Megan Cottam reflects on the ways young children naturally witness to the faith.
“Why do you bother bringing your kids to Mass? Isn’t it a hassle?”
“Religious concepts are for older folks. Little kids are too young to understand.”
Any of this sound familiar? For us moms with small kiddos, it can be daunting to handle the rejection that comes at us when we are doing our best to raise our children in the faith.
As someone who works with children in the Church, I have had to tackle this question: “When is the best time to share the faith with our children? At what age should we start faith formation?”
My own children taught me the answer: Today!
At age two and a half, my daughter Jackie was my trusted sidekick at my parish job. The parish affectionately titled her the Christian Formation Secretary and my pastor would joke that her presence made staff behave better.
Each day, we’d lug the play toys and snacks that would entertain her so I could have a productive day of work. On one of these parking lot journeys juggling what seemed like half-a-house-worth of toddler junk, my little one got away from me.
“Stay by Mommy! We need to go!” I called as Jackie listened about as well as Adam and Eve. She was bee-lining it to the grotto, and the next thing I knew, was kneeling in front of the Our Lady of Lourdes statue, head down in a perfect prayer pose.
By the time I caught up, Jackie looked at me with bright eyes, smiling, and explained “Sorry, Mommy, but I had to say hi to Mama Mary! Now we go to work!”
It’s hard to be mad at a 2-year old for that.
This became a tradition: each day we crossed the parking lot, she would habitually pause, kneel, say hi, and continue along her day. I was worried about time, my task list, or catching someone while they were on campus. Most days, the grotto blended into my surroundings, unnoticed. Jackie should have perhaps been given a promotion in the Christian Formation Office!
In Mark's Gospel, we hear these words:
People were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." (Mark 10: 13-16)
This passage yields many surface reflections on childhood. “The Kingdom belongs to kids because they are cute and innocent.” That is not actually our theology and thank God! The Kingdom belongs to all of us mess-ups too! So, what is it about children that we should imitate? What do we need to do to “accept the kingdom of God like a child?” Children actively model discipleship for us in three important ways.
Awe and Wonder:
One of the struggles of parenthood is the speed of life. We see with a worldly vision, running through the tasks of the day, and ignoring the grace of the kingdom that abounds. Children stop and gaze. Whether at a flower, a new skill, or an exciting person coming to visit, their enthusiasm and singular-focus points us towards a kingdom vision.
Dependency and Trust:
Children are not afraid to be vulnerable. They speak their needs without shame. “Mommy, I need you!” may seem exhausting when it is said for the 100th time before you’ve finished your morning coffee, but imagine how different life would look if we could learn to do this to our Lord? “Lord, I need you!” spoken without shame, is the path to liberation.
Creativity and Hope:
Have you ever thought something was impossible until you watched your child do it? Perhaps it was defying gravity in terrifying ways (shout out to boy moms!) or finding joy in a rainy-day indoor picnic, but our children habitually see the possibilities and solutions when we only see the setbacks and risks. Adopting their imaginative spirit can broaden adventure in our lives.
Our children teach us the ways of the Kingdom from the very first breath of their lives. They are born innately spiritual beings, and their revelations are profound. The time to teach the faith to your child is from the moment they witness the faith to you. Together, in relationship, there is a mutual deepening and growth of our spiritual lives.
I invite you pause in your breakneck pace of doing-all-the-things this week and thank God for your children’s active witness to you in your life. May we have eyes that see!
Copyright 2022 Megan Cottam
Images: Canva; black-and-white photo copyright 2022 Megan Cottam, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Megan Cottam, Lay Ecclesial Minister in the Diocese of Richmond, has focused her ministry on early childhood formation (0-5), parent and family agency, and the sacramental life in the domestic church. Wife to Deacon Steven and mom to two wonderful young children, she is learning how to live out her faith at home with each daily opportunity for grace!