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For the past few years I’ve served as a catechist at our local parish, teaching 3rd- and/or 7th-grade kids. With both age groups, I’ve been surprised at how little many of the kids know about the Bible. I’m not talking deep theology — I mean even the straightforward Bible stories, including the major personalities and events. A few weeks into classes, it is easy to see who has had much at-home exposure to the basics of the faith, and who hasn’t. That’s not to say the kids don’t want to learn — most of them do, often eagerly and with good attitudes. Quite a few listen carefully and ask thoughtful, insightful questions. But there’s only so much that can be learned in a group setting, in a little over an hour, once a week.
It has made me think of how important and valuable it is for those of us who are parents (or grandparents!) to read the Bible with our children, starting very young with simple, sweet toddler Bibles, and progressing through the more age-appropriate children’s Bibles as they get older. Kids find the stories interesting and exciting, and love to hear about the adventures of Moses, David, Jonah, Esther, and others. For young children, many of the Old Testament stories, in particular, are colorful, easy to follow and dramatic. My son at 4 years old wanted to read about David and Goliath almostevery day. He was fascinated by the idea that a boy could fight a giant — and win!
When we read these stories, over and over again with our children, we are helping them learn powerful lessons even without any overt teaching. We are helping them understand that:
The Bible is God’s book and it is important.
Kids quickly pick up on the fact that, if it is important enough to mom or dad to keep on coming back to that children’s Bible again and again, there is something really important about it. It will become important to them too.
God is a miracle-worker and helps His people.
It’s impossible to read about the Exodus, even in the simplest children’s Bible, and miss the lesson that God is active in human affairs and wants to help His children. The lesson that God is powerful, loving, and deeply interested in human beings is a simple and obvious, but deep lesson.
God works in ways that we don’t expect.
Blood on doorposts? Manna from heaven? How surprising! The walls of Jericho crumbling without any physical human effort? Shocking! God using a great fish to teach Jonah a lesson? Who would have thought? Kids are rightfully amazed and surprised by these things, as they should be. Without the cynicism and doubt that prevents so many adult minds from experiencing awe, children read and develop a simple, beautiful faith in an amazing God whose ways are higher and more powerful than our own ways.
Faith and obedience lead to blessings, but sin leads to problems.
From Adam and Eve, to Sarah, to David, Jonah, Hannah and more, the message that to trust and obey God is clearly the better way to go is woven through the Bible from beginning to end.
God makes — and keeps — promises.
When he promised to save Noah and his family from the Flood, He did. When He promised Abraham and Sarah a long-desired son, Isaac was the answer. When He promised to fight for Joshua and lead him into the Promised Land, He did. Through these stories our children learn that God can be trusted to fulfill His Word.
Each of these are lessons that can be picked up and expounded on in the more mature junior and high school years, if the child has already internalized the basic concepts.
Kids who near confirmation age without a basic biblical foundation are at a disadvantage. Their ability to understand the deeper concepts of sin and salvation, faith, discipleship, the sacraments, virtues and the importance of the Church lacks the deep-rootedness that a better understanding of God’s Word, and therefore His work throughout the ages, would give.
Sitting down regularly with our kids and reading Bible stories seems like such a simple little thing. It doesn’t take a theology degree or advanced learning to sit and lovingly read with our kids. But that time together gives them a valuable foundation to build on. The seeds that are planted in the process promise to take root and flower into greater spiritual and personal growth down the road.
The lifelong benefits of teaching your kids to pray