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How do I talk to my child about spiritual things without it feeling forced?

This week’s Ask Pastor Bill is a reprint from an article I wrote for ftc.co (For the Church) in December 2015. We are out of questions so please remember to submit yours to revolvenj@gmail.com or write it down and mail it in to the Herald’s office!

The morning was like any other Wednesday morning. Around 8:15, I began the preschool peptalk, letting Emma know that we would be leaving in 30 minutes. Amazingly enough, we managed to get out of the house at 8:40, which means that we could have a leisurely drive into Cape May rather than having to pretend to be in the Indy 500.

On the way there, we listened to a worship song called Forever by Kari Jobe. After the song ended, Emma wanted to listen to it again. I kept looking back in the rearview mirror to see her gazing out the window trying to sing along. Pulling up to the preschool, we rewound the song to the crescendo leading into the chorus and belted it out together. As the song finished, and school was about to start, I grabbed Emma from her carseat and carried her towards the front door.

“Daddy, worshipping Jesus makes my heart happy,” she whispered into my ear.

Now, let me pause here and say that when it comes to talking to your child about your faith, these are the moments you live for and seize. No, not to toot your own horn and think about how great your child is, but to put feet on your faith and model how faith integrates seamlessly with real life, and is not put in a box to be opened twice a year.

“Do you know why that is?” I asked.

Looking at her perfect little face, eyes wide and curious, curls cascading alongside her cheeks, I continued, “It makes your heart happy because God designed you and made you to worship him. Do you know how a hammer is made for putting nails into wood? God made you to worship him. That’s why it makes your heart happy - because it is what you were designed to do. And guess what? It makes God’s heart happy too.”

She looked at me and simply said, “I love singing to Jesus.”

Now, at this point in time I was fighting back ugly crying in front of all the other parents who were waiting for the preschool doors to swing open. Dropping Emma off, I kissed her on the forehead, said my goodbye, and went back to my otherwise normal day.

Look for and seize these moments.

In 2 Timothy 3:10ff, Paul describes his mentorship relationship with Timothy, whom he called his “true child in the faith.” Paul didn’t simply teach Timothy about God, he lived a faith-filled life in his presence. Timothy knew Paul’s hopes, dreams, purpose, fear, faith, failings, steadfastness, and persecution. We must share those things with our children when we can. If we are constantly staring at our smartphone, too preoccupied with the day’s responsibilities, or apathetic to a vibrant relationship with our kids, we will miss chances like this every. single. time. We must look for and seize these moments to show where faith meets reality.

Your children are absorbing more than you realize.

Someone once asked me why we don’t sing more traditional children’s songs with revolveKIDS. My response was, quite simply, that Emma at the age of two could sing along with 10,000 Reasons without any problems. Your children's capacity has less to do with what they are able to handle and much more to do with what they are exposed to. Can your kids quote their favorite show or movie? Probably. Maybe they can even sing along with YOUR favorite song because they hear it so much. Even a song like Forever - written for adults - can be a tool to rich faith truths to your child’s heart.

Embrace the moment, but pray for the future.

Earthly speaking, I think it would be one of the greatest joys to see Emma follow after and love Jesus. Conversely, as a pastor, I cannot imagine something that would break my heart more if the opposite were true. The reality is, however, that I cannot bring the dead to life - only the truth of Jesus in the gospel can do that. I cannot make Emma fall in love with Jesus, but I can set up the date. So yes, I will embrace this moment with joy, take a mental snapshot, and cherish it. I will reflect on its beauty and its innocence, but I will pray all the more for her little heart to fully come alive and follow hard after the Man of Sorrow who loved her to the end with an incorruptible love. That is, after all, something dad (even Pastor Dad) cannot do on her behalf.