How can we help a young child who is struggling with his faith? Last night during our prayer time my young son tearfully confessed that he's having trouble believing in God. How should I address this?
The first thing you need to do is relax. Rather than reacting with anxiety or panic, ask the Lord to help you respond with confidence. Then reassure your son that it's okay to have doubts and ask questions. At his age, a child has a great deal of life ahead of him. This tearful confession is anything but the final chapter in the story of his relationship with God. As a matter of fact, it's possible to see it as an extremely hopeful beginning.
Why do we say this? Because it's obvious that your boy is a thinker. He wouldn't be struggling with issues like the existence of God if he weren't unusually intelligent and deeply reflective for a child his age. Given this encouraging bent in his personality, it's not surprising that he's wrestling with questions that don't occur to many people until much later in life. Don't let those questions discourage you, and don't assume that you are responsible to come up with all the answers. Instead, challenge him to do some even deeper thinking by posing a few riddles of your own.
Take him outside on a clear evening and have him look up at the millions of stars in the sky. Then ask him, "How do you think all of those stars got there?" Buy him a children's book on the human body and read it together. As you examine the remarkable complexity of anatomy and physiology, ask him to ponder the deeper meaning behind it all. Does he really think that human beings are simply products of random chance? Could it be that we have actually been designed by a brilliant, all-powerful God? Which explanation fits the facts best? Inquiries like these should set the wheels of his mind turning in a positive direction.
In the meantime, take every available opportunity to remind your son that there's nothing wrong with asking questions. Let him know that God still loves him more than he could ever comprehend, and that He isn't threatened by our doubts. Open up the Scriptures and show him that even biblical heroes like David and Job were uncertain about God at times, and that they expressed those fears and uncertainties directly to Him. No one can have a genuine, lasting relationship with the Lord without that kind of honesty. Besides, the strongest faith is sometimes built on a foundation of thorough investigation and fearless exploration.
Since your son is so bright, you may want to consider exposing him to some of the apologetics materials that have been written with older children in mind. An excellent book on this topic is Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith for Kids. We suggest you order the book, read it as a family, and discuss it together as you read. If you feel some outside assistance in handling the subject matter of these discussions would be helpful, feel free to give our Counseling department a call.
The Case for Faith for Kids
Christian Research Institute
Spiritual Growth For Kids