Children ask faith questions because they are curious. Children have an insatiable curiosity, a desire and a need to know and to learn. They want to touch, taste, see, hear, smell whatever is present, for real learning happens through experiences in which the learner is personally involved.
Children ask to build relationships.
When Claire was two, she went to church school. Her teacher, Mrs. Newsom, became one of Claire’s favorite friends. The following year on the first day, Mother explained, “Mrs. Newsom will not be your teacher this year. You will have a new teacher.” Claire heard her mother’s words, but she did not understand. Mrs. Newsom was her friend. Why would she not want to be her teacher? Walking down the long hallway to her new room, Claire was silent. She did not say a word when she looked into her new room and saw the new teacher. Holding her mother’s hand tightly, Claire whispered, “If I have to change teachers, do I have to change mothers, too?”
Relationships help children grow. Fear such as Claire’s is sometimes the result of misunderstanding, and so they ask questions. When children build on trust relationships, they have the foundation for a trust relationship with God. A child who had not been to church school for several years asked his father, “Will God still remember me?” Children’s fears are irrational and temporary. Because Claire was able to express her fear, she was also reassured.
Children ask to receive attention.
A child sitting with two adults, listening to their lengthy conversation throughout the luncheon, suddenly asked an unrelated question, which was her way of saying, “Look, I am here!”
Children deserve our attention, even when their questions are difficult or come at unexpected times. Sometimes if we think our words are unable to express an answer, we fail to respond. Yet to respond is important, for it means to the child, “You matter to me. I will give you my attention.”
As I was growing up, I heard Bible stories and teachings about faith I did not understand. I felt and saw that these words were important to the people I loved and were related to God, who cared for me.
I enjoyed being in their fellowship, although I didn’t cognitively understand what they were saying. Somehow, through them I was assured of God’s attention.
Children ask because they want assurance.
A child asked her father, “What was God doing last night during the storm?” Then, answering her own question, she put God’s love and care in perfect perspective: “I know. God was making the morning.” In the midst of the crises of life, we can know that our Father is not waiting to conduct funerals. God is in the business of resurrection.
We Answer . . .
To give assurance and model trust. A woman who lived near her pastor and his wife sometimes babysat with their children overnight. One night the two-year-old son awoke, crying for his daddy. There was no comforting the boy until she remembered the pastor’s cassette of sermons recorded for the ill. Together they listened to it and the small boy, recognizing his father’s voice, was comforted and went back to sleep. Our “answering,” modeling trust and giving assurance, is the “voice of God” until the child is ready to “hear” that voice for him or herself.
Experiences of trust help children hope. Until they experience otherwise, children trust. When Sarah was five, she was in a diving class. Her friend, Tova, admired Sarah’s ability to dive and one day told her so. “Sarah, I wish I could dive the way you do.” Sarah replied, “You can! Just tell yourself, ‘Tova, you can do it. I trust you, Tova, to do it!’” Sarah believes she can do it, and that belief gives her the courage to try, and most of the time, succeed.
The greatest gift we can give a child is to model trust in God, sharing with him/her our love of God and God’s love of us. Children need experiences of love and trust before they can understand the words “God Loves You.”
To be incarnations of God’s love. After the Beirut bombing by Israel in which so many civilians were killed, Mother Teresa was helping put two wounded little girls into an ambulance, when she was accosted by several reporters. One of them asked her if she thought her relief efforts were successful, given the fact that there were a hundred other children in another bombed-out hospital who she wasn’t aiding. She replied by asking the reporter if he did not think it a good thing to help the children. The reporter did not flinch, but simply asked his question again. Mother Teresa ignored his repeated question and said, “I think it is a good thing to help these children.” With these words her shoulders sank beneath the weight of the stretcher.
When we show God’s love, we incarnate that love, valuing each other with our words and our actions. A child said it well: “My teacher is great because she turns bodies into somebodies.”
When you were a child, who were the grown ups in your life who took the time to listen to your faith questions? Why not take time now to say "thank you."