Category Archives: early faith

The joy of spring flowers and nurturing faith

(Post contributed by Glenn Vos of Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan—thanks Glenn for sharing!)

I love to work outside with flowers, and it is something I enjoy doing a great deal. I am sure I was influenced by my mother, who always had beautiful flowers planted around our home. She had a garden full of flowers that frequently were made into arrangements which adorned the front of the pulpit in our church where my parents were the custodians. I find gardening to be therapeutic—it does not require a committee to decide how something should be done nor do the flowers ask much of me other than some watering, fertilizing, and weeding.

TulipsDepending where you live, you have surely noted by now that the spring flowers—daffodils, crocuses, tulips, and many others—are in beautiful bloom right now. They leapt out of the ground here in Michigan after some of our recent warm weather and in a matter of days changed the landscape remarkably. Suddenly, the grays and browns of winter had splashes of color that caught our eyes. You can hardly drive around our community at this time of year and not marvel at the beauty of these new additions to the yards of nearly every home.

What impresses me about spring flowers is that they are very delicate in their structure and design, yet they are some of the hardiest flowers around when it comes to weather conditions. They can handle cold better than heat, and the wind can do more damage than the sun. The warm, almost hot, breezes that we appreciate during the spring are their worst enemy. Many spring flowers are planted as bulbs, biding their time for warmer soil and the passing of winter, and then, independent of any further action by us, they appear, grow, and eventually bloom.

So what does all this have to do with Christian education? Beyond the obvious connections to planting, growing, and nurturing, the very nature of spring flowers provides some great lessons for us in living and learning.

First, the very contrast of the brilliant colors of the flower to the dark soil and gray skies they come out of provides a great picture lesson for each of us. The need to be embedded in the very darkness of the soil and still finish with a bloom filled with great color and splendor is what is at the very core of a Christian education, especially from a Reformed point of view. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

Second, it is important to note the impact that winds of “hot air” can have upon the strength of the plant: Have we really prepared our children for the impact of media and culture upon their now sturdy looking stems?

Third, to be delicate yet strong and hardy is really at the center of the true character of a follower of Christ.

Fourth, the variety of colors, even within the blossom itself, should be a reflection of what we want our schools and our churches to look like.

Fifth, there are early varieties and late varieties of spring flowers—students, or adults for that matter, do not all learn at the same rate nor do we all grow and develop at the same time. Differences are not just OK; they are important to keep the whole garden blooming throughout the entire growing season.

Sixth, if you just look at the bulb, you are not able to tell what the blossom will look like. You might know it is a tulip bulb but not the exact color or the variety. You need to see the plant in bloom to fully appreciate the bulb. So it is with children. We can not know by looking at a preschooler or even a high school student how God might want to use the gifts he has given this child, so we need cultivate and nurture each one to his or her full potential.

When you see spring flowers growing in your yard or as you travel about, I hope you will begin to see a whole lot more than just flowers. Seeing them in all their beauty will give you all the more reason to praise God and to bring him honor and glory.

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Filed under early faith, stewardship, student outcomes

10 ways my parents nurtured my faith – a look back in gratitude

A recent magazine article prompted me to take a few minutes and jot down things that my parents did to nurture my faith – a good exercise and one that led me to a renewed sense of gratitude, especially now that I am looking back with adult eyes. I realized with fresh eyes all the little things they did daily and the big commitments they had made as a couple raising a family of four. The numbered items below are not exhaustive or in rank order, but rather simply list some of the more important aspects of how they nurtured my faith.

  1. Faith through tough times – farming itself is an act of faith that is further complicated by the unpredictable.  Natural disasters, droughts and floods, unexpected losses of livestock, machinery repairs and costs, and health problems are just some of the problems faced – yet I saw a strong faith demonstrated by my parents in God’s providence and blessing.
  2. Commitment to their marriage – it never entered my mind as a child that my parents would leave each other, even though they had some pretty good arguments from time to time.
  3. Respect for creation – animals and plants were treated with care, yet each in their rightful place as compared to humans.
  4. Christian education K-16 – my parents were the first in their families to enroll their children in Christian day school education and took significant criticism for that decision from their families. Their hard work to get schools established in our small community remains an inspiration to me today.
  5. Church participation – attendance at services was regular as clockwork and participation in available groups and classes not a matter for negotiation by us children.
  6. Eating meals together coupled with spiritual disciplines– regular Bible reading and prayer three times a day – sometimes it seemed too much, but I do appreciate the foundational knowledge that I now have as a result.
  7. Always helping neighbors and sharing – my mom was always sharing from our garden and bringing food, Dad lent tools and time, and listened to hurting people on his egg route into some very high poverty areas.
  8. Finances – tithing and Christian education – my parents always made it clear to us that church donations and school tuition came first, and then we lived on the rest, no matter how little or much that may have been from month to month.
  9. Encouraged my gifts – my mom did a lot of my chores so I could participate in sports and drama. My parents were always at every performance if possible.
  10. Loved those with special needs – having Joe over for Sunday dinner and watching him eat was not necessarily pleasant for us kids but showed us our parent’s heart for those with special needs. Their regular Sunday afternoon visits to a home for developmentally disabled adults modeled Christ’s love. My mom still continues these singing, prayer, and Bible study visits with the residents today at the age of 88.

I encourage you to look back on your own life and consider how your faith was nurtured. Sometimes the things that at first appear mundane are very significant in nurturing and modeling the kind of faith we desire in our youth.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, creation & environment, early faith, kids/culture, parenting, student outcomes

Respecting early faith

We seem to live in a very child centered culture in North America. However, some sociologists suggest that our culture, that values strength and self-sufficiency and that rejects human weakness and vulnerability, is one that fosters indifference or contempt for children. Bunge, (in The Child in Christian Thought), suggests that our popular literature “tends to depict infants and young children as pure and innocent beings whom we adore and teenagers as hidden and dark creatures whom we must fear.” I would suggest that we, as participants in this culture, also underestimate the significance of children’s spiritual experiences. What do I mean?

Spiritual development seems to parallel language development in some ways. We know that children’s early nonsense sounds and imitations of the language they hear around them is a necessary step on the path to speaking coherently in words at first, then sentences. I believe that children’s spiritual development is similar to language development – much more is happening than we can know. If we only base our judgments of children’s spiritual development on what they verbalize back to us, then we are missing a complete picture of the child’s faith life. While we cannot have the kinds of discussions around conceptual and abstract worldview issues with younger children that we can have with teens or college age students, that fact does not mean that the development of worldview is not happening in younger children. They, like babies with speech development, simply cannot cognitize or articulate what they perceive, but worldview is being formed nonetheless. The fact remains that those, who over the course of history have studied when children are spiritually formed, recognize that by age 14 most of the work has been completed, i.e. children’s spiritual identities have been largely formed by this point in their lives.

Children often have a more limited range of foods that are acceptable to their taste buds. We might say their sense of taste is more acute – as we age we eat a wider variety of foods, possibly due to the dulling of our taste buds. I wonder if the same isn’t true with children’s and adult’s spiritual “taste buds”? Jesus suggests that we need an innocent and wholly dependent “living in this moment” faith like little children – unhindered by the skepticism that life has imposed, a complete dependence born of a lack of self sufficiency, and a complete sense of trust in the Father. Those of us who have worked with children are aware of the blessing of clarity and sense of the kind of “seeing” that young children can bring – stopping us in our tracks to wonder about God. Their spiritual sensitivity is a gift to us, part of our being “reborn” to see the beauty of Christ in all things.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, early faith, kids/culture