The chil­dren I meet with at Haven House are often unchurched.1 What these chil­dren know about God is com­prised of what they’ve gleaned from pop­u­lar cul­ture, what they’ve heard oth­ers say and do, the children’s inter­ac­tions with their dom­i­nant par­ent and the ways they’ve expe­ri­enced the Spir­it them­selves. The Spir­it reach­es out to chil­dren in many dif­fer­ent ways, but the three I will men­tion here are: good­ness, beau­ty, and truth. There is noth­ing good, beau­ti­ful or true in the world that didn’t orig­i­nate or come from God. Noth­ing. Not one thing. Where there is good­ness, beau­ty or truth, you can bet God’s fin­ger­prints are all over it.

So when chil­dren who have lit­tle lan­guage for God or knowl­edge of God sit with me in spir­i­tu­al direc­tion, I ask them when or where they have expe­ri­enced good­ness, beau­ty or truth. 

Often I hear sto­ries like, 

I was walk­ing home and there was a huge beau­ti­ful tree and the branch­es of the tree remind­ed me of arms that were reach­ing up pro­tect­ing me. So I sat in the shade for a while.” 

At this school I don’t have any friends and I wish I could skip lunch. But today, a girl in my third peri­od class sat by me and shared her chips.” 

It’s not that we were doing any­thing so bad, but I felt bad about it. I felt like, Whew!” when Jane (an adult) came in and said we couldn’t do that anymore.” 

Do you remem­ber when you told me to ask God for what my heart real­ly want­ed and I want­ed to stay here and not move on — so I told God so. Well, guess what? We are stay­ing!”

Some­times when I’m hav­ing a bad school day, I go swing. I can feel the wind all around me and it makes me feel not so freaked out. I talk to who­ev­er, the Wind, and I think I can hear some­one say­ing, I love you.” 

These are excerpts of sto­ries I hear reg­u­lar­ly from chil­dren. Rest assured these chil­dren are in good com­pa­ny. Samuel heard God call his very own name (1 Sam. 3:1 – 10). The Quak­er Abo­li­tion­ist, John Wool­man wrote in his jour­nal, “…before I was sev­en years old I began to be acquaint­ed with divine love.”2 Twelfth cen­tu­ry Chris­t­ian Mys­tic, activist and Doc­tor of the Church, Cather­ine of Siena had her first mys­ti­cal vision at sev­en years old in which she saw Jesus with Peter, Paul and John.3 Teil­hard de Chardin’s spir­i­tu­al seek­ing began when he was five. More recent­ly, in her dis­ser­ta­tion research on Emer­gent Church Lead­ers, Lori Haynes Niles, found that all of the lead­ers had some expe­ri­ence of God when they were chil­dren.4

Clear­ly chil­dren are expe­ri­enc­ing the touch of the Spir­it. This brings us back to our orig­i­nal ques­tion: How do we, adults, work with the Spir­it, who is already working?” 

3 Steps to Fos­ter­ing a Child’s Life with God:

  1. Lis­ten
  2. Acknowl­edge
  3. Encour­age

Ask open-end­ed ques­tions. For­go the Yes-or-No ques­tion in favor of ones that encour­age shar­ing. Ques­tions like: 

  • When did you see good­ness or beau­ty today? 
  • Can you tell me about a time when you heard God speak to you or when you told God something? 
  • When is a time when you knew every­thing was going to be okay? 
  • Tell me about some­thing that hap­pened that made you so hap­py or when did you feel very safe? 

Cre­ate a safe space for the telling of her or his sto­ry. This means sus­pend­ing judg­ment in favor of hear­ing. There are times to teach and cor­rect, but don’t do it at this time. Just be present and listen. 

In some­way com­mu­ni­cate that you have heard. Retell what you heard and ask if you retold it cor­rect­ly. Make sus­tained eye con­tact. Ask curi­ous ques­tions, not to eval­u­ate or judge, but to under­stand bet­ter. The action of acknowl­edg­ing con­veys hon­or and respect. The telling and retelling of our expe­ri­ences with God form us. It rein­forces the mem­o­ry and helps chil­dren to rec­og­nize the move­ment of the Spir­it when it hap­pens again. 

Offer an affir­ma­tion that says, I hear you and am excit­ed about what God is doing in your life.” This may be some­thing sim­ple like a hug and a Wow, God real­ly does love you.” In your encour­age­ment invite the child to respond to God. Eli did. Eli encour­aged Samuel to say, Speak, Lord, for your ser­vant is lis­ten­ing.” You might invite a response to God through prayer by draw­ing or danc­ing or singing. Per­haps just prac­tice with this young one in whom God dwells and delights breath­ing a heart felt, Thank you.” 

We’re glad you’re here!

Help­ing peo­ple like you abide with Jesus is why we post resources like this one. Always ad-free, Ren­o­varé is sup­port­ed by those who know soul-care is vital. Would you join us?

Donate >

[1] Haven House is a tran­si­tion­al facil­i­ty for home­less fam­i­lies in Olathe, Colorado.

[2] The Jour­nal and Major Essays of John Wool­man, p.23.

[3] http://www.christianitytoday.c…

[4] Lori Haynes Niles, Under­stand­ing the Expe­ri­ences of God through the Lives of Emer­gent Church Lead­ers” (Ed.D. diss., George Fox Evan­gel­i­cal Sem­i­nary, 2006).

Originally published July 2017