I once had a Christian friend who told me that he thought that most of the Bible should not be read to children because it is violent. When I asked him what he would do with Jesus dying on the cross, admittedly one of the most prolonged violent stories in the Bible, he just said, “Well yeah, I wouldn’t read that to my kids.” I should point out that although he was quite a bit older than me he didn’t have any kids; still his point stuck. What should a parent do with the violence in the Bible? Maybe it’s because I’m a guy and I have 5 boys and a cool daughter, I just kind of make it epic, but that’s just my approach. Truthfully if I read the stories to my kids in my epic sort of way, I know that one of the results is that they take on a bit of entertainment value and the stark reality of the bloodshed is lost on them. So in a way I guess I do censor some of the hard to understand parts of the Bible. I also know that the rabbi’s wouldn’t allow boys to read Song of Solomon until they had been bar mitzvahed, but that was for a different reason altogether.
But that’s the Bible. I’ve written in the past about holding to the value of teaching our kids the whole of scripture and gradually opening it up to their understanding as they grow, but what do you do when your child comes into your room in the evening and watches dumbfounded as ISIS comes on the screen for yet another act of brutality? What do you do when your middle schooler goes online and finds YouTube videos of uncensored, heinous persecution? What do you when your child goes to church on the weekend and hears stories about how Christians are dying for their faith around the world?
We could, I suppose, throw out the TV, unplug the internet and hole up in a bunker some place far from the influence of the outside world, but would retreating truly change the reality of millions of persecuted Christians around the world? Of course not! So while you would be safe in your make-believe utopia, the war would rage on, and (going out on a limb here) you would be held accountable to Jesus for your actions – or lack thereof.
As parents we actually have a responsibility to instruct our children about the world, harsh realities and all. The truth for us in the West is that we won’t likely be facing the kind of persecution being experienced in the vast majority of the rest of the world, but we do need to teach our child to have an accurate view of the world, an accurate view of persecution and an accurate view of the kind of Christian character that is required for us to persevere in the face of intense opposition. After all, Jesus prophesied on numerous occasions that Christians would face persecution, that there would be wars and rumours of wars and that at very least we would likely be hated for his name. (For an exhaustive list of scripture on persecution, click here.) If we don’t teach this to our kids and model a perseverant faith, they will be far more likely to falter when it arrives in their own life; whether that means a knock on the door or via media.
So, while I am an advocate of being very sensitive to age, and more importantly sensitive to your individual children (you know what they can handle), I am a strong advocate of speaking the truth, even when the truth is scary. How do we deal with the inevitable fear and prepare our kids?
- acknowledge that fear is real. I don’t know if Jesus was fearful per se when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane awaiting His final act of courage, but He was anxious to the point of sweating drops of blood. If Jesus experienced human emotions intensely in the face of persecution do we really expect that our kids won’t when face with stories of persecution? Of course they will! Fear is a normal human experience.
- However, note what Jesus did! He went to the Father! He prayed! This is the critical piece that is missing often in our lives when we deal with fear. Usually instead of running to God, we run to the TV, or video games, or books or ANYTHING to just get our minds off of what is causing fear. Whenever we use distraction as a means of overcoming fear, for us or our kids, we are communicating something powerful – God isn’t our first line of defense. And that is a tragedy. Read the stories! When our brothers and sisters in Christ are imprisoned for their faith and left to rot, all they have is Jesus. Do you think they are wishing they had an iPod to distract them from their reality? We need to teach our kids that Jesus IS everything! For us, Jesus does move powerfully through community and family, but we need to also teach them that they can come to Him on their own to deal with big scary emotions.
- Finally as parents, we need to demonstrate perseverance and discipline in our own lives. We need to make sure that where fear resides in our own hearts that we deal with it! I remember having a dream when one of our boys was 2 where he and I were climbing in an industrial park and he fell and died. I literally woke up panicked and crying – it was so intense. But I know that dreams rarely give us the actual facts of what will happen and are almost always symbolic, my son wasn’t going to die. However, regardless of whether the events are symbolic or not, the emotions in dreams are always real! In this way dreams are a gift because when we are the heat of overwhelm Jesus can speak powerfully to the fear that resides in our hearts. When I woke up panicked I had enough presence of mind to ask Jesus to speak to me about where this intense fear came from. He showed me that I was not trusting Him with my children and we dealt with another little piece of my fear, right there in bed, in the middle of the night. What would have happened if I hadn’t done that? First of all, I would have experienced no peace in the moment (and truthfully, even after hearing from the Lord our pulse might still be racing, but He is present with you in it.) Second, and more important, I may have had a panic attack every time I saw my son climbing trees or on farm machinery or the playstructure at school (why do kids insist on climbing beyond the platform on the roof?) Let me be clear, I don’t want to live with fear! And I certainly don’t want my kids to live with fear, so if I am going to translate calm, unshakable faith in my Lord Jesus Christ, I need to deal with my fear so I don’t pass that on to my kids.
What you do now in your life and in the life of your kids is absolutely going to prepare them to either face persecution with courage and calm faith knowing Christ is with them, or irrational fear and panic. Our kids need to know that we do not live for this world, that there is a better home, more real than the ground they stand on and that only those who endure to the end will taste it!
Parents, we’ve got this! Well, actually, Jesus has this! We don’t need to hole up and go AWOL. We can live on the grid, be normal and be truthful about the potential for difficult days. Oh but if you will just help your kids to meet and experience the love of Jesus Christ! That will make ALL the difference in their world. For we know, perfect love casts out all fear.