In our house, bedtime is normally dad’s job. I homeschool my kids (we do the hybrid thing), so most days by the end of the night I have been momming for a solid 14+ hours. I’ve got… like… less than nothing left in the tank. Of course, there is the occasional night where dad is unavailable and bedtime duty belongs to the momster (that’s my burnt out overstimulated alter ego – she’s kinda scary). Don’t worry, by the time I’m tucking each kiddo in, looking into their sweet sleepy faces, and starting our prayer and song routine, I am always reminded of how preciously limited these moments are and “momster” flees the room. Inevitably, this is when it happens: My kid drops the tough theological question bomb!

I distinctly remember this one from my daughter: “If God let Adam and Eve’s kids marry each other, how can it be bad for brothers and sisters to marry each other today?” After asking some clarifying questions to make sure I understood what she was getting at, I realized she was essentially asking how God can call something good at one time in history and then declare it sin at another. My response as I’m slowly backing away out the door: “Good question. So proud. Ask your dad tomorrow! Goodnight!”

Kidding! I did not respond that way. But that’s an example of a question that’s not easy to answer for an adult, let alone a child–and especially without keeping my kid up way past bedtime. Before we get into what to do when your pint-sized philosophical prodigy has challenged you with a mind-boggling theological question, let’s talk about why dismissing it entirely is a really super bad idea.

What happens when we persistently dismiss our kids’ questions?

If you are a parent (or work with kids in any capacity), then you already know that kids ask a lot of questions. I wanted to know how many on average so I did some research. I found one study that suggests an average of 73 questions per day. I’ve also seen articles that report on studies which suggest over 300 questions per day peaking around the age of 4, and as the quantity gradually decreases, the level of difficulty tends to increase. (So sorry… things probably won’t get easier!) And if you are the primary caregiver in your home, you are likely the one fielding the vast majority of those inquiries. What happens when you get a theological question in the middle of Costco that you don’t have an easy answer for? “Let’s talk about that later” is probably the natural response. But do you talk about it later? Click To Tweet

It’s easy to imagine what is likely to happen if your kiddo’s questions are constantly dismissed or ignored – they’ll stop asking you. Either they will assume there are no good answers, or they’ll look for answers elsewhere. (Equally detrimental is spoon-feeding bad answers.)

“Thoughtful questions demand thoughtful answers. When we respond with half-baked or pat answers, we communicate that we’re not taking the questions seriously – or even worse, that we simply don’t have any good answers. Bad answers shut down sincere questions.”- Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett, The Deconstruction of Christianity

Many adults who have walked away from the church and “deconstructed” report that when they were in the faith, they did not feel like they were “allowed” to question the Bible or its theological doctrines. Some had their questions dismissed and were told to “just have faith.” In fact, Natasha Crain writes about a time when, at a dinner party, another mom confessed that she tells her daughter God is like Santa: “It’s a matter of faith.” This could be the makings of a future deconstruction. We must not let this be the story for our kids.

Rules to follow in the moment:

1. Don’t panic

Whether your child is just curious or is experiencing doubt that Christianity is true, cast your anxieties on the Lord and trust Him. Ultimately, your kiddo is in His loving hands, and their salvation does not rest solely on your ability to answer their theological questions.

2. Do praise

We want our little future apologists to be awesome question-askers! We must be careful not to fall into the temptation to act annoyed or exasperated, even if the timing isn’t great. Reinforce good question-asking skills by giving lots of praise and encouragement whenever your kid raises a question about the faith. We want them to report back to their friends that questions were always encouraged in their home! (Below we’ll cover what to do when you can’t have a proper conversation right at that moment.)

3. Do probe

Sometimes your response is going to be different depending on what is motivating your child’s question. Did they see something in a TV show? Did they have a conversation with a friend at school that sparked curiosity, created fear, or sowed doubts? It’s a good idea to evaluate why your kid is asking the question before exploring the answer with them.

4. Don’t prattle

I cannot tell you how many times my son has asked me super complicated philosophical questions, and I go to town giving an elaborate answer with all the nuances, anticipating and responding to all the objections I can think of, and when I ask if that helped he replies: “Huh? Sorry I wasn’t listening.” (Face palm) Learn from my mistakes: Keep your responses short. They won’t be exhaustive, and that’s okay. Some of these questions require entire books to respond to them so you’re not likely to give the full answer in one conversation anyway! Click To Tweet

What if the timing is really bad?

Rather than constantly finding yourself in a situation where it’s just not an appropriate time or location to have a deep theological conversation with your kid, you can be prepared ahead of time. Get your family a special journal, specifically designated for tough questions about God and the Bible. Anytime a family member (including mom and dad) has a question, write it down. You can even have a second journal designated for answers. That way, after y’all have researched the question together, you can record what you’ve learned. You can even cross-reference them by making a mark in the question journal which says “answered! See page ### of answer journal” so that they know which page to look at in the answer journal. Make it an on-going family project!

Not home when the questions are popped? Get out that good ‘ole notes app on your phone and record them up while you’re out and about. I don’t know about your kids, but my kids LOVE any opportunity to type things into my phone, so depending on your family rules that could be their task. That might even motivate them to think of more questions, keeping their minds on the Lord (wink). When you get home, have the kiddos copy the questions into your special journal. Imagine both journals as the pages fill in the coming years – what a testament that will be to your family’s effort to love God with all your mind!

Discipling vs. Answering

All this being said, take care not to become your child’s Bible Answer Mom. The last thing we want to do is teach our kids to seek out authority figures who will merely supply them with all of the “answers.” (This is one way cults are made. It’s also how doubts are sown later–when another “authority” has a different answer.) We want them to wrestle with both the question and answer. That’s how they own it, rather than just regurgitating it. It is our job to disciple our children. This involves not just teaching them, but also training them. It is critical that we don’t just give our kids answers. We need to train them how to ask good questions and how to seek true answers for themselves via good research and critical thinking. We’ll cover practical steps on how to do this in our next blog, along with some of the favorite resources to help you along the way.

Until then, GO GET YO’ JOURNALS, MAMA BEARS! And get ready for some rockin’ theological conversations.

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