As a pregnant pastor, I assumed that I would naturally know how to pass along my faith to my child. Faith is what I do, who I am—it defines me. When my son was only a few days old, I told him all about God and laid out the gospel message, as I gazed at his beautiful face. I knew he couldn’t understand it. But I knew that if I didn’t start telling him right from the beginning, I would never know when to start.
Then things got crazy. Multiple health concerns within the family thrust us into a fog of sleep deprivation. We were in survival mode for a number of months. As the fog began to clear, I realized I wasn’t doing much to pass on my faith.
It turns out, parents don’t pass on their faith automatically. I needed to be intentional. In Psalm 78, the psalmist writes, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. . . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:4b&6-7, NIV). As I considered how to tell the next generation, I landed on three practices: praying together, speaking truth, and reading Bible stories.
Often while feeding my son, I prayed. This bonding time with my baby provided a natural quiet time to connect with God. As I considered ways to pass on my faith, I realized my son could witness this prayer time. I simply needed to pray out loud. He didn’t understand everything I was saying, but as he grew older he began to understand more and more. Although I’m sure he will not remember these experiences, hearing my honest communication with God in the early years shows my dependence on God.
As he grew, I started praying with him as part of his bedtime routine too. I kept these prayers simple at first. I would thank God for him, thank God for loving us, pray for guidance as parents, pray that God would work in us and him, pray for good sleep, and ask God to show us how to live for him the next day. As a young toddler, he started interjecting things into my prayers, instructing me to also thank God for dinosaurs, grandma, or a certain friend. Eventually, he started praying himself, running through lengthy lists of what he was thankful for. When my son was 17 months, his cousin was born with major health issues, and my little one began praying for him every night, that God would make his baby cousin “healthy and strong.” Because he heard me praying from the beginning, and because I included his thanksgivings in prayer, it was natural for him to pray too.
I realized I needed to find a way to get a core truth deeply embedded in my son’s heart and mind: we love him and God loves him even more. If we want our children to know something, to carry a certain truth deep inside of themselves, repetition is important. At the end of our bedtime routine, rather than repeating a good-night phrase such as, “Nigh’ night! Sleep tight!” I speak this truth: “Mommy and Daddy love you so much. And God loves you even more. But we love you an awful lot. Yes, we do!” I’ve been telling him this each night, and often at nap time, ever since he was a baby. Now, as a toddler, he sometimes says the end along with me in his sleepy little voice, “love you an awful lot! Yes, we do!” I hope he always remembers and believes that his parents love him a lot, but God loves him even more.
As an expectant mother, people were constantly telling me, “It’s never too early to read to your child!” Relatives and friends gave us so many books as gifts for our son before he was even born. Reading to your baby—even before your child understands the words—promotes language development and an early love of reading, while also bonding parent and child. It’s good for your baby’s brain, starts your child on the right track academically, and supports your relationship with your little one. That’s great. But a simple shift in what we read to our babies adds another benefit that no one thought to mention. Reading Bible stories or scripture-inspired books can also help develop a baby’s faith, putting the child on the right track spiritually, and introducing the little one to a relationship with God.
We read plenty of wonderful children’s literature and classic baby books, but intentionally adding spiritual books to the mix deepens our story time. We’ve enjoyed The Adventure Bible for Toddlersand The Rhyme Bible Storybookfrom Zonderkidz publishing, as well as The Bible for Young Children, Psalms for Young Children, and Images of God for Young Childrenfrom Eerdmans, and others. Over the next couple years we will be reading The Jesus Storybook Bibleand Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.
As an infant, rhyme and rhythm kept my son’s attention best. Now that he’s a toddler, we’ve began talking about the stories, who God is, and what God does. He’s getting to know God the way adults do—by learning the stories of God and his people, by hearing God’s word, and by talking about what he learns.
It is my hope and prayer that my son will continue to develop his relationship with God by praying, remembering the truth of God’s love, and reading God’s word regularly. May he grow to be a man of God, who one day also passes on his faith to the next generation.