Friday, December 12, 2008

Three-Year-Old Theology

To look at my children's toy and book collections, you'd never know I was a pastor. To hang out at our table at dinnertime, you'd never know I was a pastor. Joshua never said a blessing until he started singing the blessing at his school's snacktime, and we have nary a children's bible in the house save the one that my dad gave him. It was a book that my dad used to read to his mother when she was in her last stages of life and needed a distraction that would keep her from repeating herself and making random comments, an effect of her Alzheimer's disease. It's still a little old for Joshua's comprehension and it doesn't yet hold his attention.

To be quite honest, we haven't talked much about God in our house. Joshua went to see his friend Olivia's little sister be baptized. In the weeks leading up to the event, I told Joshua that the act of baptism included putting water on Baby Emma's head and telling her that God loved her. We rehearsed the same scenario prior to Clare's baptism as well. But that's as far as the God discussion has gone in our house.

I think my hesitation comes from my desire to give Joshua thoughtful, intentional answers to the questions that will inevitably arise when we start talking about God. I want to avoid giving him the anwers that portray God as the old man in the sky who watches us and plans our lives for us...a divine Santa Claus if you will (which is another whole post in and of itself). I want Joshua to understand that God is love, but I don't want that explanation to come across all squishy and noncomittal. I want him to learn to connect with God, but I don't want him to think that prayer is an opportunity to ask some entity "way out there" for all the things that we want. And how do I teach a child to give thanks to that which is so far removed that we can't see it? I can barely get him to say thank you to people right next to him give him things So I've gone the route of not saying much at all. Maybe that's a mistake. I don't know.

One of the great joys this Advent has been opening his advent calendar with him every day. His calendar is composed of twenty-five miniature books that start with Isaiah's prophecies and end with the birth of Jesus. It's apparent that he's not quite getting everything, but he perked right up when we talked about John the Baptist. We spent yesterday morning looking at the pictures of Joshua's baptism and talking about why John baptized in the river and why we baptize in the church building. It was something that he could connect with, and that made the conversation easier.

We're also giving him a more age-appropriate bible storybook for Christmas. I'm much more comfortable talking about the story of Jesus in the context of the whole Bible story...God as Creator, God who chooses to love us before we choose to love God, God who loved us enough to become one of us, God whose love for us inspires poems and songs, God who expects us to treat people the way we would like to be treated. I'm hoping the book will give us an opening to talk about all of these things in a meaningful way that doesn't begin and end with an anthropomorphized God who's happy when we do the right thing and mad when we don't. Because I love to talk theology. And I refuse to do it poorly when my kid is involved.


Erica said...

we don't talk about God much either, but that's just because I'm lasy and disorganized.

Have you seen the Lois Rock First Bible? It's great!

Mommy of two said...

Hi, I've been readying your blog for some time now, I too have small kids, two boys (almost 4 and just turned 2). I found you through AOII's InCircle. Anyway, after reading your post today I wanted to say thank you. We too have held back a little when it came to discussing God with our oldest and it seems we are taking a similar route. Your reasoning was explained very well and it makes perfect sense to me. :)

Good luck and Merry Christmas!

martha said...

I have a lot of faith in your ability to walk the line between "age appropriate" and what you refer to as "poorly". I had not thought about it, but God-as-Santa *is* probably the preschool version of God-as-concierge!

Anonymous said...

You know best MB! If you "feel" that you should be doing things a little different, then maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you something. If you feel good in how things are going, then don't question it. I can only speak for our family and would never tell others how they should teach their own children. Our kids see us pray, mostly to praise or thank God, but sometimes we are asking for things such a healing or blessings. They pray sometimes, especially if we remember to pray before we eat. We also are teaching them some scripture to memorize since they really do well with that (at least at Levi's age). Understanding will come with life and testimonies around them. I guess if I knew more about theology, I might do things a bit differently.

HP said...

I just found the greatest children's bible. It's called Lectionary Story Bible and is published by Pilgrim Press. All inclusive language and written in a way that children can connect to. There are three volumes (A, B and C). I love it!

I also found two great story books about creation myths...Big Momma Creates the World and After the Beginning. I'm giving them both to my god-baby.

Mary Beth said...

@HP--Oh, I was so disappointed that I missed a good Bible, but it turns out it's the same author as the one I bought. I'll check out the creation books.

@Terri--"if we remember to pray before we eat." That's definitely us!


@MommyofTwo--Welcome and thanks for your comment! Merry Christmas to you too!

@Erica--Yeah, I forgot to mention that lazy and disorganized also have a lot to do with it!

Amy Anstead said...

OMGosh, thank you Mary Beth! We're there too! Tom and I have been talking recently about how to even introduce God or religion to Avery. I felt kinda bad because I didn't/don't even know where to start. I love having grown up with my faith and knowing God, but I also want my child to learn about other faiths and to one day be able to make the decision for herself how she wants to proceed with that. So I continue to struggle--where to start? I think I'm going to introduce the Christmas story this year--we've talked about nativity scenes we've seen (granted, one of them is a tacky blow-up one in our neighbor's yard that we visit almost daily, but hey, she likes the animals, baby Jesus and his mommy and daddy) and I think she might be able to make some kind of connection with it. And it makes me feel better that she'll know the reason we celebrate Christmas. Anyway, I'll be interested to hear how it goes with Joshua and look for any suggestions you have!

Sarah K. said...

Hey Mary Beth. My name is Sarah Gaventa--I'm the editor of the Moms in Ministry section of Fidelia's Sisters. I sent an email to Erica S. looking for ideas for this month's article and she suggested I contact you! I've read your blog entries and they are GREAT. Would you consider letting us use one of your blog entries as an article or writing something fresh about being a SAHM/pastor? If you could email me at sarah(dot)gaventa(at)gmail(dot)com that would be awesome. If you want to write for this month, I could use it by Jan 22nd. THANK YOU for considering this!!!