The following is a transcript of the audio. Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome to Risen Motherhood. I’m Emily Jensen here, with my sister-in-law, Laura Wifler. Last time we talked about postpartum body image and today we are going to tackle gospel instruction for our children.
I know that this was something I didn’t start to think about that much until I got a little bit closer to the toddler age but certainly it is an important topic and it’s something that feels really overwhelming and scary to jump into. We already don’t know enough about breastfeeding and nap routines; all those things and then you get this huge thing of, “Oh, and you need to pass on your entire faith to your child,” What does that look like?
Laura: There was this transition point when my son turned, maybe 12 months or 18 months, somewhere in there where I could get what I needed in books. It’s very practical, it’s very tangible, it’s easy to know how to give him the right food or choose the right formula. It’s scientific in a way and easy - well - not easy, but you know what I mean. But then you get to raising their hearts and it definitely changes, and that is really daunting especially as a first-time mom.
Emily: I was already thinking ahead and was overestimating what my toddler could do. Because with your oldest child, your expectations are so high for them. I was looking to moms who had maybe five-year olds or ten-year olds and looking at what they were doing with their kids and thinking, “I need to be doing that type of stuff with my toddler.” And what I found was that those things didn’t work and then I would quit because they can’t sit down and listen to a 15-minute story. They can’t do question and answer and comprehend, so it’s a different ball game when you first get started.
Laura: Yeah, and when I started disciplining, I remember feeling super nervous about it. It was hard enough at home, in the privacy of our own house where no one could hear me, except my toddler - who didn’t know I messed up and I would stumble over words. I was like, “Uh, Jesus - don’t do that - uh, Bible,” just dropping in my words.
I knew that there was a better way, and I had seen other people do it, but in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to gather your thoughts and be able to say something that, again, is age appropriate and also impactful for the future. Like you said, you’re reading these books and these people have done this for years, or they’ve had multiple children to practice on, or it's a lot easier to write or to say casually than it is in the moment or say when you’re in public. I know in public it’s always like "Uh, ah, oh." It’s scary so it’s a hard thing.
Emily: The first time when I tried to do formal instruction in faith with my oldest, I went online and found these Bible lessons and I printed off. They were probably 15, 20-minute lessons; they had a craft, a song. I did it one time and then I was like, “I’m never doing that again.” [laughter]
It was fun and I think he liked it, but it was unsustainable and I think those are the types of things that can keep us from doing anything. I’m an idealist and I get this awesome vision in my mind of what I want something to be, and then when it doesn’t live up to that, I tend to do nothing. I think there’s an element of just do something; get started and just go somewhere.
Laura: Even though it is super scary and it’s really difficult, Biblically, we have instruction and a charge, as parents or mothers, to raise our children up and to write these things on their hearts; to teach them about the Lord. We are the number one people that will have an impact on our children for eternity, and so that responsibility falls to us and particularly with the mom, as she often spends the majority of time home, with the kids.
Emily: Like you said, there’s definitely room for both but as a mom, there is that nurturing element. Even looking at the things we are supposed to teach them, passing along the gospel message to them, helping them to see their sin and the way that they break the law and that they need Jesus. Helping them see the difference between wisdom and foolishness, which is sometimes a little bit different than sin, and also giving them moral instruction like, “Hey, in our culture, these are some things that you need to do-”
Laura: Social norms.
Emily: Yes, in order to fit in, at least get to know somebody. You’re going to have to be able to do these basic manners or no one is ever going to talk to you. [laughter]
Laura: Exactly, there is that charge. Scary as it is, we want to talk a little bit today about ways that we weave the gospel in. Emily and I, and I know that we’ve said this probably in every episode, but we want to be very upfront to say that we are learning; we are growing in this. This isn’t like, “Oh, we do this all the time and it comes out so perfectly.” Hear us when we say we stumble over our words all the time. Half the time, I’m really grateful it's the two-year old listening to me because what I say would make no sense to an adult. But we’re trying and that’s the thing: you get better with practice. That’s a thing to remember is that you’re going to start out and it feels sort of uncomfortable-
Emily: It’s awkward.
Laura: Awkward, yes, and I can attest that as someone who now has a two and a half-year old, it has gotten easier as I’ve studied it and practiced it, and just forced myself to bulldoze through those feelings. It’s flowing easier - but again, we are not perfect at this.
Emily: Yes and it’s helped to be in community for me and listening to other moms and how they do it. Laura’s cousin, and I go to church with her; she is so natural and will bring in really good Biblical scriptures. When I hear her talk, sometimes I will go back home and write down what she said and think, “That was so good. I want to remember to say that to my child.”
Be listening too when you are around other moms that you think are doing it well. Hear the words that they are saying and definitely take this to heart. I think there’s a couple of different types of gospel instruction we’re going to talk about: formal and informal. Formal would be what you sit down and teach them, like Bible verses and catechisms, doctrines. It’s almost like a-
Emily: A class, yes.
Laura: Intentional teaching. Very intentional, set aside time, for investing in the gospel with your kids.
Emily: Then the informal is the things that we do every day. Our life as an example to our children; how we’re loving them and are we modeling Christ and the character of God? What we’re saying to them in the car while we’re driving, and the way that we respond when something doesn’t go our way; they’re watching that and we can be talking to them.
That’s more like discipleship; informally passing the gospel, bringing your kids along with you and saying, “Do as I do. This is how you walk the faith, this is how you live the Christian life,” and that’s something that we should be doing all the time, no matter what.
Laura: Yeah, as moms, we need to do both types of things. As for the informal stuff, I’ll be super honest: I remember hearing some moms say, “Oh, look at that rock. Isn’t that cool that God made rocks so big and strong?” I remember feeling really awkward about that and like it was forced or contrived.
Honestly, again, as I practiced it more and talked with my son, it is really cool to see him say, “Mom, tell God to make it stop raining.” It’s cool to see that he’s getting that and at such a young age. As you weave those things in, as uncomfortable as it can feel, it does get easier. When you start seeing some of those things, that truth coming out of your kid’s heart, it’s really gratifying.
Emily: Yes, it is so encouraging. Also, as you become more fluent in the gospel yourself, you’re able to communicate more naturally to your child. I have found that this whole area has made me a little uncomfortable, and also challenged me to grow in my relationship with God; to be practicing and growing my own understanding of what scripture says and what the gospel says.
As I have a fuller knowledge and a better understanding, I’m able to pour these things out and that’s why it’s so, so important. It’s important because going back to our self-care talk, that we are filling ourselves up with the right things and relying on the Lord and getting to know Him better because without that, we don’t have much to share.
Laura: What goes in must come out. I always hear people say garbage in, garbage out [laughter] but I suppose it’s the opposite of that so gospel in, gospel out.
Emily: Great. So, let’s get practical here.
Laura: You want to share your stuff first? Just to clarify too, Emily and I do a lot of the same things so we decided on a, “You touch on this, I’ll touch on this,” type of thing.
Emily: Because we do have, like you said, a big overlap. I have a three-year old, two two-year olds and an infant right now. I have this little box that is next to our kitchen table. I pull it out in the morning and in this box are a few materials in it that I don’t have to prep for; they are there every day and the first thing we do is we sing the little song with Bible Truth and this is literally a toddler’s song. I got a lot of these ideas from Cedarmont Kids. We’ll have some of these resources that we are mentioning in the show notes, so no worries if you don’t catch everything. I just sing a little song, even "Jesus Loves Me," that type of song.
Laura: Oh, yes, "My God Is So Big," any of those easy ones.
Emily: But things that have Biblical truth. Then we go through a new verse for the week. Our church goes though the Desiring God Foundation verses and so I’m talking like a small, short verse.
Laura: Genesis 1:1.
Emily: Yes, I just share it and then I give a brief basic explanation and we do that every day for a whole week. Then we go through some vocabulary words - my whole point in that is just to give them a foundation of understanding. If I’m using words like "forgive" and "pray" and "love," if they don’t know what those things mean, that’s going to be difficult for them to understand anything I’m saying. So I try to give them that foundation of understanding.
Then we also go through one page of a ten-point gospel and that’s another resource available from Desiring God. I literally just made it into a basic book and every day, we do a different page and talk about the gospel. My goal is that by the time they are, let’s say five years old, they have that memorized. When we say the gospel, they’ll know what we are talking about.
Laura: You do that over breakfast each morning?
Emily: Yes, so I have found they must have food in their mouths and be contained in a church. At the ages our kids are at, I definitely have tried to do it at other times of the day. I was like, “Okay, let’s all sit down and listen,” but that just doesn’t work; they go a million places, so breakfast works for our family.
Laura: It’s important to remember too that, with all of our kids, they are talking in between it. They are like in La La Land, they’re throwing food.
Emily: Climbing onto the table.
Laura: It’s chaos.
Emily: It seems like no one is listening. Some days, it goes really well and we go for 10 minutes and other days I do it for literally two minutes, but it’s just the habit of pulling it out every single day, or every other day.
Laura: I don’t do everything you’ve listed but good aspiration for me! But alongside that, another great thing to work on with kids is catechisms. At two years old, my son is a huge sponge. We all know how quickly these little kids learn ABCs, a song or whatever, and so we use New City Catechisms; it’s an app that you can download on your iPad. I work on the first five with my son and we keep repeating those over and over. It’s not like I’m planning on having him learn all of them - there are a lot.
At this point, it’s just great to get a couple of simple truths in him like, "Who made you? Why did God make you?" some of those simple truths in his heart. It was really cool when he called his aunt and he told her that he loved and that God made her. He said, “God made you to glorify Him,” or something like that for her birthday. [laughter] It was so cool. It’s just a catechism coming out but it’s really neat.
We do catechisms, scripture memories, some of those short verses; the same Desiring God stuff that Emily was talking about, which we will link to in the show notes. In addition, just playing Christian music in the background too. I know, one time Taylor Swift was playing in the car and Eli came out singing "Shake It Off" - not a big deal, but it was amazing because he heard that song ONE time and was singing the chorus.
Some great songs or CDs that we like are Songs for Saplings, Rain for Roots, like Emily said, Cedarmont Kids. Playing those, maybe during crib time or-
Emily: Or just play time in the background.
Laura: Rain for Roots and Songs for Saplings, they won’t hurt your brain as a parent.
Emily: They’re a little softer.
Laura: Cedarmont Kids is a little bit more, “Aaah.” [laughter]
Emily: I cannot listen to this any longer. But the kids love it.
Laura: Yes, the kids love it and so the Christian radio, or whatever you have in your area, but those are some big things. We also read the Bible together as a family before bed. We like the "Jesus Storybook Bible" and "The Big Picture Bible." We will link to it. It’s a great toddler Bible. It’s really good for that two, three-year old age and it’s a little shorter and has bigger pictures and so that is our great Bible too.
We just read one story a night and we talk about it. I remember too when he was a little younger, we would even ad-lib much of it because they don’t even have that attention for three sentences so we would just talk, “Oh, look, there’s Joseph,” and just be casual about it and get that truth into him.
Emily: I think the main thing is finding what works for your family and knowing that it doesn’t have to look like what we said and it doesn’t have to look like your friends. I had to let that go because bedtime at our house is lots of crying and screaming and things, so we literally just pray for our kids before bed and put them to bed. We cannot do a story at our house and that’s okay. I think I had to let that go and say, “It can look different for everyone.”
The point is that you’re just planting seeds over time. It’s not like these big events in your children’s lives that are going to change them or impact them. It’s little things that you do every single day over a really long period of time.
Laura: Start small. Start with playing music in the background. Don’t feel like, “Oh, they’re doing these 15 things and I need to do all of them.” Again, this is years of build up and we want to keep adding and we’re subtracting, depending on life circumstances, or new babies in the family, and things. But just start with one thing and then continue to build off of that. Don’t feel overwhelmed. I know how easy it is to feel overwhelmed - we’re not even going to talk about discipline today. That’s a whole other nutshell to be discussed. Maybe that will be a future show at some point.
Emily: There are so many things I could talk about. I feel like this is a huge topic but hopefully, we just glazed through the surface today and again, go check out show notes. We are going to pack as many resources in there as we possibly can. Share this with a mom that you think might benefit from this that maybe is even on the cusp of trying to figure out what to do here.
Laura: Yes, you guys talk together with each other and challenge each other to say, “Let’s start family quiet times or scripture memory,” whatever that may be.
Emily: Yes and then also, don’t forget that you can find more information on our blogs, oaklandavenueblog.com, emilyjensenwrites.com or on Twitter or Facebook and also subscribe and leave a review. Next time, we’re going to try to cover another huge topic: marriage and motherhood and all of those things.
Laura: Again, grazing the surface.
Emily: Yes, grazing the surface of everything, [laughter] We’re just skimming over topics. Thank you guys for joining us and we’ll see you back next time.
Laura: We’ll see you next time. Bye guys.