I love this question. It comes from a French dad and pastor named Raphaël. “Hello, Pastor John, thank you for this invaluable podcast. My question for you is, How can I best communicate Christian Hedonism to my children during our family worship? Their ages are 5 to 12. What should be my aims and goals? Any tips for a dad like me?”
Clarify and Exemplify
I love this question. Let’s see if we can tackle it. It’s been a long time since I was a dad of little kids. I had five of them, but that was a long time ago.
I have two things I want to make clear up front. Parents must clarify Christian Hedonism, and I wouldn’t recommend using the term with kids. Forget that. They don’t need to know the word hedonism at age four or five or six, or whatever. I’m not asking you to clarify the term. I’m asking you to clarify the reality.
The other thing you need to do is exemplify. So hold those two phrases — clarify and exemplify — because that’s what I’m going to talk about.
When it comes to clarifying, I have three suggestions.
First, show that the Bible commands rejoicing. For example, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Now the children see they are not only permitted to be happy; it is required that they be happy “in the Lord.”
Of course, that will involve a lot of conversation with the children about how to pursue this joy, or this happiness, especially if they don’t feel it. That’s a huge question, and you can help them with that.
And it will involve a lot of conversation about what “in the Lord” means, as opposed to just being happy with his gifts. You can help little children understand the difference between being happy that they have a mommy, and being happy that mommy gets them some breakfast. “Which would you rather have: Mommy or breakfast?” you can ask. They get this.
Sell It All
Second, show the kids what it means to become a real Christian by going to Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Now, children can grasp why this man was really, really happy to sell everything. They’ll get this.
If you ask them, “Why? Why was he happy to sell his toys — all his toys?” They’re going to say, “Well because the treasure was worth more than the toys.” That’s what they’re going to say, which is right.
This is not a hard concept to understand. You could even act this out in a little drama. I tried to imagine this. For example, hide Mama behind the couch. Then you say, “Okay, let’s go find Mama. . . . I think I’ve found Mama. Whoa — there she is.”
Then she comes out, and now you have to ask, “Okay, what would you be willing to sell to have your mama stay in this house while you’re growing up?” They get that.
Tim and Eric
Third, tell them my rose story, but rewrite it for kids. I’ve done this, so I’m going to read it to you now. You may not even know what my rose story is, and I won’t tell the rose story — that’ll take too much time. So I’m going to make up a situation and give you my version for kids. So this is a story you can tell to your children to clarify the very essence of Christian Hedonism, which is that God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him.
“You can help children know the difference between being happy they have a mommy and being happy that mommy gets them breakfast.”
Pretend that there’s a family that has a 12-year-old boy named Tim, and an 8-year-old little brother named Eric. Eric thinks Tim is the greatest thing in the world. He admires his big brother. He thinks he’s really cool. He loves spending time with Tim, and he loves to go fishing.
His birthday is coming, and Tim the older brother really wants to make Eric happy with a special birthday gift. So Tim takes a few odd jobs around the neighborhood helping people with their yard work to earn some extra money so he can buy Eric a really nice fishing rod with his own tackle box.
But to make it really special, Tim puts a note in the tackle box that says, “This is a certificate of promise to take you fishing all day the Saturday after your birthday, just you and me.” So Tim earns the money, buys the gifts, wraps them up, puts the note inside the box, and on Eric’s birthday, Eric opens the packages, loves the rod, loves the tackle box.
Then he opens the box and finds Tim’s note. He unfolds it, and reads it. “Wow,” he says. “This is the greatest. I love the rod, Tim. And I love the tackle box. But all day just you and me fishing? Wow.”
Now, suppose Tim, the older brother, smiles and says, “My pleasure, Eric. In fact, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do or that would make me happier this Saturday, than to spend the day with you.” Suppose Eric’s face darkens, the joy goes out of his 8-year-old heart, and he snorts, “‘It’s your pleasure.’ ‘Nothing would make you happier.’ So it’s all about you, Tim. It’s all about what makes you happy. You’re so selfish.”
Now, Tim would be absolutely stunned at this reaction — speechless.
Okay, that’s the end of the story. Now you ask your children, “Why would Tim be surprised, even hurt, by Eric’s response like that?”
The reason Tim is stunned, speechless, is because that would never happen, right? Then your kids would say, “Eric’s not going to say that. Eric would never respond this way.”
Why not? Tim did say in fact it’s my pleasure. He did say, “I can’t think of anything that would make me happier than to spend the day with you.” But you know, and your children know intuitively, that Eric would never be upset about this. He would never treat Tim as if he were being selfish.
Why not? Because when Tim finds his happiness in spending time with Eric, Tim honors Eric. He treats Eric like he’s really something. Eric intuitively feels this. He feels honored. He feels loved. He feels cared for. And he feels enjoyed.
Tim is treating Eric as special. Tim is saying, “There’s something about you, Eric, that makes me want to spend the day with you on Saturday.”
Then you tell your children that this is a parable. It’s a story about how we should relate to God. When we enjoy God, or when we want to spend time with God, God is honored. So our being happy in God is what makes God look great. Making God look great is what the Bible says we’re supposed to do: “Glorify God in everything” (see 1 Corinthians 10:31).
We have to pursue happiness in God if we’re going to make God look amazing. That’s the way I would try to clarify Christian Hedonism for the children.
Lifter of Burdens
More briefly, in just a word or two, I’ll talk about exemplify. I’m not sure how you do this, but I would suggest that you do two things to exemplify Christian Hedonism.
“We should enjoy our children — not just enjoy God, but enjoy our children.”
The first is that our children need to see us enjoying God: enjoying him in worship, enjoying him in devotions, enjoying him in ordinary tasks of life. God should feel joyful to these children, because he feels joyful to us — that is, he feels to us like a burden lifter, not a burden giver.
He is a lifter of our sins through forgiveness because of Jesus. He is a lifter of the burdens of life as we trust him to work everything together for good. Oh how we communicate to our kids about whether God is able to carry the burdens of life by whether we enjoy God in the midst of the stresses of life or not!
Enjoy Your Children
The second thing I would say might not be as obvious. We should enjoy our children — not just enjoy God, but enjoy our children.
We have made the case with our little story that a person is honored when they are enjoyed. We want to honor our children, then. The Bible says, “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). It says to count others more significant, more honorable, than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
One of the ways we count others as significant, one of the ways we honor others, is by manifestly enjoying their presence.
Many children feel like a burden to their parents. They feel like they are in the way. If we enjoy our children, we will communicate to them that the most natural thing is to enjoy what we value.
This will translate much more easily into the worship of God than if children only feel like burdens. The pathway to breeding mature Christian Hedonists is to manifestly enjoy God, and to manifestly enjoy your children. Take them deeper and deeper into the Scriptures.