I knew before our oldest was born I wanted to use a catechism to teach our children the doctrines of the Christian faith. My husband and I didn’t grow up in churches that used a formal catechism, but years of involvement in children’s ministries, coupled with a growing affection for church history, convinced us our children would benefit from memorizing theological truth.
We started using a catechism in our home when our oldest daughter was 2 years old. I’ve loved watching our young children grow to know the catechism, especially with the addition of The New City Catechism to our morning routine. What I couldn’t foresee was how God would use our daily catechism times to meet the needs of my own heart.
Igniting the Fire
One Monday morning found me curled up at the foot of the bed after another night of parenting four sick kids younger than 7. No amount of sleep could satisfy my bone-tired exhaustion. As I attempted to glance at a psalm in the gray winter light, my efforts were thwarted—again—by the stirring baby. I can’t do another day of this, I whimpered.
Suddenly, the first question of The New City Catechism blazed through my mind: “What is our only hope in life and death?”
My weary mind sang back without skipping a beat: “That we are not our own, but belong to God.”
In that moment, the brilliance of God’s truth eclipsed my gloom: My life is not my own. I’m here to be poured out for the lives of these children. And yet I also belong to God. He has given me this role, and he will sustain me in it. His power will be showcased in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
When you teach a catechism, Kathy Keller explains, you are “laying the kindling and logs in the fireplace, so that when the spark of the Holy Spirit ignites your child’s heart, there will be a steady, mature blaze.” My Monday-morning experience showed me that memorizing The New City Catechism was meeting three important needs.
1. Rich Theology
If I’m to parent my young children faithfully, I must be grounded in the truths of Scripture. The cotton-candy fluff of sentimental statements can’t sustain me when I’m tempted to indulge in self-pity or succumb to fear. By memorizing the catechism I repeatedly sink my teeth into simple, soul-satisfying theology:
- When I’m tempted to chase after lesser things, I need the answer to Question 13: “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator.”
- When accusations come, I need the answer to Question 25: “Because Christ’s death on the cross fully paid the penalty for our sin, God will remember our sins no more.”
- When my circumstances seem overwhelming, I need the answer to Question 51: “Christ is now advocating for us in the presence of his Father and also sends us his Spirit.”
Since these truths are embedded through memorization, the Holy Spirit can bring them to my mind and apply them to my heart.
2. Daily Devotional Habit
As a mother of young kids, maintaining a regular devotional habit is a struggle. My inability to find consistent, uninterrupted time leaves me walking a tightrope between resentment and guilt. But by memorizing the catechism with my children, God allows me to meditate on his truth throughout the day. We review questions and answers at breakfast. We sing our favorites in the van while running errands. I read The New City Catechism Devotional during nap time. The songs become part of my bedtime lullaby routine with the baby. A devotional discipline doesn’t have to be confined to a specific time; it can be laced throughout the day. This is an amazing grace during this season of parenting.
3. Deep Engagement with My Children
Even though my children are young, I desire for them to know “what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18–19). I also want them to be familiar with the men and women of faith who plumbed these depths, even when the chasm between diaper changes and John Calvin feels impassable.
As we memorize the catechism together, we have a common starting point from which to discuss theology and those who wrote it. When my daughter bursts out with the answer to Question 5 (“God created all things and all his creation was very good!”), I can help her connect that truth to Calvin’s words: “Did you know there was a man named John Calvin who said we can see God’s glory glittering in every created thing? And that our world is like a theater for the glory of God?” I’m equipped with language that can enrich our conversations as we talk about what matters most.
Inscribed on Hearts
It’s my prayer God would use The New City Catechism to lead our children to love him with all of their hearts, souls, minds, and might (Deut. 6:5). I also rejoice that God has used the catechism to provide for my own heart in unexpected ways.
May his Holy Spirit keep kindling in place, and the flame brightly burning.