Helping Kids Deal with Sorrow and Death.

One of the more difficult things I have had to do in my years of pastoral ministry is talk with kids about death. Explaining death and sorrow to kids has a profound influence on kids and a refining influence on us.

Recently a friend of mine gave me a book to read written by Jonathan Gibson entitled The Moon is Always Round. The book tells the story of his family dealing with the loss of their baby at 39 weeks. Dr. Gibson, a professor of theology, explained to his three-year-old son the goodness of God through a powerful metaphor of the shape of the moon we can see versus the shape the moon is always.

Dr. Gibson would often ask his son what is the shape of the moon and he would respond that it was a crescent; his dad would ask, what shape is it always? His son would reply, “Dad, the moon is always round.” Dr. Gibson would ask what does that mean? His son would say, “God is always good.”

What a profound metaphor. To have a metaphor that is biblically faithful and continually available is a gift and mercy. There is a part of the moon that we can see, the sorrows we face, but no matter the shape, the reality is that the moon is round because God is always good.

What Gibson is saying is that we see the face of the moon as half, full or crescent. But the shape of the moon we can see is not always the shape of the moon. The moon, no matter what we can see, is always round. He uses this illustration to show us that we don’t always see everything God is doing. We see parts but what we can’t always see is what is really true. Just like the moon’s shape never changes, God’s nature never does either. The moon is always round, and God is always good.

In a recent podcast, Jonathan Gibson recounts the conversation that led to the creation of his book. I highly recommend it.

Talking to our kids is important because death and sorrow are unavoidable and inevitable. We live in a culture that avoids death, but even in our greatest sorrows, we can and should point our kids to the goodness of God.

We live in a world that deifies youth and runs from death. We live in a culture obsessed with cheating death because they are convinced that this life is all there is. We have this idea that God is limited if he exists at all, but we are limitless because of medical advancements and scientific discoveries. Scripture tells us the truth that we are limited. Our days are literally numbered by God, and God is limitless in his care and in his person.

Christians fall victim to this thinking because the materialistic secular worldview is the air we breathe. C. S. Lewis said that everything in this life is marked by death. In A Grief Observed, Lewis talks about how his life was marked by the death of his wife.

“You tell me, “She goes on.” But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. . . . But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the love-making, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace. On any view whatever, to say “H. is dead,” is to say “All that is gone.” It is a part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death.”

Lewis is talking about something he had grown to understand because of the love he had for his wife. That death is pervasive that death will eventually claim everything and everyone we love. The problem is not if we will die but when. This is not something you hear much about in our modern culture. We don’t want to admit that we are dying and the thing we love will all pass away. Death reminds us that this world is not our home that this world is not all that there is but we avoid death in the hope that death will avoid us.

Matt McCullough in Remember Death, points to the power of life over death. Death’s power has been destroyed and even had its hold turned back on itself because of the resurrection of Christ. McCullogh says, “Jesus draws our attention to the grave to break our attachment to foolish hope in false gods, but not to pull us back from joy. He would rather return the good things of life to their proper place in our minds and hearts: they are gifts, not gods.”

One of the best things you can do to your kids is to take them to funerals, take them to visit people in the hospital, and talk to them about the reality that one day you, as their parent, will die. We live in a culture that is so unprepared for the reality and eventually of death that they don’t know how to live. The church in North America doesn’t talk about death. As a result, far too many Christians are filled with fear of their deathbed. This is a fear that should not be for a Christian. We have a sure and certain hope. Because your days are numbered because you belong to God, we do not have to fear. Nothing can take us from this life until God says we are done. When God says we are done, nothing can keep us.

How to talk to your kids about death?

  1. Tell your kids the truth. – In the podcast I referenced earlier, Dr. Gibson does not lie to his son. He doesn’t give him false hope. He tells him the truth and points his son to God’s goodness. “What shape is the moon….always?”
  2. Don’t speak for God; point them to God – God is always good, but what he does will not always make sense to you and me. There are mysteries that we will never fully understand. Don’t tell your kids what God should have done. Point them to the Word and teach them to trust God more than their eyes can see. 
  3. Do not minimize difficulty or simplify God’s glory or majesty. It is easy and tempting to give our kids pat answers to difficult questions or too difficult problems. Point them to the majesty of God. Remind them of what Mr. and Mrs. Beaver told the Pevenacy kids in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that God is not safe, but he is good. In trying to understand why people die and how people die, it’s important to remind ourselves that God isn’t safe, sin is real, but God is always good.
  4. Point them to the comforts of God and the assurances of scripture. – Another well-meaning but pernicious lie people tell kids after the death of a loved one is “God didn’t do this.” This may make them feel good for the time being but will inevitably produce insecurity, anxiety, and fear. If the devil’s ability to take life is more real than the power of God to preserve it, we are all in lots of trouble. In Deuteronomy 32:39, it says, “Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” This should not cause anxiety but give us great comfort because nothing can take us from God hand.

How do we live lives marked by joy in our present moment and filled with hope for the future? We realize that this life is but a foretaste of the glory to come.

“Jesus’s death and resurrection have purchased freedom to enjoy what you have even when you know you’re going to lose it. Enjoy your vacation even though it’ll be over in a flash. Enjoy parenting your preschoolers even though they’ll be grown in the blink of an eye. Enjoy your friendships. Enjoy your marriage. Enjoy your productivity at work. Enjoy whatever health you have left in your body. Of course these things won’t last. Yes, it will hurt when they’re gone. But they don’t have to last to be wonderful. They are delicious, God-given, God-glorifying appetizers for the hearty and satisfying meal that’s still to come. They are true and worthy foretastes of the banquet spread for all peoples. And Jesus saves the best wine for last.”

Matt McCullough

13 Years Ago Today

I remember Wednesday, February 12, 2007 like it was yesterday. It was the first time in my life I was confronted with death in such a helpless and tangible way. I had been a pastor for ten years and I felt like I understood sickness, sorrow, and grief. That day thirteen years ago I realized how little of life I understood. I realized that my faith was more firmly grounded in my faith than in my Savior. I believed that if you have big faith you get good results. That day was the beginning of the end of my trust in faith and the beginning of a long journey to truly trust Jesus alone.

I started down a path that led me through the fear of death thinking I would die early. It led to two years of me becoming undone in such a way that I began to realize as a pastor I need Jesus as much as the people who come through our doors every Sunday. It led me to a hope a true hope that made me realize no other hope will ever do. Matt McCullough in his Book Remember Death says this about sorrow and loss.

Honesty about death leads to grief, and grief over what’s true about this world leads to hopeful longing for the world to come. But there is another way in which our heightened feeling for death’s sting clarifies our hope for redemption and resurrection. It helps us see that any hope we have rests completely on a Savior who died and rose again. No other hope will do. The Heidelberg Catechism opens with a clear and profound question: What is your only comfort in life and in death? I love this question for the assumption underneath it. Any comfort in life must also provide comfort in death. If the object of our hope can’t stand up to death’s onslaught, it can’t offer true hope in life either.

Matt McCullough

Any comfort in life must provide comfort in death. Thirteen years ago I didn’t have that. Today I do. I have been a Christian my whole life and yet for thirty-two years of my life, I secretly feared death. I publicly proclaimed Christ and privately I clung to this life.

I don’t know why Robert died. I don’t. But every time I think of him and his death I smile as tears come down my face because I don’t think I would have been able to cling to a hope that can stand up to death’s onslaught if it wasn’t for his life. Weibel family I love you forever but Jesus loves you more. He is enough in our deepest pain. He is our hope. He gives us hope in this life because only he has withstood the onslaught of death.

Robert, we miss you and we can’t wait to see you again.