During our visit I realised that a trusting relationship with parents is a lot like trusting in God. My experience of my parents has given me complete confidence in their love and care for me. This also makes it easy for me to trust God; to know that he cares and provides for me, and that he will do what he says he will do.
In his book, Children Finding Faith, Francis Bridger describes faith as believing, trusting, doing and imagining. Through my last three articles I’ve explored believing, doing and imagining, and how we can nurture these aspects of faith at home. Faith as trusting is in some ways the most obvious part of our faith, but we shouldn’t overlook it as we seek to nurture faith at home.
To allow our children to grow in their relationships with God we need to trust them and him
Have you ever played the game where you place everyday items inside a box or bag and try to guess what they are just by feeling them? Even if you can tell what the item is it’s impossible to know details about it, such as what colour it is. This is a bit like faith. We know God, and we know what he’s like, but we don’t always know the details we would like to! We often find ourselves in situations where we have to hold our knowledge and previous experience of a good God who cares for and provides for us in our current situations, and the two don’t always seem to match up.
I like to pause in the middle of Bible stories and wonder what the people might have felt. Imagine Abraham travelling with his family after God told him to leave without telling him where he was going. Years later he arrived in the land. It was full of other people and Abraham still had no children to become ‘a great nation’. I wonder how he felt. I wonder if he asked God what was going on. Did he doubt whether he had heard God correctly? He could easily have given up. Instead, the Bible says that he built an altar and worshipped God, and that God came and repeated his promises to him, in effect saying: “Trust me. I will do what I said I’d do.” And Abraham trusted God, earning his place in the Hebrews 11 ‘Faith Hall of Fame’. This is faith as trusting.
The ability to trust is something we develop very early in life. As babies we instinctively (spiritually, perhaps) develop trust in the adults who care for us as we experience their consistent provision and affection. Francis says: “The foundations of faith are being laid even at this early stage. A child who does not learn how to trust adults now will have difficulty trusting anybody at more than a superficial level later on.” This sad fact is displayed by some children, such as cared-for children, whose trust has either been broken or never developed, which means they can only build their future relationships on shaken foundations. Recent research from Care for the Family showed that one of the deciding factors in whether children grow up as people of faith is the warmth of their family relationships.
Looking at this from another perspective, it gives meaning and purpose to the repetitive activities that fill the days of parents of young children: the acts of feeding and changing and helping their children sleep are actually ways of growing faith. Parents of older children can also be encouraged that our seemingly never-ending parental activities, such as making meals, cleaning clothes and doing bedtime, as well as being (mostly) consistent in what we do and say, all contribute to our children’s understanding and experience of a God who can be trusted.
It is also important for children to know that others trust them. This is harder for many of us. In her book, Children’s Spirituality, Rebecca Nye talks about trust as one of six things that helps to develop a child’s spiritual life. To allow our children to grow in their relationships with God we need to trust them and him. We need to trust that God is at work in them, that he will communicate directly with them and that the Holy Spirit will lead them. Often we display a lack of trust by exhibiting excessive control, for example by:
- Deciding what spiritual lessons they should be learning rather than encouraging them to let God guide them.
- Choosing which message they should get from a certain Bible passage instead of engaging in wondering to help them discover for themselves.
- Allocating the practical application rather than inviting them to ask God.
Part of this is also about respecting children’s privacy and letting them respond to God without asking what they are doing or saying. If we believe they can relate to God we must show that!
Helping children develop their trust in God can be as simple as being real about the difficulties we face, inviting them to join us in asking God for help and chatting about what happens next. It’s also good to share stories about what God has done in situations when it was hard to see what God was doing, as these help children connect their knowledge and experience of God, and therefore deepen their trust in him.
Sharing these stories is part of our faith heritage. The biggest examples are probably the annual Passover meal to remember God bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, which ties in with our communion meal. Before both events God said what he would do and gave his people a way to remember what had not yet happened. One of the things I love about this is that it shows how well God knows us. He knows our need to remember what he has said and done, and he knows that when we remember his past faithfulness it increases our faith and helps us trust him today.
What could you do in your family to increase your storytelling about what God has said and done?
- Could you add some short storytelling into celebrations such as birthdays or Easter?
- Could you make a photo album or short video to help you share those stories together?
- Could you ask one of your children to share a story of their own?
- Could you look for Bible stories to help discover the God who does what he says?