I could see the worry in his eyes as he sat buckled into his car seat. I closed the door and climbed into the driver’s seat for the short commute to school. My six-year-old had just been hit with the sobering news that his older brother’s classmate lost her dad last week.
“How did he die?”
He asked the question in earnest, and when I was slow to respond, he quickly asked again. Behind the question, I could hear wheels turning, trying to comprehend that the death of a parent is a real possibility in the world he lives in.
I could hear his unspoken questions, too.
Could that happen to you?
What if you or Dad died?
Am I safe?
As parents, we are constantly teaching, shaping, modeling, correcting, and training. Sometimes our children hear us; other times our words fall on deaf ears.
But then there are moments when life brings our children to a troublesome place. A place where they are faced with harsh reality. In these moments, our children are all ears because they are desperately seeking for answers, for help making sense of a new-found aspect of their world.
We call these teachable moments.
I have found that the Spirit of God helps me to recognize these moments. When one of my children asks a question or a subject suddenly comes up, it’s as if the Spirit helps me to step back from the conversation and see its magnitude for what it is. This is a conversation that matters. This is one that will stick.
That’s when I panic a little bit.
I want to answer well. I want to speak truthfully. I want to shape my children’s worldview in the right ways.
But I, alone, am not up to the task.
I need the Spirit to bring to my mind the words of scripture that apply to the situation at hand. I rarely have the opportunity to stop and look things up in these moments–I have to do it off the cuff (which just highlights for me the importance of saturating my days with the Word of God). I take comfort from these scriptures:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience… 1 Peter 3:13, 15-16a
And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11
In order to give a good answer, I have to be prepared, I have to pray for wisdom, and I can trust the Holy Spirit to give me words to speak.
When my son asked about the death of another girl’s father, I knew he was asking so much more.
I panicked, I prayed, then I proceeded to tell him the truth. I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken to a more attentive audience.
“I don’t know how he died, son. But God knew, even before it happened. We will all die, every one of us. We don’t know how or when, but God knows the whole story of our life, even before we’ve lived it.
But you know what? We don’t have to fear death.
When Jesus came–God who put on flesh to be human like us–He died, too. But He didn’t stay dead. He came back to life. He conquered death so that we can live.
Do you want to know how the story ends?”
(I see fervent head nods from the back seat. They’re hanging on every word.)
“Jesus is coming back one day, and when He does, the Bible says that the dead in Christ will rise first. The dead will come back to life! We will meet Him in the clouds, and we will reign with Him forever. Death is an ending, but it’s not THE END.”
After a bit of thought, my son said, “So, that could be tomorrow?”
Yes, son, it could be.
I see my son cling to the hope that he might live without knowing the pain of death. I know what that hope feels like.
The older I get, though, I am beginning to accept that death is inevitable. For my parents, for me, for my children… It is only a matter of time. I will grieve. Or someone else will grieve for me.
Or Jesus will come back. That’s still a possibility.
If I thought that death were the end, I’d probably spend the rest of my days in despair. Or overindulgence and destructive behaviors. But in Christ, I have hope. I can embrace death as the end of a chapter, not the end of my story.
Knowing that death is coming someday, in an odd way I feel more alive. I breathe deeply, I see the people in front of me more clearly, and I live more intentionally.
Death as a means to life is a pretty common theme in scripture, too:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4:8-12
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
I know I still have a lot to learn. I can see how my perspective has shifted as I’ve stepped into my mom’s role and watched her step into my grandmother’s role. I see another generation coming up behind us who will take our place as we take our parents’ places and our perspective shifts again.
I hope I’m teaching my children how to look for teachable moments.
One day they’ll be the ones answering the questions.