It's important for kids to learn early on that the best way to love people, and share God with them, is through our own actions.
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My husband and I love our faith and are excited about sharing it with our young children. We’re trying to do that in hundreds of ways, and Christ and the Church are definitely a major part of our daily lives. But I come from a big family of mostly fallen-away Catholics, so many of my nieces and nephews have no idea who God is. My kids were quick to realize this and they will occasionally report to me their conversations with them, like “My cousin believes in Santa Claus but he doesn’t believe in God!”
I find it hard to know what to say. I hope when they are older that my children might be able to evangelize these cousins. But for now, I usually just say something like, “Well it’s not that your cousin doesn’t believe in God; he just doesn’t know about Him because their mom, your aunt, hasn’t told him” and then reiterate how glad I am that we know about Him and love Him, and then change the subject. Though occasionally they come right back with, “but why doesn’t Aunty know about Him?” What would you do?
Get these young cousins to church with your family as much as possible. Host them and the aunt and all the fallen-away Catholic members at your house for dinner. Let your family be that missing exposure to Catholicism as you say grace before meals. The littlest things can be a witness, even a simple crucifix on the wall or a framed picture of Christ or Mary.
I grew up in a similar environment as your nieces and nephews — my mom never took me to church and we never discussed God. But the most spiritually impactful moments of my life were those rare exposures to the Catholic church through my Abuela. Her house was a shrine to her faith.
That is why I put so much emphasis on having the family over to your home as often as possible, and not the other way around. In your home you can control the message being presented to your children. Small children lack the knowledge to adequately respond to the criticism and questions they may encounter from other family members.
However, I’d like to note that we don’t have to hold advanced degrees in theology to be good evangelists. Our actions and the kindness we show to others can serve us when we lack the words. If you struggle to find an adequate response to your delightfully inquisitive children perhaps simply suggest to them that you all pray for the cousins, the aunt, and the rest of the fallen-away family. You can also encourage your children to make small sacrifices for their conversions.
There is no doubt that as your children get older they will find the world increasingly at odds with their faith. Therefore, it is incredibly important that they learn how to intelligently defend their beliefs to those who would challenge them, but it is equally important for them to learn early on that the best way to love people and share God with them is through our own actions.
Teach them to have patience with those who choose not to know God and remind them that while God calls us all, we all don’t respond in the same way. For some people faith comes as naturally as breathing and for others it can be a lifelong struggle. So while their aunt and cousins don’t believe in or know God now, that doesn’t mean God isn’t working through their lives. And I think that is a wonderful lesson for anyone to learn, at any age.