We’ve received bad news. My stepson’s grandma was in a car accident. There’s nothing the doctors can do. At 11, Sam is meeting that brutal intruder, death, for the first time. It’s hard.
His dad and I remind him that Grandma is baptized, that Jesus died and rose for her, that heaven is a great place. Then we pray aloud. It’s a messy, disjointed prayer, but that’s okay. Jesus hears the words beneath the words.
At times like this, when eternity creeps close, it’s natural to talk about Jesus. Other times we’re less comfortable. Why is that? I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses.
I think some of us were raised in families that are more reserved. Faith is a private matter, and talking about Jesus—or even calling him “Jesus,” as opposed to “God” or “the Lord”—seems disrespectful, glib.
Some of us were raised with sturdy, American self-reliance—so sturdy, in fact, that asking God for help aloud feels like unattractive weakness.
Some of us were raised to see faith primarily as a tricky theological system, with deep ditches and doctrinal potholes to avoid. We don’t want to say anything heretical, so we don’t say anything at all.
Some of us were raised knowing only a transcendent God, powerful but unapproachable: all burning sulfur and high expectations; no manna, no mercy.
Some of us were raised without positive male role models, so it’s hard to imagine a heavenly father and brother who are kind and trustworthy.
Thing is, these excuses might make talking about Jesus a little harder, but they don’t give us a pass. God doesn’t say in Deuteronomy 6: “Tell your children about me if you’re comfortable.” Nor does he say, “A few words at meals and bed, and we’ll call it good.” He says, “Talk about me when you sit, when you walk, when you lie down, when you rise”—pretty much all day.
But before that—interesting!—he says he wants his words “on our hearts.” We first take in the Word—in worship, Bible study groups, personal devotions—and it fills our hearts with the goodness of God, the nearness of God. Then from our hearts it flows naturally into our speech.
Seems the power to talk about God comes from God.
Some people recall their childhood Christianity as an onerous system of rules they couldn’t ditch soon enough. Others view Scripture as a loosy-goosy text, open to any interpretation they please.
The first view crushes the spirit, erasing the “Good” from “Good News.” The other recasts God’s thoughts and words into a reflection of our own.
My childhood Christianity wasn’t like that. My parents didn’t present Jesus as a squinting judge, noting slip-ups on his blackboard in the sky—nor, on the other hand, as a backslapping buddy who wink-winks at sin.
When it comes to talking about the Savior, I wonder whether it’s less important to teach kids Christian values than to teach them they’re valuable.
They’re so valuable Jesus would have died just for them.
They’re so precious that when the Father looks at them, he doesn’t see dirty, undeserving sinners he’s compelled to love. He sees his bright, shiny, holy children—and he delights in them.
They’re so loved it’s safe to be openhearted, to confess their sins. The Father is there at the edge of the road, hands shading his eyes as he scans the horizon. As soon as he sees them, he’ll run out to meet them and give them the news: “You’re forgiven. Yes, yes, I’ve seen all your screw-ups. But it’s all forgotten. Come home. I want to throw you a party!”
Finally, because they’re loved, because they’re valuable, their lives count. God is excited about the opportunities he’s got on the calendar for them. What they do for him today and tomorrow matters, and he can’t wait to spend eternity with them.
I’m not saying that when one kid whacks the other in a living room melee we just tousle their hair and tell them how awesome they are in God’s sight. There are times for law, its curbs and consequences.
But the goal—and I’m offering this timidly, remembering all too clearly the times I failed to show the kids Jesus—the goal is to nurture the children into adults who know God is good and they are loved, who can relax because errors of the past have no hold, who can live intentionally because each hour is full of potential, who can walk with a spring in their step because the future is bright. Because of the Good News, life is good.
BC (Before Children), I had this vision of family devotions: Bright-eyed little cherubs with chubby hands folded. Broccoli eaten, candles burning, Bach playing. Pfft.
I didn’t foresee fidgety legs and droopy eyes (mine!), not to mention lessons and practices that cut supper short. Our home devotions were sporadic at best, although the older kids say Advent was generally a good time—with candy-filled calendars buttressing the effort. Then January came, and we skipped a night or two, and the habit lapsed.
But that’s okay. We can talk about our Savior anywhere. In the car: I liked that sermon. Did you? After school: You heard about Jacob wrestling with God today? That story always confused me when I was a kid. In the kitchen: God really answered our prayer, didn’t he? In the middle of a hug: You’re forgiven, kiddo. Will you forgive me? And at bedtime: Jesus loves you, and so do I.
With Jesus in our hearts, on our lips—and in the room—the line between sacred and secular disappears. It’s all God’s world. We’re always talking to him and about him. And eternity—that exciting prospect—is always close.