I could almost feel my eleven year old’s ears perk up as Chad and I talked in quiet tones about another church shooting, this one just a couple hours down the road from us. Our freckle-faced sixth grader listened without speaking, and I knew that he was picturing in his mind the same scene that I was imagining: our church. Our people. And the sound of gunshots ringing out.
There are no easy answers or simple platitudes to offer your children when their safe places are violated. How do you talk to church kids about the reality that even in God’s house, evil strikes? How do you hand your children hope and reassurance when the truth is sprawled across the internet in the form of live video: even here, where we worship the one true God, we are but vulnerable people who can be laid down by a sinner’s gun?
One thing we can’t do is tell them it will never happen to us. We can’t promise our children that pain or suffering or scary things won’t come their way, even when we are overwhelmingly tempted to do so. We would like to make all kinds of empty assurances to our children, just to erase the worry on their faces and the fear in their little hearts. We want to tell them that we will always protect them. That nothing bad can happen to them when they’re at school or at church or in our presence. We want to lie that there are no bad people out there who will try to harm them, and that sickness and trauma and death are worries for other people, not us.
There’s a reason children are notorious for lying awake at night when they ought to be sleeping, and it’s the same reason that many adults lie awake. This world is an unsure, unstable, and scary place. Kids get that reality from a young age. They may not be thinking about church shooters, but they are sure thinking about dark, shadowy corners in their rooms, bad dreams, strange noises, and the ever-present fear that something terrible is under their bed. All three of my kids had a firm grasp on many things to be afraid of before they were even speaking in complete sentences. We have to give our kids something more substantial to cling to in a frightening world than hollow promises that they know we can’t keep.
Yet we also can’t tell our children that the great and very good God that we serve will always keep them out of harm’s way. We would be remiss to assure our children that God wouldn’t allow this or that to happen, because they can clearly see that terrible, devastating things happen to people who love the Lord every single day. So, just what do we say to our children when church shootings and brain tumors and car crashes and active shooter drills at school fill their minds with fear and their spirits with dread?
I guess the real truth is that saying words to our kids will only get us so far. They also have to see something in us; something special that looks very different from the rest of the world. They need to see us living out the kind of faith that led an imprisoned Paul to pen these words, through the power of the Holy Spirit: To live is Christ, but to die is gain.
What if instead of trying to convince our kids that bad things aren’t out there, we spent their growing up years showing them through God’s word and through our own lives that no matter what happens, God will see us through it, whether by taking care of us on this earth or taking care of us in Heaven? When we believe in Jesus, we are never outside the keeping of our doting Heavenly Father.
What if we taught our children that there is more to existence than this life? That eternal perspective changes the way things look here on earth? What if we showed our kids that even in a scary world, hope shines bright in the form of Jesus Christ? His victory over death is ours. His victorious resurrection will be ours, too. What if we could say with all conviction to our precious little ones that sin and sadness and shootings and sickness don’t get to have the final word?
We can only do these things if we truly believe them. If we are going to God’s word and reading the truth. If we are steeping ourselves in the full and glorious promises of the only real Promise-keeper. The further we venture from His word, the fuzzier our view of His power and goodness seems. For times like these, for the church shooter days and the monster under the bed nights, for the why did this have to happen conversations, there is only one source of wisdom and truth, and our kids are counting on us to be able to offer the real answers and real promises of our good God. This life is hard. Our kids don’t need temporary relief. They need the eternal reality that belongs to the children of God, an unvarnished truth so good that it leads especially their parents to look them in the face and whisper this certainty with all sincerity: To live is Christ, but to die is gain.