Taking an uninteruppted shower became a luxury after the birth of my first child. I would linger in the bathtub, praising God for a quiet moment before the rocking, the nursing, and the sleeplessness. Motherhood stretches not just our bodies, it stretches our time and capacity, filling them with long days and nights—as well as joy and delight.
Many of us, regardless of our season of motherhood, are hard-pressed for time and energy. Our schedules are filled with homes, husbands, children, churches, jobs, friends, and the constant temptation to stay in-the-know of the hashtags, the trends, and the news. We are busy mothers with full hands. And somehow, amid the juggling of responsibilities, we are to nurture our children in the instruction of the Lord.
The call to obey Ephesians 6:4 can feel like a tall order for the frazzled mom. Children, especially very young ones, don't always give the gratification of their attention (or understanding) and we can be tempted to question the immediate impact of our Bible lessons. A busy mom with full hands might “minimize” scripture for her children, teaching the Bible the way we teach our fairy tales—with a quick and simple “moral of the story” in view.
Whether it’s a children’s storybook Bible, an animated Bible film, or our own interpretation of passages, there is a prevailing temptation to moralize scripture for kids.
Picture the scene: dishes need to be done, dinner needs to be cooked, and I have a phone conference with a church group. My two young daughters, weary of each other's company, insist on their mother’s attention. I’m desperate for an uninterrupted hour so I offer my girls the diversion of a “Bible movie.” They watch and I work; all seems well until I hear these words sounding from the screen: “David was brave in facing Goliath. You need to be brave and God will help you fight your battles too.” I cringe.
Jesus is Better Than Moralism
Now, I'll say here that there's nothing inherently wrong with telling children that David was brave. In truth, he was brave, and God did help him to fight his battle. But of course 1 Samuel 17 is much bigger than a mere lesson on courage. We deny little ones the benefit of glorious truths when we boil these narratives down too thin.
Translating Bible passages into behavior instructions might help kids to prize certain traits and values, but this kind of teaching will miss the intention of the scriptures themselves—which is to testify of Christ. Bible lessons devoid of Jesus might inadvertently present Christianity as some kind of “moralistic deism”—a belief in a god who is primarily interested in good behavior and effort.
Jesus is better than moralism, and thankfully we can find him everywhere in scripture. If so, I want my children to hear narratives like David and Goliath with their eyes on David’s Greater Son, the one who defeats and liberates us from a deadly enemy we could never conquer on our own, sin. That's a much better story to tell!
A Story Every Child in Your Home Needs to Hear
And the gospel is precisely the story every child in our home needs to hear, regardless of their “behavior.” Whether your family is made up of strong-willed youngsters who like to test the waters or sweet-to-the-core obedient types, the news of God’s redemption of sinners through the person and work of Christ suits every temperament.
In my own home, I have the joy of parenting two very different daughters. My eldest is a sweet, sensitive girl who loves to please her parents but is easily frightened and struggles to take risks. If I make the story of David and Goliath about her courage and boldness, her little heart might despair—after all, she hesitates to go down the “Big Slide” at the playground.
My youngest, on the hand, is all about risk and bravery. She's a determined fearless girl who loves to be the hero of her own story. I serve her best by pointing her to the Hero of a better story and making that her vision. Our homes are filled with children of various leanings, the gospel is good news for all and time dedicated to showing Christ (not just good behavior) is time well spent.
The Gospel is Plain Truth for Plain (and Busy) People
But perhaps well-intentioned mamas with busy hands feed “bite sized” moral stories, believing children too young for “big ideas.” If so, please know that my point here is not to argue for some long theological treatise with your preschooler. It’s not the length of our Bible lessons, or the precise words used, that matter most. A plainly stated age-appropriate lesson on David and Goliath can still point to Christ. It is the aim of our teaching, not the structure of it, that counts above all.
Charles Spurgeon writes this in his book, Come Ye Children: “The things that are essential to salvation are so exceedingly simple that no child need sit down in despair of understanding the things which make for his peace. Christ crucified is not a riddle for sages, but a plain truth for plain people: true, it is meat for men, but it is also milk for babes.” Most mothers are eager to feed their children the most nutritious meals they can find. If so, let’s not skim the milk of God’s word but offer it with all its richness.
With language that is understandable to our child, we teach in order to direct them to the Lord who bids little ones to come. This Lord is Lord of all, “bestowing his riches [without distinction] on all who call on him.” This means that, everyone (even fidgety children and with busy moms) can take in the goodness of God’s glorious gospel.
If so, picture another scene: I pause on my dinner and meeting prep. I silence the screen and ask my daughters: “How did someone small like David fight and defeat someone big like Goliath?” They answer: “He was brave because God was with him, he killed Goliath with a slingshot and stones.” I open the Bible and I read 1 Samuel 17:45-47 and then I say this: “Yes, God used someone who looked small and weak to kill a giant enemy so ‘that all the earth may know that there is a God.’ The story of David and Goliath reminds me of Someone else. Jesus dies looking small and weak on the cross but rises, defeating sin and death. Thanks be to God who gives us victory through him.”
Nana Dolce lives in Washington, DC where she and her husband share the joy of parenting two home-schooled daughters. Nana has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies--which comes in handy as an at-home mother! She has the privilege of teaching God’s word to women and children and is thankful to write for ministries like Christianity Today, Christ and Pop Culture, and Modern Reformation Magazine, among others. Find her at motherhoodandsanctity.com.