How I Teach The Catechism To My Two-Year-Old
My daughter, Winnie, is 2 ½. Since I’m her father, God has called me to teach her the Christian faith. The Small Catechism is an excellent summary of the Christian faith and so of course I use this wonderful tool. (Who wouldn’t?) (I know, I know...and we wonder why so many kids don’t stay Lutheran!)
Seldom have I read directly from The Small Catechism to my daughter. I learned that before Luther wrote The Small Catechism he often referred to “the catechism.” For him (and the ancient church), “the catechism” simply referred to the basic instruction given to new converts and to children. This basic instruction consisted of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. This is the catechism I’ve begun to teach my little girl.
I used to say the Ten Commandments to her every day, but now it’s about three times a week. Here’s what I say: “The LORD our God, who redeemed us out of bondage to sin and death, says to us…”
“1” (I hold up my finger) “I am the LORD your God, you shall have no other gods before Me.”
“2” (I hold up two fingers) “You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.”
“3” (you get the idea) “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
“4” “Honor your father and your mother” or I often say, “Honor your daddy and your mommy.”
“5” “You shall not kill.”
“6” “You shall not commit adultery.”
“7” “You shall not steal.”
“8” “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
“9” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”
“10” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his oxen, nor his _________, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (I let Winnie say, “donkey!”)
We always close the same way: “Dear God, thank you for your holy commandments. Please help us walk in obedience to them. And when we sin and break them, please forgive us. Thank you that you sent your dear Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. In His Name we pray, Amen.”
By the time I’m finishing the 10th Commandment she’s already folding her hands to pray. Also, by now I can leave out many other words besides “donkey” and she knows the right word to say. Whether or not she’ll say it is another thing. She’ll blurt out, “donkey” or “daddy” when she knows she should say, “neighbor” or “adultery.” To her this is a funny joke.
I know there’s a lot in the Ten Commandments that she doesn’t understand but I also know there’s a lot she does. She’ll learn it all in time. Lord willing, so will I.
The next part we’ve begun to teach her is the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t teach this part as intentionally as I teach the Ten Commandments but, ironically, she knows it better. This is because Elise and I pray it together every morning. We don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer eight times a day like Luther recommends. Just once a day, occasionally twice. And she’s caught on. I’ve heard my wife say the first part of each petition and let Winnie say the rest, and she does really well! For instance,
Elise: “Our Father, who art in...”
Elise: “hallowed be thy...”
Elise: “Thy kingdom…”
Elise: “Thy will be…”
You get the idea. A few times we’ve heard her mutter almost the entire ending, saying, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for never and never amen.”
What about the Creed? Per Luther’s instruction, I used to say this with her every day (though, again, not as often as he recommends). But, due to my own laziness, this lasted about two weeks. However, she does hear the Creed each week at church. I know she picks up on it as well as the other things we consistently say week after week. For instance, one morning during breakfast she randomly began a prayer with, “Almighty God...” We don’t address God that way at home. We usually say, “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father,” or sometimes, “Dear Jesus.” She only hears “Almighty God” once a week during the confession of sin. But it found its way into her heart and mind and finally out of her mouth as she prepared to eat a bowl of rice chex. I hope she’s picking up the Creed the same way.
What about the other parts of The Small Catechism? In time we’ll teach her. But I think it’s best to start with the main three parts. Once she learns the words to these by heart we can begin to teach her the meanings from The Small Catechism.
I definitely need to instruct her further on Baptism, though, because she constantly asks me to baptize her again! She has baptized several of her dolls, invoking the Name of the Trinity as she pretends to pour water on their heads. One fateful supper she even baptized herself with chicken noodle soup.
There are several areas I’ll need to address with her. 1) The proper subjects for baptism. 2) The use of water alone, not soup, or yogurt, or whatever liquidy substance happens to be at hand. 3) She does not need to be baptized again, but instead, the Old Adam in her, together with all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance. 4) Little girls should not administer the sacraments, except in cases of emergency.
I will teach her these things in due time. We’ve only begun this lifelong journey. One thing I know is that her little mind is a sponge and it’s never too early to start teaching the catechism. Here’s the goal: Someday, when we are old and gray, Elise and I hope to say with grateful hearts, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).