No matter how much we, as parents, love God, we cannot make our children love Him as well. They are not lifeless lumps of clay in our hands waiting to be molded as we see fit, but living, breathing beings with individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses. However, there are many things we can do to help cultivate spirituality in them. This is a delicate task that must be handled with loving care. No one responds positively to force-fed religion and neither will our children. Wise parents will not rule with a rod of iron; neither will they leave a child to himself to do as he pleases. Instead, they lay down the rules, consistently guiding and correcting as needed. In attempting to draw their children closer to their Creator, they will probably begin by trying to be a good example in front of their children. But they will fail and the children will see this and note it mentally. Being wise parents, they will have expected this and understand that they must also have a plan of action other than their own imperfect model that will help their children see the invisible with eyes of faith in a world where the material alone seeks to woo the heart. At the same time, these parents will never cease to work on their own spiritual life, always aiming to be positive examples to their dear children.
I'd like to share some of the practical ways we are cultivating heavenly-minded children in our home. These ideas are only a very small part of our plan, but I believe they have been helpful for our children's spirituality as well as their character development and it may give you some fresh inspiration.
"We begin by believing in the children as spiritual beings of unmeasured powers––intellectual, moral, spiritual––capable of receiving and constantly enjoying intuitions from the intimate converse of the Divine Spirit." Charlotte Mason
Prepare the Soil
When each of our children are old enough to begin school, we gave them a small, handsome, thin, blank book and wrote on it MY PRAYER JOURNAL. We communicate from the beginning that this book is special. "We don't scribble in it and we try to keep it clean and neat because we're writing to God in this book and He deserves our best." For the first few weeks, I wake that child up and bring him to the kitchen table or my bedroom so that we are alone. I write in my prayer journal and read my Bible while he sits beside me. I tell him that I am writing to God, and ask him if would he like to do the same.
My child replies, "I can't write."
I respond, "That's okay. You can draw a picture for Him and I will help you label it."
We brainstorm together thinking about what picture the Lord may like to receive from him and he begins. Other times, he draws a prayer to God- something he is thankful for or someone he wants to pray for, etc... I don't allow much talking. This is a quiet time. After a week or two of this, I start having him do this on his own in his bedroom as soon as he is dressed but before school begins. (I stress that this is NOT schoolwork. It's more important that that.) That is why we do it first thing in the morning. This should only last five to ten minutes. He brings it to me at breakfast and I check it. I help him spell words if he wishes but I am not picky about misspelled words. This should be an enjoyable experience. He may draw the same picture over and over for several days. This is normal. Gradually, as his confidence grows he begins to add more words and less pictures. Our purpose in teaching this habit is to soften the ground of our children's hearts by presenting God as friend and confidant. He is approachable.
Sow the Seed
Accept the parable: the parent is little better in this matter than the witless bee; it is his part to deposit, so to speak, within reach of the soul of the child some fruitful idea of God; the immature soul makes no effort towards that idea, but the living Word reaches down, touches the soul,––and there is life; growth and beauty, flower and fruit.
During these early years I read aloud from a classic illustrated Bible We take a few years to read through the entire book. We are careful to avoid cartoon illustrations of Bible characters or 'dumbed down' language because we want to pass on to our children a sense of awe and beauty as they listen to the greatest book every written. I recommend an illustrated Bible Story book that is chronological and has realistic paintings or just read from the Bible, itself, omitting certain parts when necessary. As we read together, our children begin to understand that God is all powerful. He is the King.
When our children are a little older I gave them each a copy of The One Year Bible for Kids by Tyndale House. If you are looking for an excellent personal resource that children can use and understand on their own, then this one is a winner. There are 365 readings, one for each day of the year. It begins in Genesis and finishes in Revelation, skipping the difficult passages so that a young reader can read through the entire Bible and get a good grasp of the flow of events. At the end of each reading, there is a small paragraph of explanation and then a verse of Scripture the further expresses the main idea.
Water the Soil
Sunday afternoons in our home are reserved for biographies of famous missionaries and hero tales. The children learn what it means to follow Christ, because He is our Master. What would Jesus Do? retold for children by Helen Haidle is a wonderful book. Claire and her friends are faced with everyday situations where they have to decide how to respond in a Christlike manner. Then the reader is asked what he would do in in that same situation.
Other books we have enjoyed and can recommend are:
Wise Words by Peter Leithart (The Proverbs of the Bible illustrated through stories)
The King's Daughter and other Stories for Girls by J.E. White
Tiger and Tom and other Stories for Boys by J.E. White
These are My People-a biography of Gladys Alward by Mildred Howard
Missionary Stories and the Millers by Mildred A. Martia
William Carey: Obliged to Go by Janet and Geoff Benge
Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar by Basil Miller
Teresa of Calcutta by D. Jeanene Watson
God's Adventurer: Hudson Taylor by Janet and Geoff Benge
Amy Carmichael by Janet and Geoff Benge
Eric Liddel by Catherine Swift
Pull up the Weeds
The knowledge of God is distinct from morality, or what the children call ‘being good’, though ‘being good’ follows from that knowledge. But let these come in their right order. Do not preach the child to weariness about ‘being good’ as what he owes to God, without letting in upon him first a little of that knowledge which shall make him good.
Girl of Beauty by Carol Fiddler is an excellent book for young ladies. The author briefly chats with the reader about timeless issues that all young ladies face and gives scriptural advice for handling difficult situations. I like this book because it doesn't focus too much on modern preteen culture and on the other hand, it isn't legalistic. Some authors urge us to cling to previous historical times and cultures- as if this will protect our children from the world. Let's not make the mistake of keeping our children in Laura Ingalls' pioneer days. We need to raise young people who are relevant to today's youth so that they can be salt and light. At the same time, being relevant doesn't mean we have to be caught up in today's culture. My girls had to dig into the Scriptures in order to complete each study. It was interesting and timely for their particular age. Some chapter headings include, Truthfulness, Sunshine Makers, Ideals, A Sense of Purpose, Courtesy and Respect, Competition, Disappointments and Besetting Faults.
Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Schultz is my favorite choice for the boys. The author does a wonderful job addressing common boyhood issues such as laziness, temptation, authority, inventiveness, and honesty, shyness and fear. There are 31 short chapters. You could use this as a private devotional book for your son or Dad could read this aloud to his son and have heart to heart discussions.
Polite Moments by Gary Maldaner. İs filled with practical advice for children of all ages. Here are some sample chapter titles:
Train yourself to eat things that you don't like
Always be clean and neat
Give your mother flowers
Look at people when you are talking to them
Use your time wisely
Do not cause fear to an older or weaker person
There are many more.
Aren't those wonderful character traits you want your children to learn? A brief paragraph or two explains why you should do these things and then a Scripture passage supporting the statement is given. Children can copy the traits into their prayer journals one by one and work on them, setting personal goals for themselves. All of these resources help our children pull up weeds that try to choke out what is good and pure in God's eyes. He is Holy.
A Flower Unfolds
These are just a few practical suggestions that help cultivate the Divine life of the child. Alone, they are not enough, but a definite plan for the building up of the child in the faith is better than a mere wish. As these heavenly ideas take root, we, as parents begin to see a beautiful soul unfold as a flower with its face turned towards God. We trust Him to do the rest.