During a recent baptism service, my 5-year-old had a difficult time keeping still and staying quiet. At one point, when her 7-year-old sister poked her, she said, “Stop touching me.” I hoped nobody heard the commotion. I scolded both of them and then re-trained my focus on the pastor and the baptismal.
It isn’t easy sitting in church with little ones. Our church usually has a place for the children during service, but during baptism services all the workers from the nursery and children’t ministries are invited into the room to help celebrate. This leaves parents to watch their own children. Normally that’s not a problem for me; usually I’m happy to have my children sit next to me, or on my lap, during a church service.
But my 5-year-old girl has an extra amount of wiggliness. She doesn’t always remember to use her quiet voice, and she is generally impatient. “When is it going to be over,” if asked by this daughter more than I recall the same question being asked by my other children when they were her age.
Just when my patience was wearing thin, when my concern that she might be disturbing others in the congregation, she said something that made my heart rejoice. She looked up toward the front of the sanctuary and at the person standing in the baptismal holding a microphone and giving thier testimony. She said, “When I’m bigger I’m going to do that. Everyone in this church does that when their bigger.”
I realize that my daughter has an insufficient understanding of baptism. I know she only understands baptism as standing in front of the church body and saying some words, then going under the water and coming up to applause.
But I also realized something else when she spoke about baptism. It became apparent to me that she is paying attention to more than I know, she is learning more than I give her credit for, she is being shaped and molded by what is happening in the church service. Her wiggles, noises, and impatience are being worked on, but more importantly, her understanding of what it means to be a part of the local body of Christ is being worked on – not by me as much as by the example she sees as she looks around each time we are in church together.
I caught my daughter’s eye during church and winked at her. She smiled and kept singing and clapping. A moment later I caught her eye once again and smiled at her. She smiled back once again. Then, after a few moments, I looked her way and gave her the “I love you” sign with my fingers. She waved back to me. It was a simple exchange, a few moments unnoticed by others, but moments I will remember.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. I should have been paying attention to the songs, to worship, to praise. But trust me when I tell you – I praised with greater fervency and vigor after that brief exchange with my seven year old girl. Let me tell you why.
It wasn’t just her smiling back at me, it wasn’t the fact that she kept looking at me to see if I was looking at her. The moment was precious and lasting because we were both there – a dad and a daughter singing praise to our Savior and enjoying it together. She probably doesn’t realize why I was smiling at her to begin with. I smiled as I saw her reading the words on the screen and joining with the saints in singing. I smiled as she began to clap (a little offbeat) and as her eyes scanned the worship leader, the band, then over to me. My heart soared because there she was – my little girl – singing about the glories of God. My girl was learning to praise her Maker, to sing to Him and about Him in concert with the saints. There is no greater joy for a Christian father than the joy of seeing his children serve their Savior.
Does my little girl understand everything she sings about? Certainly not. But she understands a lot and she is learning more daily. She learns as she watches worshipping adults, as she watches her mother and I, and as she imitates us. By the way, imitation is a powerful tool in the education process. If my daughter wasn’t in the proximity of adults worshipping together, listening to the preached Word together, encouraging and praying for one another, then her education would be stunted.
I smiled at her that morning in church just because she was there. She was there and she was learning, she was learning to worship, learning to praise, learning by watching, learning by doing. Watching her sing praises made my heart soar. I winked at her and she smiled back at me; this tuned my heart to the work of God in the life of my children. He is at work all the time.
From the back seat my 7 year old said, “Dad let’s have a conversation.” I’m not often with one child alone, so this was a unique experience for Naomi – just her and her daddy out on a date. The occasion was her seventh birthday date with dad. I’ve been doing these birthday dates for many years and always try to keep them simple and inexpensive. The main purpose is time alone with one child and the opportunity to engage them in conversation.
Naomi didn’t wait for me to start the conversation, she was ready. “What do you want to talk about,” I said. We talked about the trees we were passing and then about what she was learning in her school work. Nothing profound.
At the frozen yogurt shop she chose chocolate yogurt, with chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, and chocolate sauce. Yep, I took a picture. I didn’t have anything planned after yogurt so we ran an errand. We were enjoying the time together – just being together. These are the best of times, the times with no agenda. The mundane moments of life are the soil which grows the best memories.
I didn’t want our time to end even after the errands, so we found a place to sit together and enjoy a soda (a rare treat for her). Finally, the conversation turned interesting. My 7 year old started asking about God, she said she believed in God even though she couldn’t see Him. She said, “I know why some people don’t believe in God. Because they can’t see Him. But I believe in Him.”
With that as a starting point I was able to share with Naomi. I told her that people have enough knowledge to believe God exists but they suppress that truth (see Romans 1). I told her how God opens the eyes of our hearts to enable us to see what we don’t want to see. I told her that my earnest desire and prayer is for her to know God, not just about God, but to know and be known by God.
Sometimes we need to slow down, to take enough time to let our children start talking, to close our mouths and listen. Once they start talking, God will open up avenues for us to share His truth to the next generation. “Dad, can we have a conversation.” What a blessing to hear those words.