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 Newberry College. On our return, we walked past the large cemetery that lines College Street, and there were a couple of men prepping a grave site. As we walked by, my son said, “Dad, what are they doing?”
My soon-to-be five year-old asked one of his best gotcha questions. What was I to do? Was he too young to hear the truth? I could shrug the question off–perhaps redirect his attention to the sunset or a passing car. However, my inquisitive little guy deserved an answer.
So here is what I did. I stopped and sat on the wall to the cemetery and stood him in front of me and explained: “Buddy, at the end of each person’s life they die. When someone dies, they dig a hole in the ground, and they put their body inside a box and 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.”
Honesty: The Best Policy
Obviously, my son was pretty lost on the whole dying and being buried thing. However, 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 not lay out the answer in every intimate detail, but I’m not going to ignore his earnest inquiries.
My hope is that the patterns of communication that my wife and I establish early on with our children will equip us as parents. 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 only going to make it harder for myself down the road. Right now I’m learning to field basic questions like “Is Santa real?” or “Where do we go when we die?” 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 my wife and I step up to the plate now while their young, I trust that the Lord will give us more wisdom when their questions get more difficult to answer.
I also want to treat my kids with dignity as little ones made in the image of God. They deserve the truth. 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 question and answer will hopefully help us avoid heartache later on. I don’t want to discover too late that my kids have been going online, to their peers, or worse with questions they don’t trust me to answer to their satisfaction.
Taking Every Conversation Captive
In this situation, 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 kid asks you pointedly about a graveyard, is it really to his benefit to avoid the issue of death altogether? Yes, graveyards are morbid, but they are a part of this fallen world. My son’s question, which first felt like a gotcha moment, turned out to be a great doorway for the Gospel.
Many of our children’s most embarrassing questions can turn out to be perfect opportunities to talk about the good news of Jesus. I would encourage you to be on the lookout. Take those conversations captive. See those moments as times to sit and talk intentionally and honesty with your children. Are we going to bumble through our answers, have awkward transitions, and make absolutely no sense sometimes? Yes. But my kids are 4, 3, and 1–they won’t know any better! As I practice, I trust the Lord to grant me more wisdom in pointing my sons continually to Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life.