In elementary school we watched the first two installments of the Thief in the Night trilogy. While these movies have horrible production and now are almost laughable, as an elementary student in the mid 1980s, these freaked me out.
You remember these movies right? If you don’t, consider yourself lucky to have missed out on a bad Christian pop-culture from the late 70’s. If you do, you’ll remember the electric shaver scene, the guillotine, and the terror each of these moments inflicted on a person who watched this movie. Oh and of course the CLASSIC, “You’ve Been Left Behind,” made popular (again?) in 1996 by DC Talk.
I remember these because watching this film instigated my first faith crisis. I said a prayer when I was 4 or 5, made this naïve commitment to something so much large than myself, not knowing much but knowing that I was completely loved and forgiven. But watching those movies, I completely thought I had missed something and that my faith was toast and I would end up getting chased down by guards because I wouldn’t take “the mark.”
However, my parents coached me through this moment, and I made it out with barely a scratch. I don’t remember their exact words or what they did, but I know that they comforted and encouraged and reminded me of that moment of initial faith that was as true then as it was now. They took this “crisis” seriously; they showed me love, and love was what I really needed. When moments like this resurfaced, I knew I could trust them. I knew they would walk me through another “crisis” with care.
I’m far on the other side of that conversation so many years ago. I’m now a parent with small children who are beginning to understand the Jesus thing in their own way. I’m a children’s pastor who partners with parents in helping them respond to the questions their children ask.
And boy, do these kids as SOME questions!
At some point all kids go through a period where their concrete world suddenly becomes abstract, where that which was once taken for granted now makes little sense. This isn’t easy for parents; just think how difficult is for your kids. I’ve started to realize that I’m saying the same five basic ideas when I chat with parents about this. This probably means I believe them and should capture them somewhere. Here is as good a place as any.
1. Reassure your children that there questions are a normal part of anyone’s faith when you mature. Don’t blow off these questions as bing childish. Some of these questions may be so deep that even the best theologians will have trouble answering them so a child can understand. Secondly – and I’m sure you know this – if you blow off these questions, you’ve shut down the lines of communication between you and your child. (and yes, that would be a bad thing.)
2. Answer their questions with grace and care. What you find easy to understand is not for your child. Be patient with where they are in this process. They need to know your unconditional love more than they need to know the answers to the questions.
3. Be OK with saying, “I don’t know.” Kids would rather have you honest than have you guess and be wrong. This could be a great opportunity for you work together to find answers.
4. Don’t be afraid to get help. None of us have all the answers. We’re here at the church to partner with you. Both of us have your child’s best at heart. You know you’re kids better than we do, and we’re here to help how we can. (This is also a good opportunity to partner with your child’s small group leader. Let him or her in on the questions your child is having, call for updates every so often to see what other questions your child is asking about faith. (Or life in general for that matter.) There is a good chance your child’s small group leader will have some good insight to share with you.
5. Don’t pester your kids. Don’t keep reminding them that they had questions by asking them over and over if everything is OK. Just reassure them that you’re there when they do. As long as you respond with care every time, they will keep coming to you.
Obviously this isn’t an exhuastive list as each faith crisis comes with its own set of questions and concerns. The most important thing in any situation is keeping the lines of communication open. No, strike that. THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to do is pray for and with your children every day. When these situations come up, pray even harder. And remember, we’re here to help. We’ll do what we can; we love your kids as much as you do. Let’s partner together; we’ll get through each moment together.