I thought a fair amount about how to share my faith with my children. Some say you shouldn't teach your kids what you believe imagining there's some sort of neutral approach, but we all pass on our worldviews - and besides that, whatever we say, our kids see what we really believe...
For all the preparation in advance I'm not sure anything can really prepare you for joys and anguish of day in day out parenting!
It is a wonderful privilege to teach my boys about Christ. I do that for my day job with others but my home is my first congregation. And was uncharted territory, as I didn't know Christ til I was 18, though my wife came to know him aged three.
I thought about family Bible reading, good resources like Jesus Storybook Bible, Thoughts to make your heart sing, Every thing a child needs to now about God, Gospel Project for Kids Church Curriculum... regular gospel-shaped conversation, the freedom to ask anything, the safety that the cross of Christ brings, understanding that my kids will see me sinning so they better see me repenting too.... Nothing more or less than an ordinary Christian life, in which I fail terribly, live inconsistently, and have a whole lot of repenting to be doing. At best we are "people in need of change helping people in need of change."
In the middle of this we quite accidentally adopted Before the throne of God above as our family lullaby. It was the song that caught on that helped settle our firstborn to sleep in the early days of baby screams. It just happened to be the song that 'worked.'
Now a couple of thousand nights later all three boys know this well and request it before bed each night. It's a classic, reborn with a fresh arrangement, and dripping with Tabernacle-shaped Trinitarian Theology.
Now, my seven year old gets bad dreams. And it troubles him that Jesus doesn't seem to take these away - hard to get that you really can ask about anything, but not everything is promised. I wrestle with that, don't you? My boy is a sensitive soul, and I think his growing faith is probably a part of that sensitivity - he gets that there is sadness and injustice and darkness in the world and it troubles him.
What can be done? As we sat next to each other, on the bathroom floor, backs to the bath - a frequent location for heart-to-heart conversations with him for some reason - talking I found myself turning to words he knows so well...
"When satan tempts me too despair, and tells me of the guilt within.Upward I look at see him there who made an end to all my sin."I asked him what he thinks this means...
When we're sad and hopeless we look inward and downward, and the devil wants us not to trust Jesus... Looking up is the opposite of that. Why look up? To look away from our situation and from ourselves... to Jesus! The dream is bad. The day can be dark. You wake up in tears. What can you say to yourself in that moment? "BUT JESUS WINS."
(I think Neil Gaiman gets this in Coraline where he riffs on GK Chesterton to say: "Fairy tales are more than true, not 'cos they tell us that dragons exist, but 'cos they tell us that dragons can be beaten." -- more richly the gospel tells us that the evil is real, but much more that it is defeated at the cross of Christ)
That's not easy to say in the middle of the night, though it's never all dark - the stars and moon shine, and in the morning the sun rises unstoppably... though the darkness closes in, it never overcomes the light - and the light shines and overcomes it all each and every morning, seedtime and harvest, until He comes.
That parenting moment - learning and re-learning the gospel in conversation with my son was precious and stirs and sustains my heart too. I can tell these things to him, and I know he'll be watching me, and I'll be watching... I can say it, but let me also entrust myself to Jesus that his cross means that in the end "all the sad things will come untrue..."
Image - Creative Commons - Bob Doran