I put my six-year-old son to bed the other night and reminded him to say his prayers. ten or fifteen minutes later he came down with a huge smile on his face, he wanted to call his mom and tell her something (his mother and I are not married anymore). It was too late so he went back to bed. First thing the next morning he came directly downstairs and called his mother to tell her about the feeling he had when he was praying. He explained to her, and later me, that he had this amazing feeling when he was praying and could not stop smiling about it. Watching this experience–like so many I have had as a parent– was like looking into a mirror reflecting myself at his age.
Of course this experience raises so many questions for me, and for perhaps should raise this questions for all Christians: How do we explain the witness of the Spirit to a child.
I actually do not have a good answer– a satisfactory explanation of spiritual experience like this is perhaps the biggest question I have in life. I know there are all kinds, including those that do not involve belief in God, but my son deserves one. And he deserves one in language he can understand. I reject many aspects of the explanation he is routinely given at LDS church, and I am not satisfied with what I did tell them. So I put it to anyone who reads this–how would you explain this experience to my son, if he was yours?
I would tell him that it is wonderful that he had good feelings when he prayed to God.
I would also explain to him that God is always there for him and listens to him even when he doesn’t have those good feelings. Even when he might be very sad or upset about something.
I wouldn’t try to explain anything. I would express my happiness at his feelings, and tell him that God is always happy when we come to Him in prayer.
I do believe that we owe it to our children to teach them the ways of God, and about the Christian faith.
Our feelings are quite low on the scale when it comes to our faith.
This mp3 audio is good (not for children) in that it shows us how, experience and emotions are not necessary, and how they can often be harmful when it comes to our Christian faith:
[audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/faith.mp3" /]
Give it 5 or 10 min. if you can.
Sorry, oldadam, but I disagree with you. Completely…
You only have to say it once…you only have to say it once (is there an echo in here?) 😀
No problem, Lisa.
I much prefer clarity (of thought and ideas) to agreement.
I would be encouraging. I would also tell him to pay attention to that feeling and try to understand when or where he has those feelings in future experiences. He should always reflect on those experiences and contrast them to what he knows to be true and discern if he made himself feel that way or if he was made to feel that way by someone else.
No, Oldadam, I’m having trouble with my computer. It posted twice by accident.
If someone can’t be bothered to write it down, I can’t be bothered to listen to it.
Jared, I guess, because of what happened to me in my life, growing up RLDS, getting Born again, and then ending up totally unhappy and disillusioned–I am taking a more hands off approach with my daughter. I think all the answers that have been put forward here are good- all have merit. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m not as concerned as you are about my daughter’s spiritual development at this point. I don’t want to go into explanations of this sort of thing, because I’ve seen how the idea of ” listening for the Spirit” can be abused by BOTH Evangelical and RLDS. In general, I have come to the decision that my daughter should be told to trust no man for her salvation, whether that man be Joseph Smith OR John Calvin. I will tell her that the Bible is the most reliable guide we have as to the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. BUT, all too often, I have seen where it is not really what “The Bible” says, it is what the Evangelical pastor who is leading that particular church says it says. That’s why I have purposefully arranged for my daughter to spend her formative years learning about the Bible in an Episcopal school, one that is not so “hardline.” I have some other comments as well, but they are more pertinent on your other thread.
I agree, I think that sort of experience should be encouraged, but the problem is that if it is anchored to a particular theology (something he has no clue about now) that it could cause problems. I am struggling with the link between the experience and the intellectual interpretation.
He is going to meet plenty of people who are not LDS (like his Dad) and he should be open to the truth that they feel that too. I also don’t want him to feel rejected because he found that feeling in a Mormon context. He already has a strong distrust of non-Mormon influences.
I like the idea of educating children with a less rigid belief system–one that links the feeling to certain propositions–but its hard to draw the line when my belief system is even less rigid.
I think this sort of explanation or advice falls flat with a child. The fact of the feeling is truth to him. It was in his mind and body, the smile was real. He was moved. Even if he “made himself feel” a certain way, how did he do it unless it was a part of the act of prayer.
The problem is, whatever proposition I give him could be supported by the experience. (e.g. “that’s Jesus talking to you,” “that is the light of Christ that god put in you” .
What is the difference between making yourself feel a certain way and making yourself believe?
Is this an “answer to prayer”? What kind of answer is it? What should I tell him it means?
I’d say that for a 6-year-old the best thing you can do is simply acknowledge his/her feelings, or maybe say that you glad he/she is happy. I don’t see much of a need to get analytical about why at this point in life.
I agree, I suppose I don’t think we need to get too analytical at any point in life. I am clearly more curious than he is about what is going on in him- he didn’t ask me what happened, he told me.
But I recognize that whatever explanation he attaches will become integral part of the experience and how it will affect his life and thinking in the future. I’d like to be able so say something other than, “that’s great”