At school, I wasn’t very good at starting conversations about Christianity, so when a friend once asked, “can I ask you a question about God?”, I was very encouraged. I quickly said he could, and he went on, “can God do anything?” Without pausing, I readily and enthusiastically replied, “absolutely!”
“So God can make a rock that He can’t lift?”
I don’t remember what I replied, though I imagine I vaguely grasped for phrases like ‘consistent character’, ‘laws of physics’, or something like that – but I still remember being caught off guard by that (at least) 800-year-old question.
As a result, I know that I can face a temptation to discourage (not explicitly, of course) my children from asking questions about God. Because what if they ask a hard question, what if they ask one I don’t know the answer to, or, dare I say it, what if they ask one that leads them to question their faith?
Hard questions have been a key part of faith seeking understanding.
Yet, throughout history, hard questions have been a key part of faith seeking understanding. They have served Christians, including Christian parents, well throughout the centuries, raising children who have grown in, not grown out, of the faith they have inherited.
So – in full awareness that I don’t have all the answers – I have found a few things worth remembering while raising children with a faith seeking understanding…
Make (lots of) time for their asking
Children ask a lot, a lot, of questions. About everything. All the time.
We need to celebrate their questioning, even though it takes time - often a lot of time.
In large part this is because questions are one of a child’s primary means of learning about the world. So we need to celebrate their questioning, even though it takes time – often a lot of time.
I remember someone saying children don’t just need quality time, they need time – gobs and gobs of time. As parents, we often have a desire for ‘quality time’ with our children – I think, at least partly, because we think it’s more efficient. The world conditions us to think time with children can be made a quality vs quantity trade-off – supposedly, if we can find ways to maximise ‘quality’, we can reduce the quantity in our self-inflicted-all-too-busy lives.
I’m discovering, however, that when it comes to children, quantity often leads to quality. They go together as the first often cultivates the second, particularly with those we spend the most time with.
So if we want our children of faith to be seeking understanding, we need to make time, lots of time, for their asking.
Very often, good stories cultivate good questions.
Read what they’re reading
Once our children are in schooling, the questions often come from what they’re reading alongside what they’re seeing in the world. This is where engagement with their learning at school becomes really important. Particularly reading what they’re reading; what are the stories they are reading, both in school and at home?
Very often, good stories cultivate good questions, so find out what they’re reading at school, and try to find time, even if just once a week, to read with them as well. Trust me, reading all seven Narnia books will generate ample good questions for a while!
“I don’t know” is ok, just try to follow it up with “let’s find out together”
The first time I gave the answer “I don’t know” to my oldest son, I felt like I had failed as a father. I felt like I was supposed to always know. But part of the power of questions is they invite conversation, through which they deepen relationships. So being honest when you don’t know can be as important as answering, particularly if it is followed up by a search for the answer together with your child. It’s faith seeking understanding together after all.
Being honest when you don’t know can be as important as answering
This journey of seeking is also a great place to draw in our wider Christian family, the church, and our wider Christian tradition throughout history. Chances are, you’re not the first to ask this question, or to seek understanding in this area. So ask others, both in your church and more widely.
Catechesis is not painful (even without anaesthetic)
Indeed, one of the ways we can find answers is in the historic Christian catechisms. These were the first FAQs of Christian faith, written for all people, very often in a Q&A format to help form both belief and behaviour. Their answers are rich and deep and can help us lay a foundation of faith. Mining these catechisms can lay a deep foundation, as we’re finding with our children.
And don’t forget, we can still learn a lot from the faith of our children as well…
When one of my daughters asked me recently, “Daddy, can God do anything?”, I responded, “what do you think?”
She replied, “yes, according to his Holy will.”
I really wish she’d been there to answer my friend’s question at school.
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