This article by Avril Baigent applies to mums and dads, step-parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, godparents and honorary godparents, and anyone who spends time with children.
Sharing Scripture with our kids sounds like hard work. Do we even have a Bible in the house? Where do I start? What if they ask difficult questions? What if there are names I can’t pronounce? As adults, we don’t necessarily find reading the Bible the easiest, and we can feel really nervous when introducing it to our kids. And yet, if we want our children to grow up as believing Catholics, we can’t do better than to start them reading the Bible at a young age. We might not think we have much influence over our children, especially as they become teenagers. Yet what we do ourselves, and what we do together has a huge impact on them. In a survey by Youth for Christ, young people were asked which people were the most influential in their lives. Social media influencers got 6%, friends came in at 33%, but parents were the clear leaders at 55%. Reading the Bible with our children is a really key way to share our faith.
This isn’t the only benefit it can bring, however. The Bible covers every kind of situation in life, not only joy, serenity and comfort, but rage, despair and doubt. Reading the Bible with our children helps them to see that all these are acceptable emotions: being angry with God when something terrible happens is not only human, it’s biblical. Our young people have had to face difficult situations over the past year, and giving them the chance to talk through their emotions, and bring it to prayer, can be healing all round.
Another benefit is seeing their lives reflected in Scripture, and being given permission to discuss hard issues together. Difficulties with friends, ill health, fearing death, worrying about the future – these are themes that come up regularly for young people but are also found accessibly in the Old Testament and in the Gospels. What do they think about Jesus going off on his own in Jerusalem as a child and being found in the Temple? What about leaving the ninety-nine sheep behind while going off to look for the one? What do they think about James and John trying to get the best seats in the Kingdom, or Peter betraying Jesus? Helping our kids to make connections between Scripture and their everyday experience is a gift for life – one that will see them through the toughest times.
Finally, sharing the Bible with children brings such benefits to us as adults. They hear these stories as Jesus told them and as the early church heard them. They get the jokes, they gasp at the surprises. They bring a fresh perspective to our rather jaded outlook, and help the Holy Spirit to burst the preconceptions we have. My ten year old is the only person I have heard respond to the healing of the paralysed man with the question “Weren’t the people who owned the house annoyed about the hole in the roof?” That stopped me in my tracks! And by doing “child friendly” activities such as a Jesse Tree through Advent, we may find ourselves in some lesser-known parts of the Bible too.
So if we’re willing to give it a go, what next? Before diving in, it might be helpful to go back to those nagging questions at the beginning of the article.
Do we even have a Bible in the house? If you don’t have a Bible, or one that’s suitable for sharing with your children, first, find a good translation. With little children, there are some wonderful collections of Bible stories. For older ones and young people one good option is the Catholic Youth Bible. There are plenty to choose from in our online Catholic bookshops such as the Redemptorists or the Daughters of St Paul. You can also get the Bible on your phone for free.
Where do I start? The Bible is often described as more of a library than a book, so doing what we would do with a novel and starting at the beginning can quickly run into difficulties. Try starting with a Gospel – Luke is full of familiar characters – and work your way through a paragraph or story at a time. Alternatively for older ones, Genesis poses many of the deep-down questions that young people often have, including where do we come from and what is our purpose. The strangeness of some of those stories gives us a feel for the ancient nature of the Bible. The Top Ten lists on the God Who Speaks website offers a great way to read some different parts: check out their Top Ten Heroes and Villains, Fashion Influencers and Animals: godwhospeaks.uk/our-top-tens. The books of Ruth or Tobit are excellent short stories with plenty to chew over.
What if they ask difficult questions? Sometimes it’s only when we encounter questions from children that we realise that we too have more questions than answers. Don’t worry about this – no-one has all the answers, and it’s a great opportunity for you to delve into your faith. The YouCat (Youth Catechism) is a great resource, putting the teaching of the Catholic Church into everyday language. See if your parish can lend you one, or get one from here: youcat.org If you get really interested and want to go further, see if there is an Alpha course in your local church. There are lots of excellent guides to reading the Bible on the God Who Speaks website godwhospeaks.uk.
What if there are names I can’t pronounce? Rest assured as there’s agreat resource to help you pronounce Biblical names – biblespeak.org – so don’t let the tricky words put you off.
There are all sorts of reasons we find not to read the Bible. The most important thing is to plunge in and give it a go. Sharing something we love with a child is a wonderful feeling. Sharing the Bible with a child might just change both your lives.
Pastoral Ministry Advisory, Diocese of Northampton
Doctoral Researcher, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Durham
Mum to three girls and enthusiastic children’s liturgy leader
Five steps to getting started reading the Bible as a family: catholicicing.com/read-the-bible
Bible resources: catholicicing.com/bible-resources-for-catholic-kids
Bible activities for families: thereligionteacher.com/bible-activities