my three-year old theologian

schoolAdeline began preschool this past January at 2 ½. With preschool comes knowledge. But I am not referring to knowledge of letters, colors, and numbers alone, oh no. I am talking about the “knowledge” of increased vocabulary and expression that children teach one another. The words and phrases that she comes home with (and I am sure sends other kids home with too) have made my head spin. Most recently, one such phrase has been “I hate . . “. The very first time she said it, she caught me off guard. It is such a strong word for a little three-year old girl to use. She didn’t even use it correctly; she actually said “I hate that” in regards to something she very much likes. But still, I jumped right on it and let her know that we don’t really need to use the word “hate”, explaining that it means to not like something and really we can just say “I don’t like”. I guess my fear was simple. She might fill in the blank with a name and tell someone she hated them. Ah! Not my kid???!!!??!

So fast forward a week or so. I am putting Adeline to bed and telling her I will be out of town for a few days, but that I will miss her. She begins to cry and I hug her and say, “I know, I get sad too. I hate being away from you girls and Popi.” Her tears come to an immediate halt, she looks me dead in the eye, and says, “Mommy, we don’t say hate. It is NOT a nice word (while waving her finger back and forth to intensify her disapproval).” I just laughed and said, “You are absolutely right, I should’ve said ‘I really don’t like it’ instead”.

accountabilityIt is so black and white for her; so simple. I told her we don’t use the word hate. I used the word hate. I was wrong. She pointed out my wrong. My little girl reminded me of a major component of our faith in this simple, but very honest, conversation. A component most of us struggle with: conviction and accountability go hand in hand, and cannot be separated and still be effective. There really is no way to explain to a 3-year old that you can use “hate” sometimes and sometimes you can’t. Or that Mommy can use it and she cannot. It is either a bad word or a good word. So if I am going to teach her not to use it, I too must refrain from using it. The old do what I say and not as I do doesn’t ever work that well, especially with little ones. But in reality, it shouldn’t work with us as big people either.

This is not the only time my three-year old has taught me about faith. Her simplistic view of the world carries into her faith and humbles me. Just like the words we use and do not use are a simple lesson for her, so is her relationship with Jesus. The other day she told me that Jesus is in her heart. I asked her what that meant. Without hesitation, she confidently responded with, “It means he loves me”. Man! That is a lesson that can take adults a long time to grasp, to accept, to live into, to know. But for her, at this point in her life, it is simple: Jesus loves her. That is what she has been taught, and that is what is true.

One might view this as a shallow understanding of faith, or describe it as limited. Well then I have one more level to add to it. If you tell Adeline she dishesis beautiful (which Robert and I do all the time) she can tell you why, again without hesitation. It goes something like this:

Me: You are so beautiful. How did you get to be so beautiful?

Adeline: Because God made me.

Not only does she know Jesus loves her, but she knows God created her in His image.  She knows she is His beautiful princess (hence the tiara no matter what she is doing) because he made her.   Of course that is not her articulation of it, but her version says this doesn’t it? And as she grows up and matures, and understands it more deeply, this rooted Truth will grow with her. As she matures, her understanding of God’s love and her identity in Jesus will also mature.

So to summarize, my 3 year old has reminded me of three very important faith lessons (pretty core to the Christian faith actually).

  1. Jesus is in my heart and he loves me.
  2. God made me beautiful in His image.
  3. Because I know one and two to be true, I must also remember that the way I live matters and should reflect such love and beauty. It is key to realize that conviction and accountability go hand in hand. What I say to others matters.

tea pI realize I had to find these little gems hidden in her simple responses. But there is something about her simplicity that reflects the image of God in her. The world has not influenced her like it has us big people.  Just as she can wear whatever makes her feel beautiful and do whatever makes her happy (to an extent of course), she can also know that Jesus loves her.  So of course these simplistic statements of faith will need to be matured as she grows up, but the foundation is there. And for now that is enough to not only make this Mama smile, but to teach her a lesson or two from time to time about her own faith.

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