Years ago, I watched as my daughter careened down the hill on her bike, going too fast and not stable enough to remain upright. As she crashed to the ground I felt the urge to look away. Bare skin meeting pavement is always painful—especially when you’re 6 years old. Tears welled as the blood rolled down her leg. I picked her up and cradled her in my arms.
Between sobs and hiccups, she looked up at me with distrust brewing and said, “Mommy, why didn’t God protect me? Doesn’t he know everything? Can’t he do anything? Couldn’t he have kept me from falling?”
It was 3 p.m. on a sunny afternoon and all of the sudden I struggled to explain the problem of evil, the truth of God’s sovereignty, and the question of God’s goodness. We never know the circumstantial classrooms the Lord will provide us to teach biblical truths to our children—it could be skinned knees, broken hearts, or monsters under the bed in the middle of the night. Regardless of what we think about ourselves as theologians, every mom is teaching her child about God every day.
The question isn’t whether or not we’ll have the opportunities to teach our children. The question is: How do we prepare our minds to answer difficult theological questions when they arise? Even if you’ve never spent a day in a seminary classroom, you’re the seminary professor in your home. As parents, we lay the foundation—through both our words and actions—for our children’s understanding of Christianity. How can we faithfully teach profound truths in simple ways?
Love the Lord
Before Moses instructed the Israelites to teach their children about God, he gave them this command: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Our affection, delight, and devotion are to be focused fully on God. (Even though as parents it’s always tempting to pour out all that affection on our children.) We’re to love him, pursue him, seek him with everything that’s in us.
And, how do we do that? Moses told them in the next verse: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deut. 6:6). We can’t faithfully teach our children what isn’t true of ourselves. God’s Word in our heart prepares us to share Jesus with our children. Read his Word, study his Word with others, listen to sermons—do whatever you can do to get God’s Word in your mind, so it can grow affection for the Lord in your heart. If we want his truth to be on the tip of our tongues, we need his Word implanted in our minds.
And, let me encourage you—you don’t have to enroll in seminary to study God’s Word. Over time, reading the Bible will grow your understanding and insight. Start today. Even in the busyness of motherhood, give yourself 20 minutes a day to read the Bible. You can do it, I promise! Put down your phone, turn off Netflix, leave the dishes in the sink, and drink in some true refreshment for your soul.
Another way to grow in theological understanding is to read theologically rich books. It’s even better if you can discuss difficult topics with others. The book that helped me in the particular dilemma my daughter was facing was Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper and Justin Taylor. I studied this book with a group of girlfriends, and we wrestled together with the problem of evil. Learning from the wisdom of others helped me answer my daughter as she thought through these same theological struggles from the perspective of a 6-year old. If you’re looking for a book to help you grow in theological understanding, J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology is a great place to begin.
One thing I’ve learned from being married to a professor who is also a pastor is how much he enjoys helping others think through their theological struggles (that’s why he went to school for so long!). People from our church regularly call him or email him to ask him how to think about a particular topic. Even teenagers have called him to ask their theological questions. He’s glad to help them.
When your child (or teen) is asking you questions, and you’re not sure how to answer them, it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure, let’s ask Pastor Joe.” Doing so helps our children realize that having doubts or questions is normal. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we can help lead our children to the best people to help them with their questions.
Lay Early Foundations
As my daughter sat in my lap that day, I reminded her of the story of Adam and Eve and how sin entered the world. We talked about how God made everything good, but now it’s broken because of sin—things don’t work like they should, and pain is part of our world. We also talked about how Jesus came to fix all the broken things, including our sinful hearts. And that one day, he’ll take us to a new heaven and a new earth where there’s no more pain, no more tears, and no more skinned knees. We may not know why he doesn’t always rescue us here, but we can trust that he has a rescue plan coming.
That small conversation was the result of years we’d spent reading Bible stories together. She already knew about Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden. She knew about Jesus. From her catechism, she knew that God sees all things and knows all things and that “God can do all his holy will.” The small ways we teach our children in song, story, and Scripture memory prepare us (and them) to apply theology in reality of their lives. Teaching proactively provides the foundation so we can “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7)
At the beginning of the 19th century, Pastor John James preached these words on the importance of motherhood: “All should realize the sublime idea that their houses are the schools for eternity; their children the scholars; themselves the teachers; and evangelical religion the lesson.”
I’ve never needed theology more than in the season of motherhood. We have eternal truths to teach eternal souls—may we be women who read, women who learn, and women who love God with all our heart, soul, and strength.