Teaching our children about war

Thom DickFamily, Featured1 Comment

Remembrance Day is a holiday that has held increasing significance in my life as I’ve grown older. The challenge with a day like today is that it forces us to confront our beliefs about war and at every age because every kid in school comes home with some craft, or poem, or essay on the topic. Being confronted by an issue usually isn’t bothersome, provided we have control over the content that our children are exposed to and I would venture a guess that most of the material that children are provided with in schools surrounding Remembrance Day is age-appropriate. But who decides that? Who decides what portions of the war story are told and which are left out? I hope that we do not diminish the importance of those who heroically fought for freedom for our home in Canada not to mention for untold millions globally by making Remembrance Day about poppies instead of honour and horror.

War is horrifying. Yesterday morning our church staff spent an extended period of time praying together – as we do every month. While we were praying for people in need around the world I was struck, again, at the thought that at this very moment there are people who are terrified by the violence exploding around them. Terrified on both sides of the conflict, no doubt. And surely tonight on the news there will be yet more reporting on the innocents caught in the cross fire. How do we help our children to understand a reality so different from their own?

Of course, I immediately heard the voice of the parent in my head, “We need to protect our kids from exposure to this kind of violence!” “Don’t you know that my child has nightmares?” “What do you mean speak to our kids about war? Why destroy their innocence?” And then I had another thought that went something like this, “When did we become so afraid of fear?”

Did you know that being afraid is not the worst thing that might happen to your kids? Please sit on that statement for a few minutes.

I’m not talking about leaving our kids alone when they are awake in the middle of the night crying because of a bad dream, no that’s not it at all! But think of the profound benefit of fear in that situation – namely that we have the opportunity to come in a rock our babies back to sleep safe in the arms of mom or dad. There you have it! One benefit to fear! I used to think that when John wrote in 1 John 4:18 that perfect loves cast out fear that we could eventually get to a point where we lived fearless lives, but that isn’t what it is saying! Perfect love does cast out of fear, but it is precisely because we are afraid that we need God’s perfect love!

And there are other benefits to fear as well (not the least of which would be salvation from hell) but I’ll keep from listing them here.

Unfortunately now I’m going to have to take a time-out and make the ridiculous caveat that clearly I’m not writing to the whack-a-doo parents who subject their kids to violent movies and video games without any thought to their well-being, rather I’m concerned about the protectionist parents who try to keep their kids as emotionally safe as possible in every situation. If you do this you are actually keeping them in a make-believe world where Remembrance Day is about poppies and not about heroes and freedom.

And just to clear up another voice of dissent, I’m also not talking about the pacifism vs conflict debate. My grandfathers were both Conscientious Objectors in the Second World War (which means they were given official government permission to remain out of the war, usually taking non-combative roles during wartime because of religious beliefs) but my wife’s grandparents were not CO’s, in fact her Grandpa flew in the airforce in WWII. I am not, in fact, a pacifist, but I would be untruthful to say I can’t see the nobility in the teaching of peace and non-violent resistance; I truly do. I just tend to think that this particular debate should happen at other times because the reality of war past and present just is and that fact requires somber reflection regardless of whether or not we believe in the concept of a just war.

Remembrance Day then, should cause us all, including our children, as they are old enough, to participate in asking difficult questions. For example:

  • Do my prayers truly make a difference in the world?
  • Where is God when so many people are suffering?
  • Why would God allow such tremendous evil?
  • What is the difference between the wars of the Old Testament and today?
  • Will war ever come to my country and my home?
  • Does God use war? Does He cause war? Does He sanction war?

You might be tempted to think that your kids wouldn’t ask such deep questions, but I assure you if they are confronted with the truth of Remembrance Day, they most certainly will. And what will we do when those questions begin to stir that slumbering dragon called fear? Let me share with you what a very wise friend and pastor told his son when he was fearful, God will not keep you from all evil, but you can certainly pray that you will be aware of His presence in the midst of fear. In other words, God never leaves nor forsakes.

The truth is you might be able to keep scary things from your kids for a while, but chances are if they have any sort of active imagination they will be able to work up fearful thoughts all on their own. You can’t ultimately keep fear from your children so we would be far better off helping them to run to Jesus in their fear than protect them at all costs. Resiliency is muscle that needs to be exercised and I trust that God, who is able to meet my children in the worst situation, is able to also turn it for their strength and good.

So today, on Remembrance Day, don’t soft-sell a poppy as the subject of a war-time poem; explain upon whose graves those flower grew! Help your children to know the truth about war and pain and evil and then introduce them to our Glorious Father who transcends it all, yet meets us in it.



Children and War



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