Belonging and Responding

The Spiritual Development of Children and Their Participation in the Lord’s Supper

By Robert J. Keeley

I recently became a grandfather, and I have enjoyed watching my granddaughter, Joanna, grow and change. At eight weeks old she is already able to do things she could not do just a few weeks ago. She is recognizing people—like me—smiling, and starting to control parts of her body. She will soon learn to reach for things instead of making random arm movements. She will learn to sit up without help. She will learn to crawl and walk. It seems as if I can almost see her grow and change as I watch. Last night she was fussy. So after making sure she was well fed and had a clean diaper, I walked with her, holding her in my arms and singing to her. She looked at me, smiled, and quieted down. After a little while she fell asleep.

What Joanna experienced was a sense of calm and security. She doesn’t have the cognitive tools yet to know that as love. She is just enjoying being loved and, I would contend, loving me back in return. She does not understand what a hug is, but soon she will hug me back—even before she can explain what a hug is, why it feels good, or why she is compelled to do it. A relationship with God begins much the same way. God loves us, and we respond. We don’t need to have a lot of cognitive awareness at first; we can simply respond to the love we feel from God. We know that it is God that we are sensing because we hear about God from our parents and we begin to recognize God in our life. We really don’t think about it, though. God is simply there, in the same way that our parents are there.

Just as my granddaughter gladly receives a loving hug from me, children are able to receive and respond to God’s love before they can even understand or articulate the meaning of love. In a similar way, children are able to accept God’s love and respond to it through their participation in the Lord’s Supper. And, just like adults, their understanding of and appreciation for the Lord’s Supper becomes deeper and richer as they grow.

Dr. Robert J. Keeley is professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance learning at Calvin Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Laura, are co-directors of children’s ministries at 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

For a list of descriptions of the Spiritual Characteristics of Children at various stages, along with notes about how they might experience communion click here.