Explaining Faith to a Child

The first of two questions I received yesterday came from Stevie.  I’ll write on Stevie’s question first, and then address Olivia’s question either later today or tomorrow.  Here’s what Stevie wrote.

“Yesterday my 8 year old granddaughter said to me, ‘It says ‘faith’ on your arm. Tell me what that means.’ Help me, please, explain to a child what it I have known for 60 years but for which I just don’t have the words.”

There are a lot of ways to take on your question, Stevie.  Some would begin by simply quoting Scripture and use a passage like Hebrews 11:1 which says, “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see” (Common English Bible).

While Scriptural quotations can be helpful for those who have an established faith, I’ve found it’s not always the most helpful place to begin with children (and those adolescents and adults who are brand new to the idea of faith).

So where do I begin?

Well, I like to start conversations in very concrete, down to earth ways.  I learned this from Jesus who often used this approach

I will start talking about faith with a child by saying something like, “You know there are a lot of things in our everyday life in which we have faith.  When I go to the grocery store to buy milk, I have faith that it will be there.  Or if I have a best friend named Steve at school, I have faith that when I get to school and see Steve that he will say hello to me.  This is the first kind of faith that we have in life: faith in things we can touch or see.  That faith comes from our experiences in life.  Having faith makes our life not only easier, but happier.  It gives me confidence to get out of bed on cold, rainy days.”

“While some of the things that we have faith in are things we can see – like the grocery store and our friend Steve, there are other things that we have faith in that we cannot see.  I have faith, for instance, that my mom and dad love me.  I can’t actually SEE their love for me flow out of their bodies in different colored rays – but I know it’s there in a lot of different ways.  The way in which they hug me when they see me is one way I know, and the way they always remember to give me a card on my birthday is another way.”

“One of the most important expressions of faith in my life is my faith in God.  Even though, I can’t see God – or see God’s love for me – directly, I can experience God’s love for me and God’s presence in my life in many different ways.  When I go to school and take a test and get a bad grade, and I feel stupid and ashamed – lots of times something happens that reminds me I’m NOT stupid and that I’m still a good person who is loved.  Or sometimes when I get sick with the flu and run a high fever, I get scared!  But then something happens in my heart and my tummy that helps me believe things will turn out okay.  I can’t tell you exactly why or how I know that.  I just do.  Those are experiences of faith for me.”

“There are so many things out there that are beyond my control: like whether or not I get exposed to the flu bug; how hard the teacher makes my math test; or whether mom or dad have a good day at work and are happy when they come home or whether they have a bad day at work and are sad when they come home.  That would normally be scary.  But faith is the thing in my life that gives me the confidence to feel that everything will turn out okay – because no matter what happens, I will NOT be alone.  God is with me – and just feeling that helps me get out of bed on cold, rainy days.  And warm, sunny days too!”

So how about you?   How might you talk about faith with others?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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6 Responses to Explaining Faith to a Child

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    My dad explained it to me by telling me a story about his childhood during the Depression. His mother used to bake on Saturdays, and she’d always make two pies and leave them on the windowsill to cool. But when she came back later, one or both of them would be gone—stolen. My dad asked his mom why she kept leaving the pies in the window when she knew they would get stolen. She told him, “Because I have faith that someday none of our neighbors will be hungry enough to steal, and then we can have pie to celebrate.” That taught him that faith means believing in the goodness of God—and of his children—even when you don’t have a solid reason to. (And in the end, it took years, but they did eventually get to have Grandma’s pie.)

  2. Sandi Daniel says:

    This is a question, Craig: “This rock has been waiting for me my whole life” said by Aron Rolston about the boulder that had trapped his arm so inextricably in a Utah canyon fall that he had to cut his arm away with a Swiss army knife. Really? Is this how God “sets us up” by leaving boulders to trap us? What about just being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Which is it?

    • capete67 says:

      Sandi, you raise an interesting point. Some people tell folks in difficult moments, “Just have faith.” The implication being that having faith means believing things will turn out okay/to our liking. That’s certainly not always the case. For me, having faith means that by being connected to God’s abiding presence in my life through my faith, I’ll be okay with how things turn out – be they “good outcomes” or “bad outcomes”. In the example you used, I don’t believe God set things up for Aron Rolston to be pinned underneath a bolder. I hope Aron’s faith gave him the strength to deal with the accident (and the days that followed his accident).

  3. Stevie says:

    Thank you, Craig. I think Amelie and I will read your response together today when when she gets home from school.

  4. ybabb001 says:

    Do we say we need to have faith because we ultimately have no control over the outcome?
    I feel like that means I am curling up in the fetal position and surrendering. I mean I know what hope is, and to me it is not the same as faith. To me, uneducated in scripture, faith only works if you are willing to settle for the uncontrollable– but sometimes I feel with that that is unacceptable. Why?? Why does God make it so hard to believe, have faith and continue hope??

  5. capete67 says:

    Yvette. Great questions! For me, faith means having a sense of perspective about life, the universe, and my place in it all. As one of my friends says, my faith helped me know what’s mine and what’s not mine. I spent a lot of years trying to control things over which I had no control – and that made me miserable. My sense of faith gave me the ability to tend to those things that I can, and let go of the things I can’t in a spirit of hopefulness. This helped lower my stress levels exponentially and helped me live into a place of peace and joy that had been so elusive. For me, I found that I was the one who made this process hard, not God. And when I say I made it hard, I mean I struggled to let go of those things I couldn’t control. I wanted to cast myself in the role of God and accept responsibility for everything. Once I began the practice of letting things go a few hundred times, it became a little easier each time.

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