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Hide and Seek

Pat Verbal

Throughout Scripture we're called to come out of darkness into God's marvelous light  Helping children walk in God's light takes more than church programs and fancy special events. To truly know God, children must first know themselves.

In a TV special that took viewers on a musical journey through the top 100 movie tunes of all time, short film clips played in reverse order as the audience eagerly waited to hear the #1 favorite song throughout movie history. The honor went to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sung by Judy Garland in the beloved The Wizard of Oz.

Viewers across America must've breathed a collective sigh. Who among us doesn't want to believe that "what is unseen is really true"?

A child's world is filled with dreams fueled by a vivid imagination. Childhood is a time of wonder. It's a gift to prepare us for a lifelong faith in a Divine Being who created everything seen and unseen. The writer of Hebrews said it this way, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." But how do we nurture that kind of faith in a culture that seems to hide the reality of God? How can a child come to know God when faith is a mystery that even adults don't fully comprehend?

Like Dorothy's adventure on the yellow brick road, the search for God can take children down a shadowy path. What's even scarier is that those of us in children's ministry, who try to light their way, can be part of the darkness.

  • We hide God from children by using boring lessons and worship services where they can't understand the message.
  • We don't allow children to see God's true character when we make them feel bad about themselves through careless words or actions.
  • We fail to guard against a busy, stressed-out lifestyle, and we blind children to the order and peacefulness of God.
  • We glamorize a digital, image-driven culture, so children see God as less relevant to their daily experiences.
  • We hide God when children ask probing questions, and we give them simple answers instead of sharing our struggles.

Into the Light

Throughout Scripture we're called to come out of darkness into God's marvelous light (Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 Peter 2:9). Helping children walk in God's light takes more than church programs and fancy special events. To truly know God, children must first know themselves. How? By building honest relationships with others, hopefully in homes and communities of faith.

For the Christian, faith is founded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who gives us our faith story. John H. Westerhoff III, author of Will Our Children Have Faith?, writes, "Unless the story is known, understood, owned, and lived we and our children will not have Christian faith."

Westerhoff explains that nurture alone won't make a child Christian. Conversion is essential. "Conversion, I believe, is best understood as this radical turning from 'faith given' (through nurture) to 'faith owned' [through authentic Christian living]."

Jake was 8 years old during the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Because he's such a gentle child, I was surprised by his angry reaction. In the middle of an adult conversation about the tragedy, Jake yelled out, "Those people [terrorists] hate God!" I prayed for wisdom to respond to Jake in a way that would help him embrace our faith story. "They may hate God, Jake," I said, "but God loves them. He loves them just the same as he loves you and me. So as God's family we must pray for the terrorists." Jake gave me one of those looks children have when they're thinking, Are you for real? But as we continued to talk, Jake's attitude softened. Later, he prayed that he might be more like God.

Dorothy's story was shaped by the colorful friends she met on the road to see the Wizard. Remember? She met a scarecrow who needed a brain, a tin man who needed a heart, and a lion who needed courage. All three found what they longed for in their friendships and helped Dorothy discover that "there's no place like home."

It's interesting that today's children need the same things Dorothy's friends needed: knowledge of God, a heart after God, and courage to live God's story on earth. Jesus said it this way: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind" (Matthew 22:37). Christian education must speak to these three elements if children are to reach their eternal home.

A Knowledge of God

Children are blessed with a natural sense of curiosity about their world. When caring adults talk about our Creator with awe and respect, a child's desire to know him grows. Romans 10:17 says, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

God's message is also revealed to children through our faith rituals, such as marriage, christening, baptism, the Lord's Supper, Advent, and Lent. In these rituals children behold God's Spirit in the memorable events of their lives. Even ancient practices, such as the examen, can help a child talk to God about their day.

"For more than two years at my church, we have been practicing the examen," writes author Ivy Beckwith. "At the end of our sessions, we sit in a circle on the floor with a candle in the center of the circle. I'm amazed at the way the children respond...sharing...quite remarkable things about the good and bad taking place in their lives. Each week we explain...how God is involved and central to both the good things and bad things that happen in our lives." Rituals can draw children into their own Bible search for answers.

To build a solid foundation, write the editors of Parents' Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children, we must "encourage kids to start searching the Scriptures for themselves, challenge them to find out on their own what the Bible says about a situation they're facing -- a rocky friendship, for instance, or a decision about how to spend some money. If they get stuck, help them out. When they're done, ask them to share with you what they found."

We must let children judge, question, and even doubt. As they mature, they'll see that in all things (good or bad) we can grow closer to God.

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