But, here’s what I’ve noticed. When I skim over, or edit out the Bad News, my kids tend to yawn at the Good News.
I remember sitting with my son at age five, in our big, comfy chair with the ottoman. It was Easter time, and I was telling him the Easter story, using big A Beka Flash-a-Card picture cards. Halfway through, when we got to the picture of Jesus on the cross, I thought, This is so good. He’s hearing the truth. He’s going to see his need for Jesus.
And then he interrupted my thoughts and said, “Mommy, can I go play in the basement now?” So I let him down to play.
What else could I do? You can’t make someone want the Good News.
Or can you?
As moms, we have a lot of influence over our kids. They believe us. They trust us. And if we take them out on the front porch at age 4–as I did with my daughter–and talk to them about hell in a forceful manner, they will probably pray whatever prayer we suggest.
This is what my sweet daughter did. And then as a tween, she struggled with assurance of salvation. It’s no wonder. She and I both look back at that day, and wonder if it was God at work in her heart, or just me.
I’ve talked to other friends who made the opposite mistake. They never talked to their kids about the Gospel at all. This, they left to the Church–opting out of any personal conversations about salvation with their kids.
How can we be more balanced about this? Knowing the influence that we have, should we give our kids the Bad News so that they’ll take interest in the Good News? And should we mention hell?
I think we should–with caution. Jesus talked about hell more than anybody. In His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, with children in attendance, Jesus mentioned hell three times. (Matt. 5:22, 29, and 30). He spoke with intensity and urgency, saying that that the people should fear hell far more than they fear being murdered (Matt. 10:28).
So since Jesus talked about hell, I think we should, too. But when should we bring the subject up? Should we start warning them–as we do about kidnappers and fires and poison–at age two or three? Or should we wait till they’re older?
I suggest we give the Gospel to our children incrementally, in age appropriate doses. Here’s a guideline that I’ve used:
- Chunky Board Books: When my kids were at the “chunky board book” stage of life (think Chicka, chicka Boom Boom), I gave them the “chunky board book” version of the Gospel. I told them,
“God made the world. He wants us to love Him. But people ignore God. They ignore God’s rules for this beautiful world. They do what they want to. This is called sin, and God must punish people for sin. But Jesus came to take our punishment. Isn’t that good news? Jesus makes a way for us to be God’s friends again.”
I told Bible stories in a simplified way, without sacrificing the meaning. (If you need help with this, look at the ‘Read Aloud Bible Stories’ and the ‘Tell-Me Stories’ by Ella K. Lindvall. These were my kids’ absolute favorites!)
- Fairy Tales: When my kids got older, they graduated to “fairy tales”. And that’s when they were ready for a more detailed telling of the Gospel story. If our kids can handle good vs. evil themes in Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood (which have horribly graphic imagery, by the way), they can handle the more graphic imagery of the Gospel. (I wrote more about this here.) You, as a parent, will be able to best gauge what your child needs and is ready for.
If you’re looking for a resource that will generate great questions and discussion, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, tells various stories of the Bible with Jesus at the center of each story. The Make Him Known series by Sally Michael is also fabulous.
- Chapter Books: When my kids graduated to “chapter books”, they were ready for full chapters of the Bible. I would read straight out of the Bible to my kids, or encourage them to read on their own. If your child is digesting the Shadow Children Series or The Redwall Series, and yet you haven’t talked to them about the true story that they are part of; it’s time.
If you’ve never brought up heaven and hell; sin and death; God’s wrath, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, make a plan to do so. You could simply choose some Bible passages to discuss with your child. Or list some questions your child might have, and ask which ones he would like to talk about.
But as you talk to your child, remember: Only God can open his eyes. Remember how my son was content to hop down and leave the story half-told, with Jesus still hanging on the cross? This is bound to happen. None of us are born with our eyes spiritually open. And no one can pry them open for us. That’s God’s Work.
So give your child the Bad News and the Good News. The Bad News and the Good News. Over and over and over. And wait for God to stir your child’s heart, and open his eyes to Truth.