Last night at our Good Friday service, we incorporated the Protestant version of the Stations of the Cross known as the Scriptural Way of the Cross. We had fourteen Scripture readings that walked us through the events of Jesus’ final hours starting with His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and ending with Jesus being laid in the tomb. Along with each reading we visually represented the biblical passage by projecting a portrait of the scriptural moment. Those are the images above.
Last night our three little ones (ages 3 yr, 2 yr, 2 mon) joined us in the service. Typically they’re in their classroom in the children’s hall, but in the absence of childcare, they were with us. As it goes with having little ones in a worship service, our row was quickly filled with toddler shrapnel. Broken crayons, animal cracker crumbs, spilled water, ripped up and written on visitors cards were strewn everywhere. And while most of the service felt like I was trying to keep a caged animal from escaping, there were a few moments that were well worth enduring the disorder of the hour.
During the transition from one Scripture reader to the next, my 3-year-old would look up from her crayons and paper to see what was going on. And as a new painting would appear on the big screen she would ask, “Where’s Jesus?” My eyes would search the screen looking for a simple way to point him out, “He’s the one wearing white. He’s the one in the middle of the picture. He’s the one with the circle around His head.” After her eyes were able to locate my description, her head would drop and she would go back to her drawing.
But near the end of the service there was one painting that caused her to ask a follow-up question. It was a painting of Jesus being nailed to the cross. As the painting appeared she asked, “Where’s Jesus?” “He’s the one laying on the cross.” I replied. Her follow-up question was what you would expect from any 3-year-old. The infamous “Why?” question. “Why is Jesus on the cross?”
At this point my head started spinning. I had her full and undivided attention. Her eyes were glued to the screen as though she was watching her favorite Disney movie. But I knew I had one shot. It was only a matter of seconds before her head would again drop and she would be captivated by her own work of art that was developing in her lap.
How in the world does one explain to a 3-year-old in a matter of one simple answer why Jesus had to die? The best thing I could think to say in that moment was, “Jesus died because He loves us and wanted to save us.” And as I anticipated, her curiosity dissipated and she went right back to her drawing.
My brief conversation with my daughter seemed to be a moment pregnant with possibility. In the few seconds while I was trying to figure out what to say, I was simultaneously wondering if this was a moment that would be tucked away in her memory and recalled later in life. If so, I wanted to make sure my answer was just right.
But was it? I have no idea. Will she ever remember that conversation? Probably not. But this exchange with my daughter left me thinking. How do we go about nurturing faith in our children?
Here are some of my reflections after the interaction was over.
1. Nurturing faith in our children isn’t always about saying the right thing or giving the best explanation. It’s equally about living in a certain way. I can tell my daughter til I’m blue in the face that Jesus’ sacrifice was because He loves her. But if she never sees that same sacrificial love flow through me, my words are hollow and empty.
2. Nurturing faith happens over the long haul. It’s a marathon not a spirit. It doesn’t hinge on one moment or one answer to one question. But it requires me being consistently present through all of the different seasons and struggles of her life.
3. Nurturing faith is an explorative conversation. It’s not me telling her what she has to believe, but exploring it with her. And at some point our conversation needs to transition from me answering all her questions to asking her the questions and giving her space to talk.
4. The question I want to keep asking her as she grows up and the question I hope she keeps asking, is the same question she asked last night, “Where’s Jesus?” Perhaps one of the bests ways to nurture faith in our kids is to continually hold before them the question, “Where’s Jesus in your life?” To help them see that our faith isn’t a static list of doctrines, but’s an active and dynamic relationship that happens in real-time.
What are your thoughts?
What would you add to this list?
For those with older kids, what have you done to nurture faith in your children?