Kids, Critical Thinking and Christianity

My five-year-old rushed into my room after finishing up a bible study with my husband to proclaim, “Mommy… you are breaking the law of God!” My first inclination was, What in the world is my husband teaching the kids? My second gave away my pride. Who does this kid think he is?

It would have been so easy to reprimand my son for calling into question my righteousness before the Lord. I could have sent him away and told him that he cannot disrespect mommy like that. Earlier that morning I disciplined him for making a wrong choice. In doing so, I hurt his feelings. My husband has been going through the New City Catechism by Kathy Keller, which teaches core doctrines of the faith to children and adults. This week’s catechism question had to do with our need for reconciliation to God because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Or in other words, we have all broken God’s law. (Romans 3:10-12) In learning this, my sweet five-year-old began to review the catalog in his mind concerning God’s Law. He knew that we are supposed to treat others as we wish to be treated. He knew we are to respect each other. Taking this into account, he came to the conclusion I had broken God’s law by treating him harshly. 

Once my pridefulness died down I could only marvel at this sweet little boy coming to me with wide eyes and an open heart to share how he feels. Not only that, but he took a concept he learned and thought critically about the ramifications of sin and its application to how we treat one another. Folks, there was a time when a kid may have received a swat for speaking so unashamedly to one’s parents but I have to admit I am pretty proud of my critical thinker. 

“Oh, they’re just a kid.” “They don’t know anything.” Children are often not to be treated as individuals with thoughts and feelings worthy of expression. This is so ingrained in our society that even a forward-thinking millennial like myself has slipped into this mindset when parenting my own children. 

Indeed, children have a lot to learn from their elders as demonstrated from the scriptures. They are not fully autonomous and require constant rearing. But Jesus himself set the example of compassion and consideration for the child. In Matthew 19:13-14, the disciples tried to scatter the children that had gathered at his feet. But Jesus said, “’Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ And he placed his hands on them and went on his way.” They are not a silent afterthought, but a vibrant piece of the kingdom of God. 

I invited my son to sit in my arms and talk about this further. I shared with him that he is right. We are to love God and love others. But I also shared with him that God disciplines those whom he loves as dear children. And that God has instructed me as his parent to discipline him as an act of love and service. I’m not sure he bought it. But I assured him that I will never be mad at him for wanting to express himself, especially about the things of God. 

Imagine I had sent him packing and shut down his critical thought process. How would that affect how he connected the dots and tried to apply God’s word to what mattered most to him? What would he do the next time I had hurt his feelings? 

Too much hurt has come from being shut down by an adult when we were young. We quickly learned how to say the right things and give people the answers they wanted to hear. It reminds me of the kid in Sunday school whose answer to every question is, “Jesus.” When we expect canned answers from children and do not solicit their honest thoughts, we drive a wedge between truth and falsehood. This wedge will only widen as children grow into adults who know how to “act right” in church but lack a depth of understanding privy to a disciple of Christ. 

So I was accused of breaking the law of God by my five-year-old. . . I felt I had to immediately justify myself and show him who is boss but instead, I chose to listen. I am so glad I did. I want to set patterns for my children that allow them to grow in their faith and ask hard questions. I want them to see me trying to live following Christ as they follow in my footsteps. That means that sometimes when I really do hurt my child’s feelings, I must humble myself and apologize. If I don’t I am sending the message that the law of God is not central to the parent/child relationship. 

I will be the first to tell you I am not perfect at steering these little Christians and cultivating their spiritual growth. I do believe I have found some tips that may help us get away from the old and usher in a new way: 

  1. Do life together. Remember Deuteronomy chapter 6 tells us that we must incorporate our children in our daily social and religious lives. We are to talk about the things of God in our coming and going. Our children should not only witness it but be invited into Bible reading and prayer. 
  2. Create a safe place for your child to share. Whenever possible, I clear out 15 minutes for me to have a one on one with my three kids each night. I let them know they can ask me anything and I wait for a response. Sometimes I get, “Mommy why do you love God so much?” And other times I get, “Mommy are unicorns real?” I take both questions seriously and discuss them at length. 
  3. Be Transparent with your children. I have wonderful parents that raised four pretty awesome children. They were all I could ask for as loving and godly parents but they often say they wish they would have been more transparent with us. My siblings and I thought my parents were super Christians because we didn’t know their struggles. We didn’t see them fall and assumed they had arrived at an unattainable spiritual plane that felt far removed from me. 

Christen Jacobs is a wife and mother of 3. She earned her Masters in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2014. She has served as the youth coordinator and small groups coordinator at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas Texas. She has a passion for exegetical teaching and has had the pleasure of speaking at various conferences and teaching Bible classes. Christen and her husband are inner-city missionaries who work to equip every member to sow seeds for the kingdom through helping individuals and churches respond to the great commission. Christen’s ministry passion is empowering women to be curious readers of the word of God. She also has a strong emphasis in engaging generational and cultural differences, as she has a background in missions traveling extensively in Asia, and Latin America. She enjoys writing her blog, cooking, dancing and cuddling up with her family and Netflix.

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