The upcoming Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival will be on the section of her third book called “Some Unconsidered Aspects of Religious Training.” There is a lot one could discuss here, and a lot of it I probably have touched on in the past. I have, for example, posts on “A Few Thoughts from CM on Religious Education,” “CM on the KNowledge of God,” and “Let’s Talk about Sunday School,” among many others.
But this time what I would like to focus on is how we instill religious habits in children. Now I am the first to say that a habit is useless if it is only skin-deep. This is particularly true of religious habits. It is our hearts God wants, not our outward obedience only. But He does want our outward obedience as well and I have largely been won over by Charlotte’s emphasis on habit training. I don’t know if praying with our children every day or ordering them to read their Bibles will result in their ultimate salvation, but they will be a lot better off if they have these things as well established habits in their youth. How many adults have you heard complain that they struggle with daily prayer and Bible reading? These things are not the be-all and end-all of Christian life but to have them well-established as habits early on frees one up to struggle with other things later on 😉
Charlotte begins her discussion of religious habits with “the thought of God,” that is, that the child should be in the habit of thinking of His Creator continually. Charlotte speaks as if this is the natural inclination of children and we grown-ups must only encourage it and allow it to continue. I am not sure I would agree with that presupposition. I have a more negative view of children’s innate states than Charlotte does. But I do think that for children raised in godly homes, it may seem this way since they have heard of Him since their infancy. And in many ways children are more ready to receive the idea of God than their elders. Doesn’t Christ say that we should all be as children to enter is kingdom?
But how do we instill this habit in our children? Even more than in other areas, I think the power of example cannot be underrated here. We must ourselves be mindful that God is always with us, thanking Him for the good in our lives, turning to Him in our troubles, and speaking of Him as we go through our days. Of course this can be done very artificially and I do not mean that we should be always preaching to our children. Rather, we should learn this habit for ourselves and not be afraid to speak our own thoughts aloud to our children so they may come to know that we also rely upon Him in everything.
If possible, it is also good to let them see the example of other adults. Cultivating relationships with older people in the church who are not related to them can benefit children a lot. One of the best things we ever did was to regularly attend a prayer meeting at our old church. Most of the time there were not other children there. But our kids were welcome and able to sit through it all (very easy after sitting through Sunday service actually) and I think they got a lot from just hearing other adults pray and discuss the Bible.
Charlotte goes on to speak of having a reverent attitude in prayer and worship. I have to confess that we have often failed here. We thank God before meals but often the child praying rushes through a brief “Thank you God for this food” and sometimes doesn’t even wait till everyone else is seated before praying. So I am convicted that no matter how hungry we are we need to slow down this part of our day and make sure it is done respectfully.
When it comes to Bible reading, Charlotte extols the use of the Scriptures themselves rather than Bible stories edited for children. For the most part I agree with her on this. We did make use of The Beginner’s Bible when our children were younger but I think the earlier one can move on to the text itself the better. Of course, in all areas we seek to use real living books for our kids, but, when it comes to God’s Word, this is even more important.
Charlotte next speaks of hymn singing. We do not do hymns around here but sing only Psalms in worship. I am not very musical myself (a vast understatement) but my husband leads us in Psalm-singing as a part of our family worship after dinner most nights.
Lastly, Charlotte speaks of “Sunday-keeping.” We are not the strictest Sabbath keepers though we do strive to make some distinction between the Lord’s day and other days. We do not, for example, go to stores or restaurants on the Sabbath (unless there is some necessity, like needing medicine). We also do not let the children do computer games on Sunday (mostly because we have one child who could easily be addicted to the computer screen). But we do play games and watch some TV and don’t restrict their play in other ways.
One final topic which I would like to touch on, though Charlotte does not give it its own heading, is the need to participate in the corporate worship of the church. I have written on this before, but I find it incredibly valuable to the children’s spiritual development to have them sit in worship (all of worship) as early on as they can. I find for most children who start from birth, they can usually make it through a service by age 3 if not before. Of course, if you start later, it make take a while for them to get used to the idea. We do let our kids do things during the sermon like draw or color. Quiet toys may be appropriate for babies and toddlers but I like to limit them as much as possible. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I just don’t see how separating children into Sunday school classes or children’s church while the adults worship is going to prepare them to be worshippers themselves. My observation from my friends is that after 12 years of Sunday school they still don’t feel their kids are ready for grown-up worship while my own children who have been in worship since infancy do fine by two and half years old.
How about you? What do you do to encourage religious habits in your children? What has worked and what hasn’t?