Why I Didn’t Always Love Jesus

Church_clip_art_hightWhen I was three years old, I hid inside a closet and prayed to “ask Jesus into my heart”, as they say.  It’s probably my earliest memory.  By the time I was ten, I recognized that my conversion had not included a confession of my sin or a desire for forgiveness, so I sought salvation a second time out of a desire to be more “correct”.  However, looking back on my childhood, I firmly believe that God heard the prayer of that tiny girl in the closet.  Salvation doesn’t come from an impeccable grasp on soteriology.  It comes from God, opening a sinner’s eyes to their need for Him and hearing their humble prayer. Maybe I didn’t know exactly why I needed Jesus, at that tender age, but I knew that I needed Him in my heart.

From then on, I have called on the Lord, looked to the cross for my salvation, and known the Spirit to be working in my heart.

But for many years, I did not love Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved God.  I wanted to serve Him and learn more about Him.  But Jesus?  For the second Person of the Triune God I felt very little interest, except being grateful for Him for dying for my sins.  I even avoided His given name as much as possible, preferring to call Him by less personal titles like “Christ” or “the Savior”.  To this day, the name “Jesus” does not roll very naturally off my lips…that wonderful Name above all names!

It makes my heart ache, because by now I have grown to truly know, and deeply love, and passionately adore Him above all others.

Why did it take me so long?

This week I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks:

‘The Hobbit’ was written in what I should now regard as bad style, as if one were talking to children. There’s nothing my children loathed more. They taught me a lesson. Anything that in any way marked out ‘The Hobbit’ as for children instead of just for people, they disliked – instinctively. I did too, now that I think about it. All this ‘I won’t tell you any more, you think about it’ stuff. Oh no, they loathe it; it’s awful. Children aren’t a class. They are merely human beings at different stages of maturity. All of them have a human intelligence which even at its lowest is a pretty wonderful thing, and the entire world in front of them. – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I read that I was stunned.  Finally, I could put into words why I had snubbed Jesus for so many years.

Because it wasn’t actually JESUS I was trying to avoid!

It was Kid-Friendly Jesus.

The “Jesus Loves the Little Children” Jesus.  The cartoon Jesus with the silly grin.  The “do unto others” Jesus who only seemed to care about people being sugary-nice to each other.  He was boring, sappy, insipid.  Who would follow a Savior like that?

Apparently, people think that children will.

I disliked Jesus because He was the guy children were supposed to like.  We were supposed to sing exuberant praises to Him, while being taught lots about His niceness and little about His power.  While adults worshipped in “real” church, we went to kid-appropriate classes to have everything dumbed down for us.  We didn’t even pray to God the Father (like the true Jesus instructed us to pray).  We were taught to pray to “Dear Jesus”, as if God the Father was too busy to care for the prayers of babies, but Kid-Friendly Jesus would listen.  He was a Big Deal, but aside from, “He died for you!  And He LOVES you!  Isn’t that GREAT, kids?”, we were given few compelling reasons why we should be so excited about Him.  How did He love us? Sure, He did miracles long ago, but what did that have to do with us?

I’m not blaming any particular Sunday school teacher.  And certainly not my parents!  Much of my own personal attitude toward Christ came from my sinful nature, not developed entirely out of over-exposure to sappy caricatures of Him.  I don’t have clear memories of when Kid-Friendly Jesus was taught to me, or by whom.  It’s really an attitude and a feeling, a way of interacting with children that is church-wide and pervasive.

In mainstream Christianity, kids are often treated like a separate class of slightly-dumber people.  There are “Children’s Bibles” with bubbly illustrations and little mention of sin, full of moralistic lessons that kids need to learn.  There are “Children’s Worship Songs” that no Christian adult could stand to sing or listen to because they are silly, devoid of meaning, or poorly written.  Most big churches have “Children’s Church”.  I have even heard of some churches that won’t allow little ones into their “adult” services.  There is no place for them there.  No place for children!  I think the true Jesus would object.

Can you imagine if a church had a separate Old People’s Church?  Asian Church?  Women’s Church?  Church for Those with Disabilities?  What if these services were complete with badly-drawn illustrations to make sure everything was as obvious as possible, and songs designed specifically for that sub-category of humans?  It would be insulting and demeaning, and simply wrong.  I am thankful that in our own church family, all are welcome, young and old, to the public worship of God. This has been true of every church my family has been a part of, but is especially true in the Reformed churches we have joined since shifting away from Evangelicalism. In the first church where I grew up, children stayed for worship but left for the sermon until 5th-6th grade, and honestly I do understand that approach. Sermons are long and kids fidget and don’t always understand the whole thing. But I wonder what my life, thoughts, and spiritual walk would be like now, had I heard deep, serious, biblical sermons even from my young childhood. It might have radically shaped me! Personally I don’t remember becoming serious in my faith until I was of an age to sit in for the sermon – not what a young child likes to do, but so important. I’m glad my children have that blessing now.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh here.  There is definitely value in simplifying things for little ones, and there’s nothing wrong with unique music or stories specially crafted to capture the attention of young ears.  (Ideally these things will appeal to adults as well!  I think a good rule of thumb is that if an adult can’t stand it, it’s not fit for children either.  Bad art benefits no one.)  But once you get past a certain age, it becomes very easy to see the adult world talking down at you, instead of talking with you like they would with each other.

By the grace of God, I have seen the beauty and power of Jesus.  It took years of listening to faithful preaching from the Word of God, and the more eager study of His four gospels I have done as an adult.

Perhaps I am an odd case.  But if the church continues to dumb down Jesus to children, preaching a smiling Savior of Niceness in a special Children’s Church for the Simple, it grieves me to think that there may be many others like me, who do not see His true beauty for years…or maybe never, because Kid-Friendly Jesus inspires little love.

Children aren’t a separate class.  Let’s trust their intelligence, their natural curiosity.  Let’s beg God to work in their hearts, not beg them to “work” for their salvation with a sinner’s prayer.  Let’s not drag enthusiasm out of them, but rather show them our own awe and wonder for the beautiful Prophet, Priest, and King who loves, saves, and rises again from the grave.

But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great. – Mark 10:14 (ESV)

Can you relate?  Even if you grew up in the church did it take you a long time to truly love your Savior?  Why do you think that is?  I love to hear my readers’ thoughts.

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8 Comments

  1. Oh gosh… this made me tear up! I’ve had similar concerns about my own children not really getting to know the ‘real meaning’ of who God is because all KIDS are taught is a bare basic coloring book approach to God :/

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  2. Well, it would seem we are leading parallel lives, (hopefully this doesn’t mean our paths will never intersect!). Perhaps it’s the INFJ in us… I don’t know. But you’ve just said something I’ve NEVER admitted before, merely chastising myself for thinking it and struggling with it.

    I’ve always had a hard time using the name of Jesus. It has always made me feel like a Sunday school kid when I say it. Not that I never use his name but I most often succumb to “The Lord” or “God” or “Christ”. Like you said, it just never rolled off my tongue with ease. I think you hit it on the head with your surmise. My childhood was filled with the silly songs and stories and being taken out of adult church til I was in about 6th grade. I’ve literally had a flash of turning into an 5 year old for the instant that it takes me to say the name Jesus.

    We now (also!) go to a Reformed church 🙂 And I have been aware of my reluctance but not entirely sure of the cure. Just sort of mentally apologize to the Lord about it (see, there I go again). I have no more Littles but kids age four and up stay in our service, which I think is great training.

    Thanks for pulling back a veil on the mysterious problem that I thought was part of my own weirdness, often making me wonder if I was really a Jesus-follower if I had that sort of uncomfortableness with saying his name….(and it still may be that I’m just weird, but at least I’m not alone, LOL). A matter of prayer for certain!

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    • Oh, I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone!! This post was met with mostly silence, so I thought perhaps I was very alone in my problem with this. 😛 Your experience sounds so similar to mine. I was always ashamed about how hard it felt to say Jesus’ name. I didn’t understand why, aside from the thought that perhaps I just didn’t like that combination of letters, the *sound* of that word. I knew it had something to do with feeling little-kiddish, but I didn’t put it all together until I saw that quote from Tolkien, that brilliant man.

      It makes me so happy to find another female, fiction-writing INFJ! I feel like we “get” each other. 😀 I follow your blog, but I usually read blog on my phone and I have trouble logging in to comment – I need to go back and make the comment I was going to make on your most recent post!

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  3. Starting a new thread 🙂
    No, strangely, I haven’t found it awkward to teach about him, perhaps because there are a lot of names I can swap out when I do 🙂 Guess I still avoid the actual name to a degree, even with them, out of habit. More natural when talking about a story that directly involves Jesus as a character than in general, like “Jesus is pleased when we do this or that.” The younger they are the less awkward it feels, sad to say.

    Thankful that despite my blunders, my grown children love Jesus! God’s grace. Or Jesus’ grace…. 🙂

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    • God is so good! I’m glad His grace and goodness covers all our parenting flaws.

      I haven’t found it too awkward, either. I tend to shun any cheesy kid-centric presentations of Him, though – due to the same thing, although I hadn’t formed such clear thoughts on it until recently.

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  4. I had a little bit of those difficulties too, but they definitely vanished when I had kids. They’re far more interested in Jesus than in God the Father. No idea why. Maybe I keep attributing all of God the Father’s attributes and power to Jesus, even His wrath. Something to think about. They’re all one, but it’s important to talk about their individual attributes too. The one I talk/think the least about is the Holy Spirit, and that makes me a bit sad!
    I *do* think we can pray to Jesus, though, because He intercedes for us. *shrug*
    Good thoughts as I raise kiddos.

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    • We can certainly pray to Jesus! I wasn’t suggesting we can’t, and I do sometimes pray to the three Persons “individually” during a single prayer. I just mean that for some reason kids are taught to pray to Jesus and NOT really taught to pray to the Father or Spirit, as if they don’t hear prayer, or don’t love the child as much as Jesus does.

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I love to hear your thoughts!