There are many, many things in life that I do not want my young children exposed to yet. John is only 4. He doesn’t need to know that pirate swords usually hurt people in movies, that the dinosaurs are all dead, that there aren’t actually undersea animal rescuers that can talk (check out Octonauts), or that he doesn’t speak whale (thanks Nemo). He doesn’t need to know that water evaporates to form clouds which will drop rain. He doesn’t need to understand how electricity works. No one needs to clue him in on the number of calories he should be intaking in a day. He is 4 for Pete’s sake (anyone know Pete?).
There are people out there who believe that a child like John or my other daughters, 3 and 1 years old, are too young for religion, too young for faith, too young for Mass, too young for prayer. If I ever entertained these thoughts, my children have thankfully banished them. Here are just a few stories from our brief family life that I think illustrate that a child is never too young for God in their life.
~ John was about 1.5 years old. We tended to walk the back of church to help keep him occupied and somewhat silent while still being able to pay attention ourselves. Our church happens to ring bells during the elevation of the host. John was always very interested in the bells. He would actually stop at the center aisle and kneel with me during this most sacred moment. He knew that something special was happening, even if he couldn’t articulate a word of it.
~ Rosie adores our priests and has from a very young age. I started working at our chapel a few months after she was born and she came to work with me. She quickly won the heart of our wing chaplain (the head chaplain for the base) who also happens to be one of the Catholic priests. She would light up when she saw him and always let him hold her. He would visibly relax and sigh, as if just holding this precious little one could recharge him for his day and let him release the stress he was carrying around. To this day, he holds a special place in her heart and I hope has laid the foundation for a positive outlook on priesthood and religious life.
~ Little baby Clare is adorable! We love her to pieces and laugh constantly at her antics. She is just barely one year old and she is already trying to run with the big kids. One of our family rituals is to hold hands around the table while we pray before dinner. John started this when he was young and it has stuck with us. Clare has picked up on it and now insists on holding Rosie’s (her best buddy) hand. Her high chair is positioned between one of the “adult” chairs and Rosie’s seat. If Clare happens to have eaten before dinner was ready and is already playing, all we have to do is call her to prayer and she will come trotting over and take her place next to Rosie, even though she has to usually walk halfway around the table to get there.
So how young is too young? For lots of things in this world, there are age limits. For God, I think Jesus says it best:
But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14