Have you ever wondered how young a child can enroll as one of Jesus’ apprentices? I have. Eliana was 18 months old when Amanda and I joined the first Apprentice cohort at CMC. As we slowly absorbed the idea of “false narratives,” we quickly found ourselves wondering if we could intentionally raise our children with true narratives in mind.
I have three small facets of this Apprentice parenting to share this time around. There are lots more – and in fact, I invite you to share yours by commenting on this blog.
Beware of Children’s Bible Story Books
They can be ground zero for false narratives. By the time we had finished The Good and Beautiful God, I was editing Eliana’s Bible stories on the fly and threatening to censor them with Sharpie markers and write in my own approved versions. By the time we get to Genesis 3 in the Bible stories, the story can be summarized like this: “God was very angry at Adam and Eve. Do you know why God was angry with them? God was angry because they had disobeyed Him, so He punished them.” Yup – performanced-based spirituality and “God is mad at me” all by chapter 2 of the children’s Bible.
How do you fix this on the fly while reading to a 2-year-old? I generally come up with something like, “God was sad and disappointed. Do you know why? God was disappointed because Adam and Eve chose to disobey His good word. Choices have consequences, so God had to discipline the people He loved.” I’m sure you could come up with something more elegant; I know I tend to be very wordy left to my own devices.
Of course, there are lots of places where the true narratives shine through as well. The point is that when I started listening to the books I was reading with Apprentice ears, I realized I wasn’t just reading a story to make the kids sleepy before bed. I’m transmitting narratives, giving them the stories that will help them make sense of the world as they grow older. I think that warrants reading with a critical ear.
And don’t get me started on children’s Bible songs! I’m sorry if this is your favorite song of all time, but “Oh be careful little eyes what you see … For the Father up above is looking down in love” is just begging to lead into some good Santa Claus theology (“You’d better watch out … He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Of course my children all still know that song. It’s not banned (yet). But listen, really listen to the songs we teach our children. If nothing else, you may get a sense of when you need to ask them what they think a song is about so that you can clarify truth with them.
Kids Love to do What They See their Parents Doing
So late this summer, I asked Eliana (4 years old) if she’d like to do a soul-training exercise with me. She agreed, and so we did silence. We agreed to both be very quiet (we were snuggled in bed just finishing the bedtime routine) and decided to think about how God made the world. Eliana was asleep within sixty seconds. See – you want to do soul-training with your toddlers!
It gets better. Two nights later I was sitting out on the porch with Eliana and Vivienne. We were reading bedtime stories when Eliana stopped me. “Daddy, can we have some time for silence? I’ll listen to the fountain and the wind in the trees and remember that God made the whole world.” And with a tear of joy running down my cheek, I sat in silence with a two year old and a four year old appreciating God’s creation.
The kids still ask for silence. Especially when they’re tired and stressed – it’s amazing how they know what they need (especially since so many of us have to be dragged kicking and screaming into silence as adults). About two months ago, all three kids were having silence in bed thinking about how God had made the whole world when Zachary suddenly piped up, “God made me!”
Build a Narrative through Repetition
Amanda and I found the first part of our Apprentice creed, “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights” so important that we started making it part of our daily language at home. So one of the last things we would say to Eliana before leaving her room at night was “Eliana, I love you. God loves you too – and God delights in you!” I can still see in my mind the look on Karen Bables’ face when Eliana looked up at her and said, “God delights in you!”
When Eliana was three, she was listening to a children’s CD with Amanda when she started laughing and said, “That’s a silly song.” “What’s silly?” Amanda asked. “It says ‘come into my heart Lord Jesus‘, but Jesus already lives in our hearts!” So Amanda explained that Jesus comes to live in our hearts only after we invite Him to be there; once we ask him in he stays. Eliana didn’t say anything else and let the subject drop.
Three days later, she was eating breakfast with me when she said, “Did you know that Jesus lives in my heart?” I’m sure I can’t describe the feeling inside me when I heard this, but those of you with children who have made this leap probably remember the feeling very well. “No,” I said, “Tell me how that happened!” “Well,” she replied, “I asked Him and letted Him in!” And on that night her blessing became “God dwells in you and God delights in you!”
How young can a child enroll in Jesus’ school? Younger than I would have imagined!
A glorious moment came last week when we brought Kaela home from the hospital. It was bedtime, and Eliana was holding Kaela in her arms. I tried something brand new and asked Eliana if she’d like to say the blessing for her new sister on her first night at home. And I heard my four-year-old tell my four-day-old, “Kaela Janae, I love you. God loves you, too – and God delights in you!”