The children who enter the children’s ministry classroom each week do not leave their baggage at the door. They arrive with all the feels accumulated throughout the week. They carry with them worries, sorrows, and cares from life lived in a fallen world.
One child might be worried about a test at school the next day. Another might bear anger toward a sibling for breaking a beloved toy earlier that morning. Still another might feel the weight of failure over a lost soccer game the day before.
Such emotions often feel heavy for children. They are seldom equipped to know how to respond to hard emotions. After all, understanding and responding to one’s emotions is something we all must learn. As a result, their responses might seem excessive or out of place to the adults around them. The tears shed when a child makes a mistake in her drawing during class seems exaggerated as does the angry response when a child doesn’t get to sit in his favorite seat next to his best friend.
That’s why it is helpful for children’s ministry staff and volunteers to not only teach and disciple children in God’s word, but also to help children learn what God has to say to their emotions. Throughout Scripture there are opportunities to teach children that God cares about them and calls them to bring their emotions to him in prayer.
Teach Children to Bring Their Cares to God
The following are just a few ways to disciple children in their emotions as you teach and read to them from God’s word:
When we teach from Genesis, we can incorporate truths about emotions. God created us as image bearers. One of the ways we image God is in our emotions. We image him when we feel emotions such as love, joy, peace, and even righteous anger. When our first parents fell into sin, so too did our emotions. Before the Fall, there was no grief and sorrow because there was no death. There was no fear because nothing frightening occurred. There were no feelings of guilt because there was no sin. There was no loneliness because Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect fellowship with God and one another. As we incorporate these truths in our teaching, we help equip children to understand that painful emotions originated with the Fall of man. We feel such difficult emotions because of sin—whether it is the result of our own sin, the impact of other’s sin against us, or because of the effect of sin on creation itself bringing sickness, devastation, brokenness, and more.
As we read the stories of David, we can teach children about the art of lament. We can teach children that David was not only a King, but he also wrote poems to the Lord, including many of the laments found in the book of Psalms. In these poems, David voiced his difficult and painful emotions to the Lord in prayer. He told God of his fears and sorrows. He cried out to God when he felt abandoned and rejected and when he was lonely and in despair. He expressed his anger, disappointment, grief, guilt, and shame. Even more, he asked the Lord to intervene and help him. He asked for deliverance and rescue. He asked for peace and restoration. As we read these psalms, we find David and the other psalmists trusting in God’s character and promises. They rest in the truth in who God is and what he has done. We can equip children with a beginning understanding of lament by teaching them to come to God in prayer, telling him about their feelings, asking for his help, and trusting in him to help them.
When we go through the gospels, we can point out our Savior’s emotional responses as well. In taking on human flesh, our Savior felt things as well. He knows what it feels like to live in a fallen world. He experienced grief, anxiety, sorrow, rejection, and more. But unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus did not sin in response, making him the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As we read and teach the stories of Jesus, we can point out his emotional response to Lazarus’ death, his righteous anger at the temple, his intense response in Gethsemane as he anticipated the cross to come, and all the ways he was rejected by those he came to save. We can teach children that they have a Savior who understands and cares about their emotions, so much so, he came to redeem and restore all that is broken. He came to bear our burdens and carry our sorrows. Jesus Christ—who he is and what he has done—is our help and hope in all our cares.
The next time a child enters your classroom bearing a frown, consider praying with her. Teach her to bring her cares to the Lord in prayer, seeking his help and peace. “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Ps. 18:6).
Want to learn more about helping children bring their emotions to the Lord in prayer? Christina’s children’s book series, Tell God How You Feel and God Hears Your Heart, contain stories about children experiencing difficult emotions and learning to bring those emotions to God in prayer. You can learn more about the series here.