Like most people, I (Alasdair) was no stranger to the fear of death as a child. I don’t doubt that I will feel it keenly again if the Lord chooses to let me see my last day approaching. But I was enormously helped as a kid in my battle against the fear of death by a very simple, vivid, and comforting truth my mother used to repeat to me. Indeed, it still comes to my mind, even now, when death rumbles by closer than normal.
The truth that helped me, of course, is that God holds us in his hands. He numbers our days. Not a hair can fall from our heads without his say so. He is in control, sovereign, and omnipotent. But it was the way she said it that stuck with me:
If it is the time God has chosen for you to die, you can drown in a thimble; if it’s not, then you can survive for days in the open ocean.
Now I’m not sure exactly how I knew what a thimble was. Maybe I’d started playing Monopoly. Maybe my mom had explained how a thimble is used in sewing when it came up in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. (I certainly never advanced to the point of being able to use a thimble in sewing!) I can’t recall. But I do remember genuinely understanding what she was trying to tell me.
The bottom line is that kids think about death; kids are afraid of death; and there’s nothing like a global pandemic closing their schools and churches, to make them start thinking more about it. This, then, is a perfect time to raise the subject with them.
I realize that talking about death, like talking about sex, is not the easiest for most parents. That’s ok. Both have a huge impact on our lives and we are right to be reverently cautious when we speak of powerful and intimate things. But that doesn’t mean we should refrain from speaking about them openly and often.
So especially if you’ve never talked about death with your kids before, I’d encourage you to find a time soon to ask them what they are thinking about the coronavirus, death, and what scares them about it. Few things are more comforting to a child than knowing that it’s ok to talk about their fears. (It’s ok to share your own fears, too.) Even if you’ve talked to them about death before, it’s still a great time to look for, or even create, chances to have open conversations about the biggest problem any of us will ever face and the Good and Gentle Shepherd who laid down his life to rescue his sheep.
Here are some practical and helpful suggestions on how to do this from my friend and colleague, Julie Lowe:
- Find out what your kids know and understand (about any subject) by asking open-ended questions. What do you think happens when we die? Why do you think people are afraid? Ask personal questions: What do you think about when you hear someone is sick? Has cancer? Is dying? Does it make you afraid? Tell me what makes you afraid?
- Consider what they are revealing about their own concerns and fears. It informs your response. Some children worry more about losing a loved one than getting sick themselves. Others fear dying or pain; some worry that they do not know what it will be like in heaven, or if they will go there.
- Keep your ideas and answers clear, honest, and hope-filled. As stated earlier, God is in control. Nothing can touch us that God has not allowed. He also will choose to use everything in our lives for good–even the hard stuff.
- Keep these conversations ongoing. Kids are always processing new things at different stages. Revisit the conversation a few days, months, and years later to see how they have processed it and what further questions or ideas it has brought up for them.
Julie further encourages parents:
“Our goal in all of this is to regularly point our kids to God’s faithfulness. They need practical reminders of God’s truths—reminders of his very present help in time of trouble. The more you show them his faithfulness and goodness in the small things in day-to-day life, the more they will embrace him as faithful in the big things.”
God is in control. Maybe we all need to start carrying thimbles in our pockets or sticking pictures of the ocean on our fridges to remind ourselves of this! I suspect that right now we could all stand to regularly revisit just how radically safe we are in Christ. The more clearly we remember this ourselves, the easier and more wisely we’ll disciple our children to place their own lives, and their own fears, in his hands.