Tara and I have a movie and pizza night once a week with our older kids. I really love pizza and movie night, but I often face a dilemma; the movies that are safe for the whole family can get a bit, well, boring. For the past few weeks we’ve been watching season 1 of MacGyver thanks to a gift from Grandma, but… there’s only so much MacGyver you can watch in a sitting… or a month. (Odd how unbearably cheesy that show is – I didn’t remember it being that way as a kid!) Last night we settled in for what I thought was going to be a horrendous movie called Akeelah And The Bee which I had put it only our potential list in Netflix last week thinking this was probably a movie that would appeal to Tara and no one else; I was wrong. What a powerful movie, it was absolutely delightful! (Incidentally it has nothing to do with honey bees, to my seven-year-old’s confusion.) Now, I will admit that there were a few bad words (maybe 6) and I did cringe when I heard them, but then again, there is a certain grittiness that comes with characters growing up in the ghetto and my kids seemed to get it – their language didn’t suddenly change overnight.
While the movie is definitely a feel-gooder there was real tragedy in it as well. Lost loved ones (in the back story, not on-screen), poverty, poor self-esteem, crime and strained relationships. It made me think about the power of one life redeemed from a mess could have on a whole community. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the other people who wouldn’t find their way off of those dangerous streets where Akeelah lived. Jesus said we would always have the poor among us but poverty, in this movie, wasn’t enemy number 1, there was something else, an oppression that kept people from rising above their situation and finding freedom, I guess you could call it evil.
Some kids wouldn’t be able to handle the evil portrayed in Akeelah And The Bee, but my kids could. That isn’t because we have desensitized them to it, but, I think because we have faced evil as a family. We have met death in our immediate family as well as the near death of Tara, but we have also seen a hidden, quiet oppression through the eyes of our foster kids. Of course I am careful in choosing my words, because given a different situation, my life would have turned out very differently; there is the potential for evil around and within every soul. But like it or not, our kids have had to grapple with the difficult reality of a broken world and it hasn’t been easy for them.
What do you do as parents when you children are confronted with the reality of evil in whatever perverse form it takes?
The first thing is, as always, to think about the age of your child. If they are little then the way you combat the evil they face is to enter into it with them. When they cry, you cry and hold them tight. When they are afraid, you give them your presence as protection. When they are confused, you provide the greatest stability you possibly can. To some degree this is true for all people, but then there comes this time, different for each child, when they suddenly get it. It may come in the form of fear or anxiety where you are watching a pretty benign movie and suddenly they have an emotional reaction to what is going on. Or it may come in the words that are prayed at night which betray an inner struggle. Or they may simply ask how God could allow bad things to happen if He really loves us. Whatever the case at some point you will need to help your children grapple with this reality (and incidentally, if you have not grappled with it, you need to as well. I recommend Ravi Zacharias’s book, Deliver Us From Evil, as a good place for the adult to start.)
Next I would help my child to understand some important Biblical truths about evil, which although they may be hard to understand and decidedly uncomfortable because they aren’t quick fixes, are Biblical and that means they are true.
- There is a spiritual reality at work in our world. Take them to Ephesians 6 and read about the Armor of God together. Talk about the fact that there is a war going on that we cannot see and although the ultimate winner has been decided there are many skirmishes where it appears that our enemy has the upper hand for the moment. This is so critical for two reasons, 1) it puts the ultimate blame where it belongs (the rulers and principalities of the unseen world) and 2) it gives us tools to feel confident in battle! Each piece of armor is special and accessible to all Christians regardless of their age. It might be surprising, but God can actually comfort your kids with this truth!
- God uses evil to draw us towards Himself. Now it isn’t that God likes evil, in fact I often think of evil as the places where God isn’t, but God is pretty amazing and he can USE evil to help us know Him. There are many evil things that God has used to help people meet Him, sickness, fear, even death! Find a children’s biography about a real person and use it to show how God drew near in times of trouble. (I recommend the series “Christian Heroes Then And Now” from YWAM publishing.) We must help our kids understand that God will not keep us from evil but that He will always help us through evil! He is always, always ready to meet us in scary times.
- Finally we need to help our kids know that life is not fair but God is. There is a time coming when evil will perish and the devil will be punished and God will rule the earth with justice! Until that time, evil will be around, but Christians always look forward to the future and our life with Jesus! That promise, although distant, is still astonishing.
Innocence is good and we should help our kids to stay innocent about many things until they are able to handle them, but kids they are exposed to evil because evil is everywhere and we need to be prepared to love them with an answer. Take a minute to consider the evil that your kids may have been exposed to. Ask the Lord to help you discern whether they have unspoken fear and for a strategy as to how you will answer them. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to jot down some comforting verses about our future with Jesus to save for the day when your kids (and you) need them. Promises like, Romans 8:28 and Romans 8:38, and the incredible words at the end of Revelation,
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. Revelation 21:5-7 (HCSB)