When we put up our Christmas tree recently, we made a wonderful afternoon out of it. We lit the fireplace (regardless of the fact it was 80 degrees outside), hung the stockings, decorated the tree, listened to Christmas music, turned on the outdoor decorations, and topped it all off with freshly baked pumpkin bread.
That night, I asked Nathan and Kenna, “What was your favorite part of today?”
They BOTH said, “Hanging candy canes on the tree!”
Of all the fun things that day, they both picked hanging candy canes on the tree?
It actually makes perfect sense in retrospect – that was the only part of the day they got to fully experience first-hand. Everything else was shown to them or happened around them. They were dazzled by the candy canes because they got to hold them (unlike all the other breakable ornaments), select a place and put them on the tree with their own hands, and experience participating in the day rather than observing the day.
I can relate to that as an adult too. There used to be a year-round Christmas store in town. Every time we drove by it in the summer I wondered who on earth would want to go look at Christmas ornaments when it’s not Christmas! If I were to stand in a store filled with Christmas decorations in July, I would not feel any of the joy and anticipation that I do in December; I can’t experience “Christmas” by simply putting Christmas decorations around me.
Perhaps the reason why at least two-thirds of kids who grow up in a Christian family stop going to church is that they never experienced God. Perhaps church happened around them. Perhaps prayer happened around them. Perhaps people read the Bible around them. But just as we can’t put up Christmas decorations in July and expect someone to “feel” Christmas, we can’t “put up” faith around our kids and expect they will “feel” God. We have to create homes where our kids actually experience God . . . not just learn about God.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week and have been trying to identify what constitutes experience. If I were to break down the components of faith development, it might look something like this:
- Kids learn from what we teach them at home and what is taught at church.
- They watch how those truths impact the lives around them.
- They develop faith from applying what they learn and see to their own lives.
Even though all three areas certainly contribute to experience, it’s the third area of personal application that makes the key difference between faith happening around kids and faith happening in kids. Just like the candy canes, our kids need to hold faith in their hands – by praying themselves, reading the Bible themselves, serving themselves. The ways we find to facilitate these personal experiences can make all the difference in whether our kids develop an authentic faith or no faith at all.
It’s almost time for New Year’s resolutions. What is one thing you could do better next year in terms of facilitating your kids’ application of faith? (On a personal note, I’m going to introduce prayer lists to the kids so they can experience more directly the power of praying consistently for certain requests and being aware of answered prayers. It’s also an excellent opportunity to use unanswered prayers as a conversation starter about what prayer is and isn’t.)
Whatever your answer was to the question above, do just one thing toward that today. Chances are, what you thought of isn’t something you find easy to do, otherwise you would have done it already! Remove some of the intimidation by taking a small first step today.