Growing up in a Christian, home I always heard “Jesus loves you, Elizabeth.” And “Love Jesus and love others, Elizabeth.” These truths are burned into my memory. Now as a young adult, the opportunity to impact children like my family did for me has become my reality. I have the chance to tell children, “you are loved, important, worthy, and redeemed.” But, how can I do that in a way that a 1 year old, or a 5 year old, or a 10 year old will really understand? And how in the world can I get through to the teenagers? Children need to hear from childhood to adolescence that there is a SAVIOR desperately seeking THEM. Think of the pain that could be prevented if a child, at a young age, understood the meaning of “Jesus loves YOU!” So how do I go about that?
I have the privilege of taking care of a 15 month old baby girl two days each week and helping with her older sisters who are 6 and 7 years old. After I finish with that sweet family, I drive straight to the middle school to pick up my 11 and 13 year old friends - occasionally getting their 15 year old sister from the high school, too. My Tuesdays and Thursdays are packed with conversations about stuffed animals, baby dolls, little bugs found outside and how beautiful tutus always have sparkles on them. Moving into those afternoons, the talks shift to cross country, ice skating, gymnastics and the football game on Friday. These days are delightfully exhausting and have such potential to bless little lives forever. I get the chance to talk to six little humans about the wonderful love Jesus has for each of them. So thinking practically, I have to have a game plan.
Starting with how I share Jesus with the baby.
“Baby, do you know Jesus loves you?”
This is a simple question you can whisper over a child as you rock them to sleep. Let the sweet child hear the name of Jesus as often as possible so that when they get a little older they will already have a small exposure to His glorious name.
Sing songs at bedtime, naptime, or at any point of the day - when chaos arises and crying cannot stop and all you can do is rock and sing to that small little screamer.
Songs like Jesus Loves Me, Silent Night, Jesus loves the Little Children, This Little Light of Mine or anything else can really help you connect with the child on a more meaningful level. Even hymns or the latest worship song that you love are a great way to expose a baby to the sweet truths of Jesus. This also brings YOU back to the calming love of the Father. Let times of chaos be calmed with a simple song. Refocus on what really matters, and allow both you and the baby to hear beautiful truth in a song.
Pray with the baby before bedtime. Pray with the baby when she cannot calm down. Pray with the baby before meals. Let prayer direct the day’s transitions. This will make a difference as the child grows. From infancy, they will know that prayer guides each day.
Moving into the ways we can share Jesus with little children.
When driving in the car, try asking pointed, purposeful questions.
Recently, I had the coolest conversation with the 6 year old I watch. She told me she really wanted snow. I told her to ask Jesus. She did NOT understand why. Then, I got to explain to her that she can ask Jesus ANYTHING. Her eyes got big and she did not understand. How could little Ruby talk to Jesus? Well, I told her that Jesus WANTS her to talk to Him. He loves when she prays and asks for things. Jesus will sometimes say Yes and sometimes say No, but she should always talk to Him. This conversation all happened in the drive to school one morning.
When you have your little ones in the car, they are stuck. They might squirm and get the back of your seat dirty with their muddy little feet that can’t help but kick the back of your chair, but they are strapped in and not moving anywhere. So, try and ask them questions. Ask them things like: Do you know what Jesus thinks about you? Do you like to pray? Why did you help your teacher in class today? Why does being good matter? Why does getting in trouble at school matter? Allow these questions to guide your conversation, and then tell them about Jesus in your answers.
When disciplining, explain to the child that Obedience, Respect, and Kindness are what Jesus wants.
When you have to tell a child “no, don’t do that”, or send them to their room, or make them apologize, always explain why. Being naughty is not bad because mommy thinks it is. Being naughty is bad because it means you are doing something Jesus does not want. Tell the child that our purpose in life is to seek Jesus. Obedience and respect are all goals that will help us be like Jesus and know Him.
Back to prayer. Prayer should guide all our days. So do not let that change, even though the child gets older. Every meal, before bed, or even if the child has a question or a desire - stop and pray. Let them move towards their middle school years with a habit of conversation with Jesus.
Children’s Bibles are a great tool to use with your little ones. Give them their first bible as a present. Have them look at the pictures when they need to settle down. Read a story to them every day or every night before bed. If they have a question or there is something that they need an example for, go to this book. Let the bible be your explanation to some of their questions, and let it be a tool you use to help guide conversation. Do you hear, “I am scared,” or, “I am angry,” or “I can’t do that”? Pause, brainstorm, and then read them a story that relates. Or if they ask, “Why do I need to share?” or, “Why do I have to be nice to my brother?” look to their Bible stories to read about Joseph or Joshua.
Introduce Quiet Time
Now that the child is a little older, give them the opportunity to spend time quietly with Jesus every day. It may only be five minutes, but have them spend five minutes by themselves with a bible or just quietly praying. Perhaps, have them color a sheet that displays a bible story. Teach them that they need quiet time with Jesus daily.
This is a great way to have your children learn about Jesus, and it gives you a chance to get things done while they are distracted. Veggie tales is a silly children’s movie series that explains various bible stories and talks about Jesus. It is a wonderful way to have a calm 45 minutes and teach your children about Jesus.
Now, to the challenge: Teenagers.
Discipline with Jesus at the center.
There really is not a huge difference between them and younger children. If you have to ground a teen, or take away their phone, or perform any act of discipline, point them back to love. At this age it feels like the world is coming to an end on a daily basis. Everything is big and dramatic and scary. “What if someone thinks I am weird?” “What if my friends see my parents and think I am weird because my parents are?” “What if I don’t have XYZ and then no one wants to be my friend?” These are just a few thoughts that just about every teenager has. So when they mess up, it is CRUCIAL to explain that they are LOVED. Parents or any discipline may seem like the enemy, which makes it crucial that whenever discipline is necessary to ensure that the teen knows they are LOVED, FORGIVEN and REDEEMED. Tell them that punishment is necessary to help guide them from harm in the future. Tell them that you LOVE them and that mistakes are a part of life. Tell them that discipline is a tool the Lord has given you to help protect them and raise them to honor Jesus. BE CAREFUL. Grace is the key to discipline because without it legalism will DESTROY your voice, and then your child will not listen to you or think you know anything. Discipline is NECESSARY. Punishment is painful but good. Discipline your children, but do it with GRACE. They are NOT the enemy. They are sneaky, and they lie, and they have words like daggers, but it is a result of sin - not who they are.
Continue to pray with your children. They are older now, but showing them that prayer should guide their lives is even more crucial now! Pray with them over meals, pray over them on the drive to school, tell them when you are praying for them. Let prayer be a common and daily conversation topic. At this point there is not a whole lot you can do, but if your child knows to pray they will escape teen years with less scrapes than without it.
Teaching children about Jesus is so challenging and so rewarding. I hope that some of these tools will help you feel equipped. YOU ARE! If you can only take one thing away from this, my biggest tool I could offer would be: Tell your children EVERY DAY “Love Jesus.” If they Love Jesus everything is going to work out. His Will be done.