Does God wear trousers?
Is the Holy Spirit a fairy? Who would win if Jesus had a fight with Spider-Man? These are some of the questions you might be asked on a typical Sunday morning. There is a particular child in one of my groups who always seems to ask questions that take us off on tangent upon tangent. When we’ve diverged from ‘Jesus walking on water’ to ‘the thrust capacity of the Boeing Airbus A380’ I have to call time and return to the matter in hand.
But is there more to these tangent questions? How do we allow children to explore their faith more deeply, and discover God truthfully, whilst allowing them to maintain the natural curiosity, naivety and spontaneity of childhood?
To a certain extent, everyone thinks deeply about God. We may all come to different conclusions, but even an atheist has at least reflected on the possibility of a divine being. It’s important to remember that when we think about God, we are thinking ultimately about a mystery; but conversely it’s a mystery that has been revealed.
There are no right or wrong questions about God. Only questions that are about God or not about God. If a child asks whether God wears trousers, they are trying to bring together two worlds, the physical world they can see, touch and experience and the spiritual world that they might hear talked about or can sense. They are starting to bring together the mystery and the revealed mystery.
Now that might bring out some odd questions! These may sound as though the child is being silly, and others might laugh, but that doesn’t mean it was meant to be funny. They may be genuinely inquisitive. We need to show respect to our children in the same way we would to adults who ask questions in situations where they are a novice.
If we want our children to mature into thinking truthfully about God, we need to give them space for contemplation and practice. Creating a contemplative space for your children might seem daunting at first, but there are some simple things you can do to help.
Think about the whole church experience that children go through, from the moment they enter the building to the biscuits at the end of the service. Are they safe, valued and welcome in everything you do? If not, how can you change this?
In a small-group setting, create space for contemplation when exploring Bible stories. For example, you could use reflective tools such as a candle or holding crosses, put on some quiet music or use pictures to aid reflection.
Alongside contemplation, we need to create space where children can practice Christianity, or to put it another way, how can we enable them to mirror the actions of God’s plan for humanity during a Sunday morning service? Children love being helpful. Being asked to help allows them to feel involved, trusted and valued. What could they do that helps during the service?
Going a step further, find out what local social issue your children are passionate about and enable them to take some direct action (see here for an example of this). It could be joining in with a church fundraising project. Given that this is something most children would have done at school, you’ll find that they are well equipped to do this!
These things won’t happen overnight, but by allowing space for contemplation and encouraging children be participators in church and mirror God, over time you’ll create a healthy environment in which children feel secure enough to ask deeper questions about God and discover the truth. So next time you get asked ‘Whether the animals on Noah’s Ark got seasick?’, or ‘Where does God go to the toilet?’ quietly congratulate yourself, you’re on the right track.
These thoughts and issues were influenced by the book ‘On Job’ by Gustavo Gutiérrez.