We’ve been hearing that God loves us since we first learned John 3:16. What does it mean to love God back? More importantly, how do we explain to our children that we really can love the Ultimate Being whom we can’t hear, see, touch or hug? Some Christians will immediately say that loving God means obeying God. But love is more than that. We don’t want our kids to miss out on the fact that God adores them, created them to enjoy Him, and looks forward to spending time with each of them. We want our kids to understand that God’s love is the only power strong enough to seal our happiness on planet earth.
Valentines Day is a perfect time to talk to kids about our love for God. If you’d like your children to think of God as their ultimate valentine—that is a great goal! But that’s not to say such will be easy. Some of the most mature Christians understand the challenges of accepting God’s love—and these have even less to do with God’s silence and invisibility than with established traditions.
“When I was a little girl, I heard ‘God is love’ in my church,” says one Sunday school teacher of 45 years. “At the same time, I heard that if you played cards on Sunday, you could go to Hell. There were altar calls for various wayward people, and sometimes as a teenager, I got ‘nudged in the back’ by well intending parishioners in the pew behind me, who were positive I had done something over the weekend for which I was ‘guilty’ and ‘needed to repent.’ What happened was that my idea of ‘love’ got skewed. I thought a loving God was a grossed-out God, who thought we were all too diseased to get close to. To this day, I find it hard to think that God has any warm and fuzzy feelings toward us.”
We’ve all heard variations of this story. We make jokes about Catholic guilt, scary Protestant archconservatives, and things that happened in the church up the road a generation or two back that can still give us chills. Most of us want to present our kids with a less scary version of God than found in recent generations, yet we also look to provide balance. We want to present God as both loving and lovable, yet we don’t want our kids to believe they can do anything they want and there is no price tag on bad behavior.
The big question is, “How can we get our kids to love and trust God?” Valentine’s Day is about love…it’s about commitment as well as warm and fuzzy feelings toward each other. If kids are going to understand God’s love, they need to understand that he feels for them the same feelings we feel for each other—only tons bigger. Love is fun. Love feels good. Any celebration of love should have God at the top of the list.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, working with the 7-mini challenges below will help you show your kids how to see God as loving, approachable, trustworthy, and kind. The mini-challenges are not difficult and often just include helping your children understand a certain concept concerning God and our love relationship with him. If you follow these, your kids will be much closer to the love relationship that you want between them and their creator:
Mini-Challenge #1: Compare God’s love to parents’ love for your kids.
We call God “our heavenly father,” but we tend to put the emphasis on heavenly, such that the father part is eclipsed. Some of us feel funny comparing the creator of the universe to a real-life, everyday parent. But kids often come to understand the spiritual realm by comparing things in it to things they understand on earth.
Most kids are aware that their parents would throw themselves in front of a train if it meant they could save their child from being hit. Most understand that their parents love them unconditionally, and nothing they do can destroy that love.
Assure your kids that parents’ love is a reflection of God’s love, who has been like that since the beginning. God enjoyed giving men and women hearts that resembled his—and he enjoys the notion that parental love shows kids something about himself. Kids should understand that God doesn’t make mistakes as parents do, and he loves more than parents can.
Mini-Challenge #2: Encourage your kids to trust God with something.
In human relationships, trust is a bonding part of love. It’s impossible to love somebody you don’t trust, and great relationships are built on trust. No less is true with God; if you can’t trust him, it’s pretty hard to love him. When your kids come to you with a problem they can’t solve, simply say to them, “I’ll help you all I can, but let’s bring God into this. I really want you to see how he will work in your life—it’s important to me.” Keep praying for God to help your child and keep reminding your child that you are praying.
Some may say, “What if God doesn’t do anything? What if everything remains the same or even gets worse?” What that shows is that you yourself are having trouble trusting God. The best way to gain trust is to watch him work, so stick with it. Speak to God often about this problem and tell Him that you want your child to see his power and devotion. Really listen for what God might say to you.
To think that God would answer this prayer “no, I’m not helping,” is to assume that he doesn’t care whether your child knows him. While God thinks higher than we think, and while we’re often surprised by God’s moves, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. He deeply wants your kids to experience his blessings.
Mini-Challenge #3: Don’t feel compelled to bring up the crucifixion when talking about God’s love.
When talking about God’s love to kids, resist the temptation to talk about “what he did for sinners,” etc. Bring up Christ’s death on Easter or in a different discussion. Hearing about violence, bloodshed, death and sin in the same conversation with how God is friendly and trustworthy—this can be a stretch for most any kid. When Jesus let the little children come unto him in Matthew 19, he did not say, “Listen: I’ll be shedding my blood on Calvary’s tree in a while and I’m doing this wonderful thing because you are so awful.”
He enjoyed them. He asked his Father to bless them. He told people to behave like them and believe like them if they wanted to get closer to him.
Salvation messages are quite important, one reason being that the Christian faith is full of ironic twists and surprises. The idea that a violent death and resurrection completed “love” is something our kids should get used to at an early age. However, there is a time and a place.
Mini-Challenge #4: Don’t speak about God in clichés.
While we love scripture and some traditions that keep our churches grounded, we should make a concerted effort to switch up our language every so often. Christianity is not about certain words; it is about certain concepts. The words we associate with the concepts over the years can become “cliché,” which in any English class means “used so much that they have ceased to leave an image or impression in people’s minds.” What is true about terms like “cold as ice” and “so mad I could scream” is also true about terms like “sin” and even “prayer.”
In a room of ten people, the word “sin” can leave ten different impressions. One person will say, “It reminds me of my Catholic upbringing, things we did wrong, and having to go to confession to get rid of it all.” Another person will say, “I just remember my childhood pastor swingin’ that ‘s-sound’ out like a hissing snake every five minutes: Sssssssssin!”
The word “prayer” for most children will bring up the image of bowed heads and laced fingers and waiting around to feel something stirring while saying things to a silent being. The word “amen” will indicate the ending of a prayer, but not give kids any hint that it was said emphatically by early Christians, meaning “I totally mean this, Lord!”
Switching up your language is not taking something away from our traditions. It is helping kids past the normal reaction to words they’ve heard too often: You are giving new life to important concepts. Instead of sin, say “wrong thoughts and wrong doings.” Instead of prayer, say “talking with God.” Instead of “Amen,” say, “We love you, father—thanks for being with us!”
Mini-Challenge #5: Write out a Valentine to God and leave it at the meadow’s edge.
This is the one practical challenge, presented because it’s fun for kids to give things to God. God knows children have no money and possessions, and he considers cards from kids as a type of sacrifice. Have them write a poem or letter on a valentine for him. They should state anything they want—something they are grateful for, or something they think is very cool that God created, etc. The idea is that they are talking to him and chronicling that talk.
You may find the messages are so priceless that they’re hard to part with. But because kids enjoy “sending things off to God,” this can create a precious memory for them. Take the valentine and attach it to a helium balloon and let it go. Or put it in a bottle with a cork and send it into the sea. Or put it at the edge of a windy meadow. Kids know that God will come and get it after they turn away. Some may insist that they hope they see him! If they are disappointed in not seeing him, it’s a great time to introduce the concept of the Hebrews in the desert: They had an opportunity to see God, but he was so bright and so loving and so big and strong that they were actually scared! Most any little human would scramble if they saw God’s love coming. It’s too huge for us.
Mini-Challenge #6: Alleviate kid’s fears about talking to God.
One thing kids will hear that may confuse them is that they should “fear God.” Fear has a very negative connotation, and if “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” kids may think that wisdom is something they’re not terribly interested in.
You can clear up any confusion by comparing a fear of God to a fear of a parent whom they are fond of. Many of us had very happy childhoods with good parents. We also remember Dad rising from his chair and clomping down the hall toward us when we were roughhousing or arguing or using bad words.
“Uh-oh! Here comes Dad!” were big words in many houses. And yet, the next day the same father would be playing checkers with someone or having a game of catch. Often Dad listened to problems and gave good advice. He paid bills and never let us starve.
If you had good parents, you can make your kids understand that “fearing Dad” is part of loving Dad, and kids who don’t have a parent to fear a bit often turn out spoiled and entitled. The same holds true with God and us.
Mini-Challenge #7: Don’t ignore your own love relationship with God.
If you want your kids to love God, you need to show them how. You are the best example. There are always ways to up the ante of your love if you have been a Christian for years. Tell your kids, “I had this terrible problem today, and I couldn’t wait to get home and talk to the Lord about it.” Tell them what you believe God said back to you. Tell your kids, “I just like to sit in my garden (den, office, bathtub, kitchen) and talk to God. He is the kindest, most merciful and most loving being in my life. I am so glad he’s my friend.”
When your kids hear magic words like that, they will apply it to their own lives.
Start now working on these seven mini-challenges. Figure out when might be the best time to talk to your kids about how God feels about them and what he wants them to feel. If you plan ahead, you won’t approach when they’re exhausted after two hours of homework or when they’re usually chatting with friends. To give them loving feelings toward God the Father is the greatest gift you can ever give your kids. So it’s great that we have Valentine’s Day, which gives us just the right opportunity!
9 Fun Valentine’s Day Bible Activities
If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your own children or Sunday School class, make sure you download the February KidMin Power Pack. Inside, you’ll find 9 fun Valentine’s activities (all with Biblical tie-ins).
Below is a listing of the “Love” themed activities you’ll find inside this month’s Power Pack:
*Idea Starter: Ways to Help Kids Give Their Hearts to God on Valentines Day
*Lesson: Making Jesus Our Valentine
*Game: Helping Saint Valentine!
*Craft 1: Valentine Friendship Bracelets
*Craft 2: Love Bug Pins
*Science Experiment: Find Your Pulse Rate
*Service Project: Cosmetics for Women’s Shelters
*Snack: Action Cookies
*Song: A Valentine From God
For the next few weeks, you can get the “February Power Pack” with all the Valentine’s activities listed above, here.