Thursday, February 20, 2014

5 Ways to Invest in your Toddler's Spiritual Development

We love God with our complete selves: heart, mind, and soul...and we love our babies the same way!  It's never too early to begin investing in your child's spiritual development, here's 5 simple ways to help your very young child develop a solid understanding of their loving creator.  

#1 Invest in yourself.

Mamas, seriously.  I get it.  Some days if I have fed my kids 3 meals and give them a bath I am doing a victory dance down the hallway after putting them in bed.  In the chaos of raising toddlers, you get to choose what is non-negotiable (and it's a short list).  

Developing a deeper connection with God doesn't have to be a lofty or impossible goal.  The benefits of even a small investment of time and focus on your own spiritual journey could surprise you as you see it instill a sense of joy and peace in your day, soften your temper with your little loves, and change your heart toward your marriage.  It's the best investment you could make in your life let alone your family's lives. Your kids primary understanding of God and what following Him looks like may come from you, so don't be ashamed to take time to be the woman you want to be.

Spiritual fuel for busy moms: 
  • Give God 3042, or 90 days to show you how walking with Him daily can transform your journey of motherhood. 
  • Listen to Christian Music in the car to keep you sane and positive, and even spark moments of spontaneous worship or prayer.    
  • Install a devotional app (or two...or an entire Bible) on your phone and when you have that rare free moment, take the chance to read something inspirational.  
  • Think of some of the negative things that you were surrounded by in your home as a child (body image confusion, addiction, affairs, divorce, anger...) You have been given the amazing opportunity to introduce your kids to God in your own (still imperfect) environment.  Consider counseling or Breaking Free if there are bad habits or attitudes whose cycle you want to break.
  • Watch John Ortberg's "A Jesus Way of Life" (while folding laundry, or whatever) and move your mindset from "big time commitment" to "intuitive relationship". 
#2 Make prayer normal.

We make a BIG effort in our house to have prayer be authentic and not ritualistic.  Prayer is part of an open ended conversation with God, knowing He is always close and always listening. For example, here's a sunset from our walk the other evening.  We responded to the beauty with a simple prayer: "Wow!  Look at that sunset!  God is such an amazing artist.  He put those colors together just so we could enjoy them and to remind us that He is here with us even on our walk.  Thank you God, for this beautiful sunset!" 

I try to make prayer super normal, and part of every day.  I pray aloud and let my kiddos hear how I talk to God- whether it's a thought of praise, a plea for a friend, or even when I have to apologize for losing my temper.  Modeling repentance and making sincere apologies to our children when warranted is priceless, it's the best possible way to demonstrate the value of a humble heart, what "sorry" looks like in the real world, and live authentically together.  

Just before bedtime, my daughter LOVES her "Prayer Sticks".  They are simple little prayer prompts.  On one side I write: Please, Thank You, or Wow (Stolen from Anne Lamott).  On the other side I write a little prompt.  For example "Thank You" on one side and on the flip side "...for one of my favorite things".  My daughter pulled that stick tonight.  My husband read it aloud and shared one of his favorite things and then modeled a one line thank you prayer.  She said her favorite thing was her toys, so she prayed "Thank you God for my toys". 

Some Prayer Stick Ideas: 
  • Thank You: For a favorite thing, for my family, for a friend, for something I am excited about, for a food I like, for something that happened today, for someone that was kind to me, etc.
  • Please: Help someone I care about, help me learn new things, give my friends sweet dreams, etc.
  • Wow: God, you make beautiful things! God loves me so much! etc.
#3 Make truth a part of everyday.

Try to integrate truth and wisdom throughout the day, being careful not to isolate God to Bible reading time.  You might remind your child that God designed us to need rest at nap time or when noticing a squirrel eating on a walk you might remember that God is the one who makes sure that even the animals have enough food.

When you are reading Bible stories to your kiddos, connect the story or the verse to real life.  Use it as an opportunity to learn something about God or about yourself in every encounter, not just a fun fairy tale or point of knowledge.  There are two REALLY good children's Bibles that basically do all of the hard work around thinking that through for you: The Story for Little Ones is perfect for toddlers (My daughter enjoyed it even at 18 months old) and The Jesus Storybook Bible is beautifully written and illustrated for the 4+ crowd.

Of course my kid's favorite Bible that they BEG to "read" is an app for tablets and phones.  Really fun way to engage their imaginations and a great alternative to other computer games (keeping screen time in moderation, of course).

Kid's (and moms) also love music!  Worship music has a lot of truth and peace to offer.  Make a great Pandora station for the afternoons and take time to sing God's love as lullabies at night.  Your child may memorize a song like "Jesus Loves Me" long before they can memorize a Bible verse.  Even if you aren't the best singer, the words and melody can soothe their tiny souls.

More favorite books for introducing little ones to God and the Bible:

#4 Community is SO important.

I knooooooow it's tough to get out of the house, someone is always too sick to go in to the nursery and family time on the weekends (or anytime) is SO precious.  Going to church is a big deal, though.  The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation.  If you don't make going to church a priority, it's less likely that your kids will be excited about the habit as they get older.  You need more people pouring spiritual truth, life, and perspective into your kids than just you.  And YOU need the re-charge too!  If your church is not a place that you can connect with God in worship, be encouraged, challenged, and serve as a family it may be worth your time to find a healthy community that is the right fit.  

Consider finding a local MOPs, BSF or other women's Bible Study with child care.  Especially if you are taking on the role of spiritual mentor in your home with little support, you need a loving "village" for yourself and your kiddos.  You'll get the chance to have a morning with adult conversation, spiritual enrichment, and hopefully make a few friends that are good for the soul.

#5 Don't overspiritualize or idealize "spirituality".

Give yourself a little credit, girl.  You are already laying a foundation for your child's future relationship with God. Are you teaching your toddler about waiting and patience?  Are you helping your child think through the effects of their actions and make good choices? Are you taking opportunities to show your child how to be kind to others?  Do you model "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you"?  Are integrity, priorities, and character important in your family?  These are all things that will benefit your child in their future life journey with God (and lessons we all need to revisit from time to time).

It's beautiful, and a gift of a calling to be able to invest in our sweet babies spiritual foundation.  Just remember, it's our job to love, teach, model, and nurture but it's God who will ultimately capture their hearts.  They have a choice, He has a plan, and we have less control than we wish we did.  Once we train our loves, we eventually have to let go and entrust their hearts to God.

I don't teach my two year old her ABCs as a way of putting pressure on her to attend an ivy league college, and in the same way I don't pray with my kids so that they will grow up to go to seminary.  I am simply building spiritual capability the same way I invest in their academic capability. I can honestly say I will FOREVER-ever-ever love my babies no matter what.  It's important to me that they know that my love for them is not contingent on their love for Jesus.  It's unconditional, baby.  Full of grace, forgiveness, love, and tons of prayer. 

Can I pray for you?  Just for a quick moment?

God, from heaven you are looking down on us mamas.  You entrusted these beautiful, eternal souls to our care.  We love them, we love you.  God speak to us your truth. Help us to walk confidently and bravely as we try tirelessly and imperfectly to show our kids how AWESOME you are.  Come into our messy houses.  Show US your awesomeness.  As our sweet babies grow older do not ever ever stop pursuing their hearts, we know your love is steadfast and powerful.  We want your love to overtake us and give us strength for this day, and to help us not to worry about tomorrow.  Teach us the security of surrender and the peace of trust.  Help us to be the mother, the wife, the woman you designed us to be so that we can have the joy of living in full freedom.  Amen.

LOVE YOU, MAMAS!  My prayers are with you.

BONUS: More Great Parent Resources to Check Out

Do you have other favorite resources, activities or tips?  Share them in the comments!