I seriously have no idea how my five-year-old survives. She eats next to nothing. At dinner last night, she ate two bites of meat and nibbled on a piece of broccoli. Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon. Basically she gets calories from snacking. I know this is a bad solution, and I waffle between a strict “no snacks between meals” policy in the hopes that she’ll eat more at the table, and giving her the most nutritious snacks I can. I mean, if she’s not going to eat lunch, at least her snack can be cottage cheese and some almonds, right? If it was up to her, she would survive by grazing on cereal throughout the day–Golden Grahams, Cheerios, and Crispix, to be exact. But as her mother, it’s my job to make sure she eats well. Snacking is not a substitute for a well-balanced diet.
Food can be a touchy subject. Ask any given mother about her child’s diet, and chances are she’ll squirm at the question. Yeah, he gets too much sugar… She shouldn’t drink as much soda as she does… I’m trying to cut back on processed foods… We need to incorporate more fruits and veggies… I wish we could go organic, but it’s just so expensive… Numerous books have been written about childhood nutrition and its importance in proper development and cultivating a lifelong habit of eating well. Few things impact children as much as they food they ingest. It’s pretty daunting. Yet I know from having three older children that kids go through phases. Just because my daughter now refuses to eat most fruits and veggies doesn’t mean she’ll spurn them forever. Someday she may grow her own garden, for all I know. But in the meantime, it’s frustrating. I go to great lengths to sneak nutrition into her diet–slipping canned pumpkin into our waffles, adding wheat germ to homemade rolls, slathering peanut butter on apple slices, offering ranch dip with baby carrots, making milkshakes blended with fruit–I’ve tried it all, just to ensure she’s getting what she needs.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we, as parents, went to such great lengths to ensure our children were properly nourished spiritually? Yet some parents are content to allow their children (or themselves!) to “snack” on religion. The notion that “they won’t understand” is fairly common justification for this. We don’t want to confuse them, after all. So let’s read super easy Bible stories that “dumb down” the accounts. (“God made the world. God made me. Yay, God!”) Let’s not introduce anything complicated like the Trinity or the concept of hell. Let’s tell them Jesus loves them and leave it at that. We can send them to Vacation Bible School and maybe an occasional Sunday School lesson, but church? Um, no. They won’t get anything out of it anyhow. Or will they?
When my oldest son was barely four, my grandmother passed away. At her funeral, the pastor read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus. The next Sunday, that was also the Gospel lesson in church. I didn’t even realize my son had been paying attention at the funeral, but when he heard the words in church that Sunday, he whispered excitedly to me, “Mommy! That’s Great Grandma!” You never know how the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of His children.
It’s easy to get discouraged taking young kids to church. Trust me, I completely understand the challenge. My husband is a pastor, so every Sunday I’m a single mom in the pews with my five kids. It’s tough. (I’ve even written an article on Getting Kids to Behave in Church, for those who are interested.) And certainly, there are Sundays where I wonder if it’s worth bringing everyone. But time and again, I have seen God at work in their faith lives. My kids could all say most of the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed by three or four, because we quoted them together every week at church. Each of them joined in parts of the liturgy by the age of four. My five-year-old may not eat her dinner, but she can sing hymn verses with gusto, even when she’s playing in her room with her sister. My eight-year-old is an avid reader and reads random chapters of the Bible on her own accord. Just this morning she was reading 2 Timothy and made the connection that 1 and 2 Timothy both begin the same way. Occasionally she’ll ask me what a word or a passage means, and it’s such a blessing to see her genuine interest in God’s Word. We do family devotions with our kids and ask them age-appropriate questions not only about the Bible stories, but also on facets of the Christian faith and how it compares to other world religions. If they’re only “snacking,” they’ll never get beyond the basics and will not be prepared for life in a world hostile to Christ. The author of Hebrews warns his audience in Hebrews 5:12, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”
Parents, make sure your children are well-fed spiritually. Make sure they’re getting “solid food.” Go beyond the “basic” Bible stories like David and Goliath, Jonah and the fish, and baby Jesus in the manger. Get a more comprehensive book that includes more accounts than the average kids’ Bible story book. Some even have workbooks that go along with the stories to reinforce the lessons (like A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories, for one). Teach Bible verses to your children. Pray with them and encourage them to give you requests or to take turns praying out loud themselves. Send them to Sunday School and talk about the lessons afterward. Sit with them in church. Live the words of Deuteronomy 6:7–”Impress [God’s words] on your children. Talk about them when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…” Basically, teach your children about Jesus their Savior every chance you get. And trust that God will indeed fulfill His promise in Isaiah 55:11 that His Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it. That promise applies to children as well as to adults.
Even kids who don’t eat their veggies.