“I really want that juice,” my 3-year-old son whispered as the communion trays were passed. “We will talk about it later,” I whispered back, and then bowed my head while the rest of the congregation received their elements.
“Drink this cup in remembrance of me,” the pastor repeated the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper (except in English), and in unison the congregation drank their shots of grape juice. All across the sanctuary you could hear the familiar click of tiny plastic cups settling into specially-sized holders on the back of each pew.
We said a prayer, sang a few hymns, and were busily turning the pages of our Bibles to the sermon text, when I heard the clicking sound again.
And again. It was then that I noticed my son making his way along the row, picking up each cup and finishing off any remaining drops of juice.
My three teenagers were desperately trying not to snicker, and my 5-year-old began tugging on my arm and whispering loudly, “Mommy! Mommy! Hudson is licking all the communion cups!”
After church, Hudson and I had a talk. I explained that communion is a time when Christians remember that Jesus died for us. I try not to encourage or discourage my very young children in their faith. I just present the Scriptural truths as I understand them, teach them the basic stories and principles, and let the rest work out in its own way and time.
If they ask questions, I answer them. Hudson seemed content and didn’t ask any questions for the next year.
Last week, as we were getting ready for bed, my now-4-year-old said, “Mommy, I want to pray with you.” I knelt next to him and listened to his basic bedtime prayer. “Dear Jesus, Thank you for daddy, and mommy, and my brother and sisters. Thank you for our house. Thank you that mommy not make me eat all my vegetables at dinner time. Amen.”
Hands still clasped, he peered up at me with one eye and asked, “Am I a Christian now?”
“Is that the kind of prayer you want to say with mommy?”
I explained to him what it means to become a Christian. I told him how sin separates us from God, and that we need to ask forgiveness so we can go to Heaven someday. I left out the part about hell, because I never want fear to be a motivating factor in any decisions my young children make about Christianity.
Hudson still wanted to say “the” prayer, so he repeated after me, line by line.
“Dear Jesus, please forgive me for my sins,
Please, come into my life and help me do right,
Thank you for dying on the cross for me, and loving me.
Hands still clasped, he peered up at me again and asked, “Can I drink that juice now?”
This is where it becomes tricky to be a parent in a Christian home.
In other faiths, the children do everything at basically the same ages and often at the same time. I am not saying that is right or wrong, it’s just the way things are. The traditions and symbolic actions of Christianity are somewhat fewer than in other religions, and the determining basis for whether or not you participate in those events is whether or not you have actually become a Christian. And that can only be determined between the individual and God.
The Bible says that we can to come to Jesus with the faith of a child.
Now, is it really faith if the driving purpose is to drink grape juice from tiny cups? Probably not, but only God knows for sure. Each of my children are at different stages in their walks of faith. Over the years, four of them have chosen to be baptized, and their ages ranged from 5 to 15. At least one of them has entertained strong doubts about Christianity, and the others might at some point. I can only answer their questions to the best of my ability, and pray. I can’t determine or force faith for any of them. If Hudson’s decision was based on a childlike faith in Jesus, then he will remember his conversion without my prompting.
In the meantime, he can have the juice, and he won’t have to lick it from someone else’s cup.
Ginger is an author, speaker and mother of five. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.