It was a freeing thought when I considered that my children are baby Christians, and, as baby Christians need both spoon feeding and instruction in feeding.
There’s a terrible trend to evaluate young children the same way we evaluate an adult who has been saved for the same amount of time. Truth is, a child’s spiritual development looks different than an adult’s.
That’s because a child has the natural limitation of his mental and physical development.
Consider Jesus. We recognize that when he was a child, he acted like a child. As an infant, he had the mental limitations of an infant. As he grew older, his mental capacity grew, too. He grew wiser, not because he was growing more spiritual, but because he was growing up!
It stands to reason then, that our children will enjoy talking about the Bible, but their natural attention span will be different. An adult might reason that they are uninterested in the Bible, when it might be simply that they were interested, just not as long as mom is. [Can we agree that some of us have a tendency to lecture too long about spiritual things?]
One of my major goals and prayer requests as mom is to help my children learn how to have an independent walk with God. The Holy Spirit is the primary teacher, of course, and I recognize that I do not carry the responsibility of my children’s choices to follow Christ. At the same time, I do carry a responsibility to share my knowledge and experience in the best way I know how.
A smaller long-range goal is to help them become active readers of the Bible. Here’s an example of what we did for a few weeks that worked well:
We are reading through the gospel of Luke right now. When we’ve read a few verses (or longer if we’re reading a more obscure portion), I ask questions to see if they are understanding the text. Sometimes my questions are effective, and sometimes they are not. I’m okay with asking bad questions, because my practice making questions is helping me, and I think helping them, too. So much of Bible reading is questioning and searching, anyway. Getting an “I don’t know” doesn’t always reflect a failed question.
Sometimes I’ll share things that God has taught or is teaching me. Sometimes those are memories from when I first read the passage as a child, but sometimes I share what I’ve been thinking about and asking myself as I read the Bible with them. At this point we’ve covered what the text actually means, and my personal response to the text.
1) I’ve been making an attempt not to merely talk about the Bible, but to talk about the process: as we read, I comment “Reading this verse makes me ask myself a question. What question do you think I have after reading it?”
Or, “After I read a passage, I wonder how…” and see if they can finish the sentence. For example, if I read where Jesus tells me to take up my cross and follow him, I am going to ask myself, “what does that mean, to take up my cross? Is there something else in the passage that gives me a clue?”
2) I’ve discovered that helping them choose an application or prayer request that I offer is more productive than expecting them to come up with an application out of the blue. Sometimes they can apply Scripture on their own, without help. I’m more successful when I share three or four possible responses to a passage and ask them to pick one to pray about, or apply. If I ask how they can apply a scripture when someone yells at them on the soccer field, or when a sibling is mean to them, they can usually take the next step. Remember that I’m not only spoon feeding, but I’m also modeling to actively read and respond to the text.
3) I’ve been trying to help them understand that I often don’t understand something I read. Good readers aren’t terribly concerned about gaps in their understanding as they read. In fact, those gaps actually cause them to be more alert and more active as they read. If my kids are fearful because of how much they don’t understand, they’ll be discouraged before they even start, and worse, they’ll be afraid to speak up because they think they SHOULD know the answers.
There are many more ideas about encouraging active readers of God’s Word. I just read Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word. She had some great ideas that might be helpful for encouraging our children. I might have gone through it with my kids, but I gave away my copy and will have to wait!
I’ve also found a couple books helpful as I think through this topic. If you like to read, check out I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Chris Tovani. And, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler [I’m partial to the old, out of print edition]. Neither of these books are specifically about reading the Bible, but they both address the process of becoming an active reader and may be inspiring to you.