As a father of three children, I have journeyed through the infamous toddler “why” phase three times. That season of seemingly non-stop “whys” will challenge even the most patient of parents! (Although it was more palatable for one of our children who, for some unknown reason, would ask “what for” instead of “why.” That didn’t get old as quickly.) If you have survived the “why” stage, you understand the challenge. Everything you say to a toddler at that point is followed by “why?”
“It’s time to wash your hands for lunch.”
“Because we want to have clean hands before we eat.”
Well, if we don’t have clean hands, we might get sick.”
“Because we have germs on our hands that make us sick.”
“Because that is how God made us.”
If you haven’t gone through the toddler “why” phase, you are getting the idea. If you have gone through it, you are probably curled up in the fetal position with cold shivers running down your spine.
Our problem is that our impatience and frustration can often lead to us shutting down the why questions. We try to hang in there and answer the why questions as best as we can, but then we either are asked one we cannot answer, or our attention is needed elsewhere, so we will respond with a “Just because,” “That’s enough,” “Just trust me,” or some other way to stop the non-stop series of “whys.” We don’t mean any harm, but when we do this, we pour water on the fire of curiosity God has hard-wired in us. And when that God-given curiosity goes away, or when we are conditioned that we aren’t supposed to ask “why” so much, we lose a beautiful gift from God.
The multitude of “whys” from a toddler reflects his or her deep desire to know and to understand. For the first time, he or she is starting to connect the dots of life and this new ability energizes them tremendously. The result is an insatiable appetite to know everything.
Now, keep that in mind as we hop over to this week’s session, Jesus at the Temple (Unit 19, Session 4). This is the account where Jesus went to Jerusalem with His parents when He was 12-years-old and was accidentally left behind when they departed. Zero in with me on what Jesus was doing when Joseph and Mary found Him:
46 After three days, they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.
Don’t miss the first part of what He was doing. Jesus was listening to the teachers and asking them questions. In the divine mystery of Jesus being fully God and fully man, we see here His hunger to learn and grow in His knowledge of Scripture and the ways of God. And it is not surprising that as Jesus and the teachers talked through theology and Scripture, He amazed them with His understanding and what He thought were the answers to His questions and surely the questions the teachers posed as well.
I love how this story gives us a brief glimpse into Jesus’ curiosity. Jesus wanted to understand. He wanted to know. He wanted to grow. That was His priority, which is why He didn’t seem to notice when Joseph and Mary departed. He was enamored with talking theology with a group of the finest teachers in that day.
While this story shows us the singular focus of Jesus, even as a boy, in fulfilling His Father’s will, it also should encourage us to revive the toddler in all of us. We need to reclaim the power of “why” and revel in our curiosity. Our hunger to know God better and understand His ways should drive us to ask “why” as much as we can.
Now, let me take a brief tangent and talk about two different ways we can ask “why.” The first is like a toddler—to sincerely understand better. This is the way God wants us to be. The second is like a teenager—challenging authority. That is not how God wants us to be. The first is always permissible. The second is never. We are welcomed to bring all of our sincere why questions to God, but we are never to question God as if we sit in judgment over Him.
As you walk your kids through the Bible story this week, be sure to tell them as clearly as you can that God welcomes their “why” questions, and so do you. No question is too large; no question is too small. Fuel the fire of their God-given curiosity this week.
How do you encourage a hunger to learn more in your kids and yourself? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the March 26, 2017 session (Unit 19, Session 4) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.