The Greatest Commandment sounds straightforward: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34‒40).
This sounds simple and easy for kids to understand, right? Yes and no. When I read the Greatest Commandment to my class, they all nodded and said yes, they got it. Of course we should love God and love one another. I was glad that we were all on the same page. I then asked the harder question: “How do we show God that we love him? After all, we can’t actually give him a hug or help him with a chore.”
A girl’s hand shot up. “We can pray,” she said. Another hand went up. “We can go to church.” These were both great answers. We show God love by spending time with him, and we do that by going to church and by praying. I told them that spending time with God could also mean sitting in silence, raising your thoughts to God (that is, not praying with words), singing praise and worship songs, and reading the Bible. There are many, many ways we can spend time with God.
All year long my third-grade faith formation class has been learning about God, our faith, and the Church. They’ve been learning about Jesus’ sacrifice for us and how he calls us to follow him and be disciples. By living our lives as disciples, we show God we love him.
One of the things we are called to do as disciples of Christ is love our neighbor, which is the second part of the Greatest Commandment. “Who is our neighbor?” I asked. I should have known better—eight- and nine-year-olds are so literal. Their hands shot up and they told me the names of their actual neighbors. I stopped them and told them that our neighbor is any child of God. Our neighbors are people we know and don’t know; people we like and don’t like; people who do good things and people who do bad things. They are all our neighbors, and we must love them all.
I heard a “What?!?” from one side of the room. “I have to love people I don’t know?” The voice sounded skeptical. “And the bad people too? I don’t know if I can do that. It’s hard enough loving my sister who breaks my toys.” A big smile broke out on my face. Sibling love can be one of the most difficult types of love for kids.
Yes, I explained, we must love everyone. I then told them that one of the ways God asks us to love others is through service. “How do we serve or help others?” I asked. Many hands shot up in the air as the kids shouted out ideas: be nice, help with chores, do what my mom tells me, carry something for my grandma, wash the dishes, help a friend with homework, give away my toys to another child who doesn’t have any, make cookies for my neighbor, put my coins in the donation basket. There was no shortage of ideas.
I challenged the kids to love God and serve their neighbors before our next class, instructing them to share their experiences when we met again. I find that kids at this age really want to live what they are taught about faith and God. Faith for them isn’t just something they learn about from a textbook or in a classroom. For them, faith is something they do; faith is something they actively take part in and live everyday.
How do you show the kids in your class what loving God and loving neighbor looks like? What does your faith look like to them and to you?