My daughter Katelynn has always been as sharp as a whip. She loves to learn. At church, people used to get kicks out of her understanding of theological issues. When she was six she came to me and saw that I was reading the Greek New Testament and asked if she could learn. Within the month she started reading Greek. She has known the Gospel since she could listen. I watched a home video of her tonight. She was two-years-old. In the video I asked her where Jesus was and she pointed to the sky. Why? Because I told her that is where God is. She simply believed what I said.

Will (Batman), Kylee (top), Katelynn, (holding Zack), Zack (being held!)

When do children come to a point where their learning is critically evaluated and internalized? When will Katelynn truly trust in Christ or has she already. A more fearful question is Will she ever trust in Christ? I don’t like to think about this. I like to just take her at her word when I ask her if she trusts in Christ and she says “Yes.” I would like to think Well, that is that. She believes. Thank you Lord. But I have lived long enough to know that things are not always that simple. My sister, Angie, would have said the same thing at Katelynn’s age. Yet, when Angie was in her late 20s she began to call me late at night saying How do you really know God exists. It was the first time that I know of that she questioned His existence. It was the first time that she was critical about her faith. Does this mean that she was really not a believer? Most certianly not. If this were the case, we would all be in trouble as we all have moments when we ask Is this really true? How do I really know? Most of us are just scared to admit it. John the Baptist did the same just before his death asking Christ, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). Are you REALLY the one Jesus?

Children are interesting. The time when they come of age to begin to be able to ask critical questions, such as Angie’s and John the Baptist’s, is different for each child. The question is Do we encourage this type of thinking early enough? I don’t think so. Goodness, many of us have not even come to that point yet. It is too hard to entertain that we might not be correct. It is too hard to ask the question, Are you REALLY the one, or should we look for another? If it is too hard for us to entertain such questions, how hard is it for us to actually encourage this type of critical thought in our children?

Katelynn, who is now 8-years-old, came to me last night with a very surprising question (and this is why I write this blog). She said “Daddy, how do you really know that God is there?” I asked her why she was asking and she responded, “Because I just don’t see him and it is so hard to believe.” We talked for the next hour about this. I brought in my other daughter, Kylee (6-years-old), and my son Will (3-years-old) and we had a long discussion. I asked her to imagine a world without God. She said, “That cannot be right, then who would have made everything?” I continued to probe and say that maybe it just came from nothing. She disagreed saying that that was not possible. I then tried to argue (playing devil’s advocate), bringing up other possibilities. She shot them all down. I then proceeded to explain to her the resurrection of Christ, the apostles deaths, and methods of historical inquiry. Yes, I really did. She understood it all. In the end, she was satisfied, but still wanted to see God. I understood and agreed.

We then began to talk about the Gospel. In my mind I was thinking, maybe this is the time that she is going to truly trust in Christ if she has not already. I explained to her the difference between belief and trust. We used a great illustration. I lined the kids up and asked if they believed I could catch them. They all agreed I could. I asked if they really believed that I was strong enough to hold up their falling bodies. Frustrated that I asked a second time, they say “Of course, you always catch us daddy.” I then said, “Although you believe that I can catch you, do you trust me to catch you?” Again, they answered with a “Yes.” I had them turn around, close their eyes, and then I asked them to fall back and let me catch them. After fighting over who was going to go first, Katelynn stepped up to the plate. She giggled, hesitated, giggled some more, and then began to peak to see if I was really there. I said “No peaking. If you believe that I can catch you, you have to trust me to do so.” She finally fell back, but one leg moved back with her to sheild the fall. She did not trust me completely. I said, “I thought you believed that I could catch you.” She said, “I do!” I said, “Then why didn’t you trust me to do so?” After a couple of more times, they did it. All of them!

I explained that while they may believe in Christ, they must also trust in what He did. I told them that their belief does not have to be perfect, it just has to be real. I explained to them again as I have many times that they are going to have to trust in Christ on their own someday. Katelynn always gets mad at me for saying “someday.” She responds, “I do trust in Him today.” I always respond, “Good. I do too.” I want them to feel comfortable around me with their questions, doubts, or disbelief. I don’t want such critical thought to wait until they are in their 20s wondering whether their faith is theirs or that of the mom and dad. I want to give them the opportunity to disbelieve so they might truly believe.

After this Katelynn began to cry. I asked her what was the matter and she named a friend of hers who she said did not trust in Jesus. She asked what would happen to her. I said that people who don’t trust in Jesus go to the place that they have chosen, a bad place out of the presence of God where they will be for all eternity. She began to cry even more. Kylee joined in at this point (she is the very emotional one) adding her tears. I asked her what was the matter and she began to name friends whom she did not want to go to Hell. Just for good measure, in support of his sisters, Will joined the chorus (even though he had no clue what was going on!). So now I have just had the best spiritual conversation that I have ever had with my children and they are all bauling their eyes out. I thought to myself Well this is great!

My first instinct as a father was to stop the crying. My first instinct as a Christian was to make what seemed difficult, easier and therefore stop the crying. My first instinct as a theologian was to explain how it was really the fault of those who reject God and therefore explain away the crying. Yet, when it came down to it, I did not say anything. I had no words of comfort. In fact, I did not think it was wise to try to comfort them concerning this. I put them in bed and lameted with them. As I walked out of their room, hearing the sniffles, I thought to myself I think they understand the Gospel.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    9 replies to "Letting My Children Cry"

    • JoanieD

      Michael, I can understand how and why you responded to your daughter about her friends based on the way you believe. I can only say that I had a friend who basically had a nervous breakdown at age 7 because the nuns led her to believe that her mother would have to go to hell because the mother did not believe the way the church taught. Her mother “converted” maybe at first to appease her daughter but she quickly became a very devoted Catholic. I think that if my children asked me that question, I would have to respond that we tell everyone about the love that God has to offer us through trusting in Jesus and that we treat everyone with love and that God will take care of the rest. That we must trust God to deal with others and that we never know the final result of their relationship with God. That way, they honor God’s power and privilege and do not have to feel sad about their friends. I also think it can negatively impact how they act with their friends if they think those friends are going to hell. For what it’s worth, that’s my take on this.

      I think it’s great that your children are so interested in theological issues and that they will come to you. It shows you are a committed, involved, loving dad!

      Joanie D.

    • Lisa R

      Thanks Michael. It makes me feel a little better for wondering about my son, who will be 10 next month. I
      In Sunday school (I teach his summer class) he tends to have the most thought out and biblical responses and at home, he seems to get it. But still I wonder about the TRUST factor.

      And I think it was a good thing to let them cry. Imagine where would we be if our heavenly father swooped down to stop our crying every time we wrestled with things.

    • vangelicmonk

      That is an amazing story. Thank you. I hope I can be as wise if I have kids
      someday. Thanks for sharing. I will pray for you and the kids as they continue
      seeking after him daily. God Bless.

    • Lisa R

      As I have been recently pondering this distinction recently, I thought some more about it in relation to this post and Joanie’s comments. Jesus said that we must believe in him to have eternal life. But this does not mean believe as in, yes I believe he did that but a trust, yes I believe that he did that and trust in and put my confidence in what he did.

      And as I scanned the new testament in my brain today, I could not help but come to the conclusion that this is how the gospel message is communicated. Nowhere is scripture (and please correct me if I’m wrong) are we instructed or encouraged to communicate hell. Sure the it is a consequence of not believing. But even then, the reference is to judgement and not to hell. Yet think of the “fire and brimstone” as was mentioned in Joanie’s comment.

      And I further think about how many times I have heard the comments about “getting saved for fire insurance”. But if it is for fire insurance, is it really salvation? Hmmmm….

    • Josh


      I think (correct me if I’m wrong) you are trying to communicate that we shouldn’t use hell, rather safety from it, as a “selling point” for belief in Christ. Which I agree with completely, the focus should be the treasure of God Himself. Perhaps a better way to talk about it , or at least correct errouness thoughts about it, would be to describe it not as, “you are going to hell if you don’t believe!” Rather, “you are dying and if you don’t receive this antidote you will perish forever”. Because the reality of it is Gods not sending people to hell, its people sending themselves there by rejecting His offer.

      That being said I think it should be noted that Jesus was the one who talked the most about hell in the New Testament. Not only this, both Paul and John find it necessary to bring it into “their” writings (2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 14:10,11, Revelation 20:10 etc). I think the concept of hell has been distorted especially with the use of the current media, because it attempts to give images to something unimaginably horrible. So it seems there is support for talking about hell in the NT.

      Piper’s book, God is the Gospel has been helpful to me in this area, especially in articulating the whole purpose of the Gospel.

      Thank you Michael for your personal post, this should be the standard when we are talking about hell, (i.e. bitter anguish for those individuals as your children displayed). This really puts a face and an image to texts like 2 Cor. 11:29 and Romans 9:3 and invokes the priceless purity of child’s heart. Thank you again for your wonderful ministry and for being an example of a godly father.

      Your brother in Christ,


    • kolabok21

      Thanks for sharing! I believe it (your story) will go far for all parents using it as a measuring stick of sorts to see where they are spiritually and that of there family.
      I often wondered, what the age of accountabilty is. I suppose the bible could be a guide in that many instances the age 20 surfaces. But in our time I think it is a lot earlier, we are to technological. We need to be careful gurdians of our childern in this age. Too many, many things that can distract them and us from the truth of Gods ways.

      I thought this bit of scripture is approiate, he has as you would say “timeless principles”

      Deut. 11:18″(A)You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.

      19″(B)You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.

      20″(C)You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

      21so that (D)your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as (E)long as the heavens remain above the earth.

      22″For if you are (F)careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, (G)to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and (H)hold fast to Him,


    • Lisa R

      Yes Josh, that was my point exactly and the operative word is “communicate”. The reality is there and Jesus was quite vivid about it. Uh, can anyone say, wailing and gnashing of teeth? But it is a conclusion that one comes to when told that, without Christ we are dead in our sins and the wages of sin is death. but do we have to communicate that? Did Michael communicate that to his daughter? But look at what happened regarding the next stage of thought. I think that the description of hell is more for our benefit than for the non-believer. To perhaps gives us compassion and a sense of urgency regarding the lost.

      I will check out that book you mentioned. I just started reading Bill Fay’s book, Share Jesus without Fear.

    • Isaiah53

      Sorry to take a detour from deep discussion, but I think Will looks quite a bit like his father. Now I can’t decide if that is a good thing for him or a burden he must carry in life. 🙂

    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks Isaiah! It is going to be quit a burden, but it will just let him concentrate on other things that matter 🙂

      Sorry your comment took so long to appear, it got placed in the spam filter for some reason. I never know why it does that, but you should be good to post from now on!

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