Preaching to Toddlers

Parenting teaches us so much about God.  I often think God is teaching us more about Himself through raising three young ruffians than we are teaching them about God.  But, of course, I know that’s not true.  Their conception of God the Father is being shaped by how their sinful and foolish father behaves.  Their conception of the Church is being formed by seeing my wife bathing them and feeding them.  Their conception of Christ is being molded by how I love my wife.  It’s a haunting thought …

Lately, though, I’ve been blessed to see some small fruit.  We’ve been singing Psalms and Hymns for a couple years now in family worship.  The boys both went through a joyful time of baby-singing.  We’ll accept gibberish as a joyful noise.  But then they figured out that actual words were involved, and they shut up.  Then Athanasius entered the “shy” stage.  But we kept on singing.  Providentially, Chester is a little song-bird.  He’s latched onto Psalm 47 (“All Peoples Clap Your Hands for Joy”).  Maybe it had to do with the clapping we did.  He kept requesting it, and we kept singing it.  Now the boys sing it all the time.  Though they make up half the words, they’re getting it.  Review, review, review.  I, at least, was frustrated at how long it took for them to get it.  I don’t have prior experience with toddlers, so I’m sure I was over-ambitious.  But, we need to parent for the long haul.  Gardening is a long, hard process.  And this is how God deals with us.  How often does he have to teach us the same lesson!  How stupid we are!  Why don’t we get it!  But the heavens keep telling forth the glory of God, and the stars keep shouting “Holy!” until we finally join in.

Something else unexpected happened recently.  We’ve found that practicing for church at home is the key to having the boys behave in church.  Our church doesn’t have a nursery, and it’s glorious to have the entire church there for the whole time (well, for most of the time).  Little kid things happen.  But, we recently started acting out a mini-service at home.  It takes about 15 minutes, but we do an abbreviated version of everything except the Eucharist, which the boys keep asking about.  They miss the climax of the service.

As I read the story of the Good Samaritan last night, the boys sat still and sucked their thumbs.  But, when I then explained it again, using their terminology (cuts, band-aids, and the hospital), their eyes came alive.  To my surprise, I started to feel the power of the story for the first time.  We’ve all heard the Bible stories so much, we allow them to skim over the surface of our emotions.  But, as I tried to explain the old, old story to my toddlers, it became new for me.  I almost started crying.  I recommend this to anyone aspiring to the ministry.  And, again, this is how God must feel as he tries to explain deep things to us in toddler-speak.  All our fancy theological jargon is just band-aids and hospitals to God.  As Calvin said, God lisps to us.  When we lisp to our children, we may actually learn the deepest theology.

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