboarding social norms, and just simply physically growing. Adults are the ones who forget to be grateful, give up, and writhe in our skepticism and half-true life narratives. Yet, something in us reminds us of the lilies of the field, whom God cares to renew and adorn each spring.
“If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30). Perhaps sharing faith with children is more like teaching language than previously thought. The more we do it, the more we are amazed by what they teach us about what’s most important in life.