The other day, our family was out for an evening stroll along our usual route. We went down the sidewalk from our home, past a few shops, across a street, and over to the local college.
On our return, we walked past the large cemetery next to our neighborhood, where a couple of men were preparing a gravesite. As we walked by, my 5-year-old son asked one of those questions parents often dread: “Dad, what are they doing?”
What should I do? Was he too young to hear the truth? I could shrug the question off — perhaps by redirecting his attention to the sunset or a passing car. But I decided that my inquisitive little guy deserved an answer.
Gospel at the Graveyard
I stopped and sat on the cemetery wall, stood him in front of me, and began my best attempt at an explanation: “Buddy, at the end of each person’s life, they die. When someone dies, they put the person’s body in a box, they dig a hole in the ground, and they put the box inside the hole.”
He responded, “Do we have clothes on when we go inside the box?”
I said, “Well, they put clothes on the person’s body when they put them in the box. . . . Did you know that Jesus died? They put his body in the ground, but three days later he came out of the ground because God raised him back to life. If we believe in Jesus, we will go to be with Jesus when we die. And one day, when Jesus comes back, our bodies will come out of those holes all brand new, and we will live with Jesus forever and never die again.”
“I hope I still get to wear my clothes. And I’m going to keep my eyes open inside that box.”
Patterns of Honesty
Obviously, my son was pretty lost on the whole dying-and-being-buried thing. But I was trying to establish an important precedent with him. When he comes to me with honest questions, I am going to give him honest answers. He may not fully understand the answer, and I may fumble through an awkward reply, but one thing is certain: I’m not going to ignore his earnest inquiries.
“When my son comes to me with honest questions, I want to give him honest answers.”
My hope is that the patterns of communication my wife and I are establishing early on with our children will continue to equip us as parents. With God’s help, each question we choose not to punt on gives us more wisdom to handle the next. If I feed my kids little falsehoods now, thinking, “They’re too young for the truth,” I’m not only hindering their growth in wisdom and stature, but also my own. They may be too young for certain details, but there’s a way to lovingly answer their specific question truthfully. If I can’t give my 5-year-old the truth, what makes me think I’ll be ready to do it when he’s fifteen?
These years — when the kids are young and the questions are of little consequence — are practice for later. Right now, we’re learning to field basic queries like “Is Santa real?” or “How big is God?” But one day the questions might become “My best friend just told me he’s gay — what should I do?” or “Why would a good God let them die like that?” As we step up to the plate now, while they’re young, we trust that God will teach us how to handle the questions that will be more difficult to answer later.
Children will satisfy their curiosity one way or another. If we do not give them the truth, they will find it elsewhere. Establishing an early pattern of open communication will hopefully help to avoid heartache later on. No parent wants to discover too late that their kids have been going online, to their peers, or to even worse places with questions they don’t trust us to answer to their satisfaction.
On top of all this, it’s important that we treat our kids according to their God-given dignity. They are little people made in the image of God. They deserve the truth.
Every Conversation Captive
My son’s question, which threw me off guard at first, turned out to be a great doorway for the gospel. That evening in front of the cemetery, I could have shuffled the family along, avoided the topic, and given some vague answer like, “They’re just digging a hole.” But when your child asks you pointedly about a graveyard, is it really to his benefit to avoid the issue of death altogether?
“If I can’t give my 5-year-old the truth, what makes me think I’ll be ready to do it when he’s fifteen?”
Surely God envisioned these exact conversations when he commanded us, “You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). At the breakfast table, on the summer walk, and from the bedtime pillow, our children probe us for the truth spurred on by their own curiosity about the world around them. These are the perfect times to teach our kids about God and his gospel.
Be on the lookout. Many of our children’s toughest or most embarrassing questions can turn out to be perfect opportunities to talk about the good news of Jesus. Take those conversations captive. Sit and talk intentionally and honestly with your children. Are we going to bumble through our answers, have awkward transitions, and make absolutely no sense sometimes? Of course. But my kids are young — they won’t know any better! Maybe yours are older. They will likely still appreciate your candor, and God will help you grow over time. It’s never too late to start telling the truth.
The Truth Our Kids Need
If you have been in the habit of dodging your kids’ hard questions, you may need to ask for their forgiveness. Children become exasperated when Mom and Dad fail to be the primary truth-tellers in their lives. Paul tells us the solution is to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
As we grow in faithfulness to instruct our children in the truth, we trust the Spirit to grant us more wisdom to point them to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).