Hopefully, children experience love and the bonds of love from the time of their birth. Before their first birthday, they have developed smiles and other behaviors that indicate they know the people who love them are special and unique from the other people in the world. Children experience love from an early age, but when do they develop the ability to choose to love?
I taught my children to love God, but they had to choose how and when to love God on their own. I imagined my kids would grow up and fall in love with someone. I knew it wasn’t my choice to make, although I did make a few hints on occasion! But each of them fell in love with the woman God intended for them . . . as they should have. I taught my kids to love but I didn’t teach them whom to love. We can’t make our children love someone, so how do we teach them to love God?
The dictionary defines “love” as both a noun and a verb. The noun: an intense feeling of deep affection. The verb: to feel a deep or romantic attachment to. Jesus said that the most important commandment was to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 27:37). Is it possible to teach our kids to love God like that – and if so, how do we do that?
I asked my youngest son Craig how old he was when he knew he loved God. He told me about the time he knew that he wanted to choose Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He talked to us and then he prayed to receive Christ and his salvation. But Craig said that he thought he was in college before he really understood what it meant to love God and to be loved by God. Does the ability to love God require a certain amount of maturity?
Children sing, “Jesus loves me this I know . . . Little ones to him belong.” We teach our children that God loves them, but how do they express their love for God in return? Have you ever heard your child say, “I love God so much!” If so, when did they say that and why?
If Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God, we need to make sure that our kids learn to love him. How can you teach your children to love God?
- First, express your own love for God often. One of the most important roles of a husband and wife is to model a loving relationship for their children. The same is true for a relationship with God. Pray, praise and thank God aloud, in front of your children, for his presence and blessings. Allow your children to see you read your Bible, pray and sing songs of praise. Teach them that we spend time with those we love and God wants to spend time with us for the same reason.
- Second, help your children understand why God’s love is sometimes seen in his blessings as well as his disciplines. God loves us so he teaches us the things to do that will make us have the best life here on earth, and one day in heaven. God’s love means that He will give us what we ask for, or something else that is even better. Sometimes you give your kids vegetables when they would rather have a cookie, because you love them and want them to be well. God’s blessings are like that. He always does what is best for our lives.
- Finally, make expressing love to God as normal as expressing love to your kids. Children learn the rules in the Bible, but the love of God is something that has to be experienced. Help your child notice the affection of God in their lives. When a ladybug lands on their finger or the rainbow appears after the storm. Lean down and remind them that God could have sent those in that moment to say, “I love you.”
You won’t be able to make your children love God. That will be a choice they will need to make for themselves. But if you love God and rejoice in his love, the chances are pretty good your kids will as well.
God adores your kids, and your kids’ parents. As a family, enjoy the love of the Father and find as many ways as possible to love him back. Children can love God. They just need the chance to know him and to experience his love for them.