Confession: I’m cranky most Sunday mornings.
It’s like herding cats trying to get three small children out the door for 9 am church. The kids are usually arguing, they can’t find their shoes, they’re upset they can’t watch a morning cartoon, and they’re anything but cooperative. By the time we’re on our way, the last thing on my mind is worshiping God. I just want to pull an iron blanket over my head so no one can get to me.
Last Sunday was no different. I rushed the kids into the car before realizing I didn’t even have shoes on. I ran back into the house. By the time I returned – a mere 3 minutes later – Kenna had a report for me on what had happened while I was gone.
“Mommy! Nathan just said he hates God.”
I literally gasped. I looked at my 5-year-old son shrinking down in his seat and immediately knew he had said it.
“NATHAN! That is a terrible thing to say. Don’t ever say that again in our home! What are you thinking? I am shocked. Shocked! Why on earth would you say such a horrible thing?”
Honestly, I didn’t want an answer. It was more of a verbal hand-slap. I had no idea how to respond other than to harshly let him know it was something that he should never utter again.
The next 10 minutes of our drive to church were nearly silent. Then something strange happened. I found myself asking, If a blog reader told me their child said this, what would I suggest?
Funny enough, I knew the answer right away: Dig deeper. Find out what he really means when he says he hates God. Don’t be shocked. Don’t get mad. Don’t shut down the conversation. Hating God could mean just about anything, so work to understand the source of the comment in order to effectively address it.
I decided to give it a try. I turned to Nathan and asked, “Can you tell me what you mean when you say you hate God? Do you have these feelings every day, every Sunday, or just today?”
He muttered back, “Just on Sundays. I really, really don’t like church.”
“Ooooh,” I said, starting to see where this was going. “So when you say you hate God, what you actually mean is that you don’t like church?”
“Yeah, I wish I didn’t have to go. I like when we worship God at home,” he replied.
I continued to drill down. “OK. Do you not like any part, or just some parts?”
“I like everything except the DANCING! I HATE the dancing!” He was referring to the part in the kids’ service where they sing songs and learn some corresponding dance moves.
“Let me get this straight. When you said you hate God, what you really meant was that you hate dancing at church?”
“Yeeesssss. Dancing is the worst,” he moaned.
And that concluded one of the most absurd conversations in our family’s history.
Become a Troubleshooter
Just as Nathan’s horrible comment turned out to actually represent an innocent dislike for dancing, the distance between what kids say and what they mean is often great. It’s tempting to immediately address concerning comments at face value, but when we don’t actually dig in to what underlies those comments, we can end up troubleshooting the wrong problem.
Consider some examples:
When a child says, “I don’t believe in God anymore”…what they might mean is that they don’t understand how God could exist when something terrible happened to their friend. They might need a conversation about pain and suffering, not one about the existence of God.
When a child says, “The Bible is boring”…what they might mean is that no one has taken the time to explain how to read the Bible in a way that is relevant to their life. They might need a “how to” conversation, not one about the reverence we should have for God’s Word.
When a child says, “I hate church”…what they might mean is that they hate how the other kids at church don’t include them in their activities. They might need a conversation about how things are going in youth group, not one about how important church is for Christian living.
When a child says, “Science shows the Bible isn’t true”….what they might mean is that they’ve heard someone in an influential position say “science shows the Bible isn’t true” and assumed that must be right. They might need a conversation about how to critically think through secular claims in general, not one about the Bible’s inerrancy.
When a child says nothing at all about faith…it might mean they’re afraid to express their doubts. They might need you to simply get a conversation going.
What faith concerns are you “troubleshooting” right now – for yourself or your kids?