I was four-years-old. My crying drew my mother to my bedroom. She took my hand and prayed a word for each finger: “Jesus says, 'I . . . will . . . never . . . leave . . . you.'” Then (too soon!) she left. It was dark, the monster under my bed still wanted me, but now I was not alone. Jesus was with me.
In the wake of recent national tragedies involving children, what do we say to our kids? Experts’ advice, in both secular and Christian media, seems parallel. They caution awareness of age appropriateness. "Turn off the TV. Don’t expose little ones." Reassurance is stressed for all ages. Moms and dads are to listen to cues about their kids' concerns. Encourage them to talk and validate their feelings. Reassurance is emphasized. “Do not worry . . . that will probably never happen to you.”
Reasonable, but I wonder as I listen to all the variations on this theme, is comfort based on statistical improbability the best we can do for our kids? Does it prepare our children to face an unthinkable situation, or is it denial? Is it anything close to hope? When we sense Sandy Hook, Columbine and West Nickel Mines indicate a trend of violence against children, does it address the spiritual crisis in families?
We can do much more. These are the times to lay strong faith foundations for our childrens' present and future lives. That's why scary times can be so much more than scary times.
So what do children need in scary times?
1. Children living in scary times need parents with strong faith.
Children grow in the soil of their parents’ faith. So children need parents whose faith is sure, unshakable and full of big-picture hope.
What does a parent’s strong faith look like in the aftermath of our recent national tragedies?
We can say and model this: "While we are saddened, God is still in control. The world is going to be OK. Scripture tells us, 'Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.'"
"Look at history:
- Rome once ruled the world with an iron hand. It lies in ruins today.
- Hitler, Stalin and other evil men have all faced their Maker. God has the final word.
- God is still with us and for us. That’s the big picture."
2. Children living in scary times need faith tools.
Do your children know specific prayers for difficult times that practice the presence of Christ? Even toddlers can learn such prayers, just like I did from my mom: “Jesus says, 'I . . . will . . . never . . . leave . . . you!'”
Are your kids memorizing Scriptures that speak to the hope of heaven and the presence of God even in the valley of the shadow of death? My mother taught me to memorize Scripture as a toddler. Psalm 23 is a great starting passage: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want . . .”
On 9/11 before Todd Beamer said “Let’s roll!” and defiantly grounded the terrorist-controlled plane in a field in Pennsylvania, he reached out to an operator on his cell phone. He asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him ( . . . "deliver us from evil") as well as the 23rd Psalm ( . . . "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" . . . ).
He found strength to face the unthinkable in a faith established in his childhood. “Don’t worry . . . that will probably never happen to you” would have failed Todd Beamer on 9/11.
3. Children living in scary times need to know that God’s care for them is supernatural.
Most parents can point to times in their childrens’ lives when God’s care was obvious. Every child needs a parent who keeps these stories of God’s activity ever present. “Remember when . . . That reminds me of the time . . . I think God showed up in your life when . . .” are phrases parents of faith should use often. If God meets the smallest needs of our children (often in the most delightful and creative ways) won’t He do everything supernaturally possible to comfort a child in dire circumstances?
Well fine, you may be thinking, but what about Columbine? What about the children in the concentration camps of Auschwitz? Did the angels run scared? When a child dies in an accident or from disease in a cancer ward, where is God then? What do we make of God’s care at some points while at others it seems to be absent?
When evil and heartbreak win the day, is God still there?
Yes . . . especially then. Beyond our ability to sense and feel or touch, the supernatural world of God exists. Scripture’s unmistakably clear about this. Even when evil wins a heartbreaking battle, when the cost of darkness is the life of a child, God is present.
Who can say, or have the ability to sense, what God has done and might do in the face of a child's extreme predicaments and pain?
I can only suggest that God will do everything . . . perhaps something unheard, unseen, unfelt or totally unsensed by anyone other than the child at that moment."
None of us knows what our children may face in their lifetimes. But we do know that kids need parents who are strong and unapologetic in faith. Look at your hands, moms and dads, repeat as needed: Jesus says, "I-will-never-leave-you. Do-not-be-afraid!"
Adapted from Valerie and Steve Bell’s book Faith-Shaped Kids