By Sonia Black
“Baby ministry? No, really, there must be some cognitive understanding before one tells him about God?”
That was many years ago and today I am embarrassed by this thought. Yes, I knew physical, emotional and intellectual care before, and after birth was important, but spiritual care? How and what on earth? So I am half reluctant and half curious about the lecture on baby ministry.
The speaker’s introductory sentence made me think: “Spirit has no age, spirit is eternal”.
Babies are conceived and received under radically different circumstances. There is the schoolgirl who was raped or gets pregnant again and again for the sake of a grant. Then there is the mother who has been undergoing fertility treatment for years and longs for a pregnancy test that discolours.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to good care and guidance, you know the importance of the first thousand days (EDD): the period from conception to the second birthday. The physical, emotional and mental care of the baby in this period contributes to his well-being for life. At the clinic or in the gynecologist’s office, you learn everything from nutrition to intellectual stimulation. Unfortunately, few parents – and even spiritual leaders – are aware of the spiritual care within the first thousand days of life.
Part of the wonder of the body in the making is that the neuroplasticity of the developing brain reaches an all-time high during the first thousand days. More neurons form and connect with each other during the EDD than at any time during a person’s life. This contributes to later complex tasks, such as language and social skills and emotional regulation.
Communication between the parents and baby already takes place while the baby is in the womb. The baby recognizes its parents’ voices, can smile and kick – all forms of communication. Man is wired from his first moment for communication and the need to understand and be understood.
Over time, the child develops language skills. The baby receives communication “codes” from its parents and caregivers. It starts with gestures and soon the gestures are supplemented with sounds and words that have specific meanings. It is a long but exciting process to see how a baby’s communication skills develop when the sounds and movements turn into words and sentences. In the same way, it is an incredible experience to let the supernatural relationship (Jeremiah 1:5) that exists between God and baby from before birth blossom when prayer, praise and Bible knowledge increase.
A relationship with God is, like communication, an innate gift. There are certain words and symbols that the child must learn in order to understand this relationship and express this gift. Thoughts, words and interaction in our relationship and communication with God we call faith. We listen to stories about God and people in the Bible, we sing, dance and pray. We share these faith experiences with others and serve others with God’s love. Already before birth we are wired with a longing for God, to communicate with Him and get closer to Him.
Just as the sense of communication is inherent in a baby’s development, so is the desire to communicate with God. Spirituality is described as an intuitive awareness of relationship. God created the baby with an inherent longing for Him.
How do parents support the mental wiring of the baby?
The better the inherent wiring to be able to believe is taken care of in the first thousand days, the easier later faith development happens.
The baby’s relationship with himself, others, God and the world
Loving physical and emotional care strengthens the baby’s bond with parents and caregivers. A baby who – before and after birth – is looked after, who is safe and cherished, feels:
- I am worth taking care of.
- I can trust people to take care of me.
- The world is a safe place to live in.
Those who love me are God’s representatives in my life. I am worth being included, also in the spiritual experiences of others.
A mother of a five-year-old adopted child says: “I was very sad when I heard her say about a baby doll that her mother has too many children, she doesn’t want to keep her.
“We adopted her as a baby and are convinced that she has not heard these words verbally since birth. Since she was adopted, we have also often told her that she is loved, beautiful and a precious gift from God. We also explained that her parents did a loving thing, to have her adopted, because they could did not take care of her and wanted a good life for her. She has already, despite the last five years of loving care, plenty of security and confirmation of love, expressed on more than one occasion that her biological parents do not want her wanted to don’t have She has a strong awareness of herself and her context and has clearly already experienced this rejection before birth.”
So we see, a baby already experiences before birth that he is welcome and loved by God and man, or that he is unwelcome and rejected.
The parents’ and primary carers’ role
In the first two years, the little people learn about God, faith and spirituality through their interaction with their parents and/or caregivers. Yes, that turn-taking reaction to and imitation of facial expressions, sounds, action and reaction between the baby and core persons in his life, has an important purpose. Important building blocks for healthy, lifelong development are adequate nutrition, health, learning opportunities, security, safety and love. The back-and-forth interaction between the baby and the people with whom he feels safe and loved becomes “serve and return” called, mutual action and response to it between the baby and caregiver.
Appropriate response to the baby’s expressions, sounds and movement not only builds a healthy relationship with its primary caregivers, but also builds the necessary neurological connections to ensure good communication and social connections (www.petra.co.za).
How can we take care of a baby spiritually?
Welcome and bless
Usually the baby tea (or “diaper roast” for the dads) is a fun affair. So is the new trend to announce the gender of the baby in a festive way. And around the birth itself there is usually a time of excitement and congratulations.
Feel free to keep the cheerfulness of these events, but also bring in the spiritual element. Dedicate the baby and parents (also, if applicable, the other children in the family) to God. Also make sure that the baby’s christening ceremony or blessing is not just a formality, but that the depth and scope of the occasion is celebrated and lived out as a spiritual highlight.
- Sonia is a daughter of God, mother of six and grandmother of nine grandchildren. She and her family became involved with the Petra Institute 29 years ago. This institute is a non-profit organization that wants to create communities where children are safe and respected, by training leaders in such communities. Sonia is a mentor to students following the Petra Institute’s online course and she is also involved in fundraising for the institution. Sonia obtained a PhD in practical theology: pastoral counseling at North-West University. She confesses that she is a hopeless cook and seamstress, but enjoys research, reading and writing.