By Andy Smith
As a father, I had and have lots of goals for my son, but even before he was born, I wanted him to know about Jesus. How could I make that happen? The quick answer is that I couldn’t. Only the Holy Spirit could plant a vibrant faith inside my son’s heart. I could at least try to give the Holy Spirit as many chances as possible.
My wife and I prayed for our son’s spiritual and physical development before and after he was born. The first year of his life was a blur of diapers and 2:00 AM feedings, but the Holy Spirit placed faith into our son at baptism.
During the second year of life, he began walking and talking, and that gave me a chance to be active with him, and to begin to nurture his faith. But how do you have a faith conversation with an 18-month-old? A toddler has a limited vocabulary, zero ability to abstract, an attention span measured in nanoseconds, and a consciousness focused only on the concrete here and now.
I had so much I wanted to tell him about Jesus. Many days, after supper, I took my son out for a walk. This was good exercise for him and for me. It also gave my wife a much-needed break from the incessant, high-energy presence of a toddler. The exercise made him sleep better. But it was also an opportunity to build faith.
As we walked through the neighborhood, I formulated a simple short story, and I told it to him each evening for two or three weeks. Because we were taking a walk, he didn’t have to sit still, which made it easier for him to listen to the story.
It went like this: Once upon a time, there was a daddy named Abraham and a mommy named Sarah. They lived in a house. But one day, they sold their house, because God told them to go to the Promised Land. Because they didn’t have a house, they lived in a tent. Abraham and Sarah had a baby named Isaac. Isaac grew up to be a daddy, and he was married to a mommy named Rebecca. Isaac and Rebecca had two baby boys, one named Jacob, and one named Esau. Esau was a hunter. When Jacob grew up to be daddy, he had twelve baby boys. Jacob and his twelve sons went to live in Egypt.
OK, so my little story isn’t a masterpiece of prose, and isn’t groundbreaking theology, and I even confess to sidestepping some of those unpleasant realities which we learn from the text of the Old Testament.
Because we took these walks after supper, often bundled up against the winter cold, we gave this story a peculiar title: “The Story that We Tell When We’re Walking in the Dark.” But we went through that story, pretty much word-for-word, every night. Eventually, after he’d heard it enough, I began to let him tell parts of it. I would start a sentence, and then let him say some of the key words.
I said something like this: Once upon a time, there was a daddy named _______________ and a mommy named _______________ . They lived in a _______________ . But one day, they sold their house, because God told them to go to the _______________ . Because they didn’t have a house, they lived in a _______________ . Abraham and Sarah had a baby named _______________ . Isaac grew up to be a daddy, and he was married to a mommy named _______________ . Isaac and Rebecca had two baby boys, one named _______________ , and one named _______________ . Esau was a _______________ . When Jacob grew up to be daddy, he had _______________ . Jacob and his twelve sons went to live in _______________ .
I still recall the happiness, energy, and pride in his little two-year-old voice as he would call out the words needed to finish the story. He knew there was something important about this story, and he was excited that he had learned it.
Soon, he could tell the story by himself. Obviously, this was merely the beginning, not the completion, of his spiritual formation, but I thank God that He gave me the privilege of teaching my son about these things.
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