Photo by Matt Keilen
At Sunday School this week, the kids learned about sin and forgiveness. Yes, they're three and four years old. As such, it was important to me to relate this concept to them in an age-appropriate way while discussing only the details necessary for a three or four-year-old.
First, after some guessing on their part, I told them what sin is: knowing something is wrong and choosing to do it anyway.
Then I told them what sin is not: an accident.
I gave them some scenarios, and encouraged them to decide which was a sin and which was an accident.
Accident: Bumping into my sister as I sit down at the table and causing her milk to spill.
Sin: Bumping into my sister as I sit down at the table (on purpose because I'm mad she took the seat I wanted) and causing her milk to spill.
Accident: Smelling fresh cookies in the kitchen, thinking Dad made them for me, and eating one without realizing it's almost dinner time.
Sin: Listening to Dad tell me the cookies are for after dinner, and sneaking one anyway while he's in the laundry room.
Sure, this leaves some gray area as children grow into adolescents and become adults. The sins we become capable of have far larger ramifications. The fact that an act was accidental may be meaningless. We hold ourselves to higher standards, and that is a very good thing because you and I know much more about how things work than three and four-year-olds do.
Three and four-year-olds know that sometimes they do things on purpose and sometimes things happen by accident. This is an important concept because children need to know that their intentions do matter. We all make mistakes.
Just as importantly, children must learn how to apologize and seek forgiveness whether the wrong they committed was accidental or sinful (on purpose). When you witness or hear about something your child or student did wrong, give him or her the tools to make it right.
Accident: Instruct your child to apologize for what happened. Then make sure they say it was an accident and explain how they will try not to do it again.
"I'm sorry I bumped into you and made your milk spill. I didn't mean to. Next time I'll come to the table more slowly and carefully."
Sin: Instruct your child to apologize for what happened. Have them acknowledge why they did what they did. Then make sure they explain how they will try not to do it again.
"I'm sorry I bumped into you and made your milk spill. I was mad because I wanted to sit in that seat. I like it the best. Next time I'll ask you nicely if we can trade seats."
Children don't come with built in knowledge of how to seek and offer forgiveness. Helping them do both with grace is our job. Take them by the hand in these matters, and eventually you will see your efforts pay off. Your children will become more forgiving and forgivable. They will also be better equipped to solve their own relational problems. You will even be setting them up for understanding how to acknowledge our sins before God and seek His wonderful forgiveness.
We also made a craft to demonstrate this concept, and I should really start bringing a camera to class so I can share our projects with you!
We are images of God and we are made to shine like Him. Sinning is like having a cloud over us. It keeps us from God, and we can't see our brightness (our real selves) anymore. When we seek forgiveness, we replace sin with love, and we can see our faces brightly again!
1. For each child in class, I cut a simple face outline and cloud outline from card stock paper. Each was about the size of one quarter to one half sheet of paper. The children used crayons to decorate the faces to resemble their own, and they colored the clouds as they pleased.
2. Holding the cloud over the face, punch a hole between both pieces simultaneously, somewhere near the top of the pieces.
3. Help the children connect the pieces through the hole using either a brad or a piece of pipe cleaner (twist the pipe cleaner to secure it).
4. As children finish, encourage them to show you "how it works". Guide them by asking what it means/is happening when the cloud is over the face. Then ask how they get the face to show. They can practice sinning and forgiving (in a totally harmless way) over and over again.