My 4-year-old daughter Maggie has always been a bit studious for her age. She knew colors when she was 2, was reading the entire alphabet when she was 3, and by the time she turned 4, could read a digital clock.
So I was a bit surprised when my wife told me toward the end of last year that Maggie had failed a holiday pop quiz. The question from my wife was the same one that Charlie Brown shouted to all of his friends: What’s Christmas all about?
Maggie’s answer: “presents.”
I’m sure she said it in an oh-so-sweet voice, and I bet she even had an oh-so-precious smile on her face, but she also was oh-so-wrong. Christmas, my wife told her, is about Jesus—even if presents can be part of innocent holiday fun. By the end of the day Maggie had watched a cartoon about baby Jesus and had been read a book about baby Jesus, and it’s safe to say she went to bed that night knowing that Christmas wasn’t all about dolls, dollhouses and pretty pink necklaces.
Of course, it’s easy to teach children about Christmas, with its spotlight on a sweet tiny baby surrounded by animals and shepherds on a clear, starry night. It’s such a “sterile” and “clean” story that even non-Christians are attracted to its power.
But what do we do about Easter? Instead of a baby, we have a bruised and bloodied man. Instead of shepherds in worshipful awe, we have mocking, hate-filled onlookers. Instead of a stable, we have nails, a crown of thorns and a cross. And instead of a story about life, we apparently have a story about, well, death. How do we teach our children that?
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I won’t ever forget the first time I told my oldest son about Christ’s death and resurrection. It was right after he spit up on my shoulder, and just a few minutes before I placed him gently in his crib. I don’t think he understood much at all that evening. He certainly didn’t ask any questions. In fact, I’m pretty sure he already was asleep.
He was an infant, about six months old.
I’ve repeated that routine most nights since then, and have now incorporated it into a bedtime song. For his twin brother and sister, I began telling them the Gospel message much earlier, right after birth.
With the Easter celebration upon us, parents often wonder: What’s the “right time” to talk to a child about such a concept as death — specifically, Jesus’ death? May I suggest the answer is now?
We tell our children every day that we love them, so why should we wait until they’re older to share with them a much greater message about love? That is, that the God of the universe loves them even more — so much so that He died on a cross for them.
For some parents, though, this can be a difficult subject. Here, then, are four suggestions to make it easier.
1. Be positive. Talking about Jesus’ death on the cross is easy because it has an ending far greater than anything Disney ever will produce. Sure, if the story only were about death, it would be difficult, even awful. But Jesus rose from the grave and is alive! When I tell the Gospel to my children at night, I never stop at Jesus’ death. If we’re reading the chapter about the cross and the tomb, we don’t end there. I want them to go to bed knowing that the God of the universe conquered sin and death and couldn’t be kept in the grave — and because of that, they can have eternal life. It’s called “Good News” for a reason. Continue reading →