I was helping my six year old get situated into a dingy truck stop toilet stall yesterday when she casually mentioned, “Hey, mom. Did you know my whole class can fit in our bathroom at school?”
“Huh?” I responded. “Why in the world would your whole kindergarten class go into that little bathroom at the same time?”
“Lockdown drill,” she responded in her innocent, no-big-deal six year old voice. “Why do we do those things anyway? Why would a bad guy ever come to a SCHOOL? I really don’t get it.”
I took a big breath as we washed and dried hands, knowing full-well that this particular child of mine would not be satisfied with pat answers. We talked about good and bad, sin and redemption, pain and hope. And, I’m sorry for being all braggy and stuff, but I think I handled it PRETTY OKAY. You know, for a frazzled, exhausted-from-Christmas mom in a reeking truck stop bathroom.
I strutted out of that bathroom toward the parking lot, hand in hand with Mary Grace, when I caught a glimpse of the TV just a few steps ahead. As I read the big, bold headline- “No indictment in Tamir Rice case”- I let out an audible groan. Clearly loud enough for Mary Grace to hear, for she didn’t miss a beat. “What is it, mom? What’s wrong?”
This time, I just couldn’t. I had depleted all of my resources back in that bathroom, attempting to put words around the horror of school shootings and the mess of this world. I had nothing left. While my soul felt the impact- but he was a boy! twelve years old! with a toy gun!- my lips uttered, “we’ll talk about it later, baby.”
She’s not one to forget. I’m certain she’ll ask. And I’m just as certain that this is not the last time a black boy will be gunned down as an “accident”. So, as parents, what can we say? When our children hear rumblings of these tragedies on TV or at school? When they catch glimpses of our shocked expressions and hear our low whispers and ask, “Why?”, how should we respond?
While I’m still figuring this out and am wading these murky waters right along with you, here’s my game plan:
- Start with the bad news. When man sinned and broke our perfect union with God, this world became a messy place. Broken. And this messed-up-ness isn’t limited to the “bad guys” who come into unsuspecting schools. Or those who kill black boys in a seemingly indiscriminate way. We have all sinned. Every one of us. We have all created this giant chasm between us and the holy God. A chasm that none of us can fix by our own good efforts or behavior.
- Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable. My kids are young- 7, 6, and 4. And still, we talk to them openly about racism. Sure, they know about the horrors of slavery, and they can rattle off the names of those instrumental in the civil rights movement. But they also know that today, in 2015, people continue to be treated differently because of the color of their skin. Race issues are never comfortable to discuss. But we’ve gotta go for it. Call a spade a spade. Racism is alive and well today, and it is evil. A sin that grieves our Creator God. Ignorance is never the best policy here.
- Teach our children that they have a voice. As parents, Matt and I try so desperately hard to teach our kids the power of words. We teach them that words can build up or tear down and that we must use our words for good. To advocate for the lives of others. We nail ’em hard when we overhear unkind and disrespectful speech in our home. We teach them to boldly speak up if they see a kid being bullied at school. And we pray all of this will set the stage for them to use their voices to advocate for justice and to preach the redemptive message of Christ Jesus as they grow into adults.
- End with the gospel. Yes, this world we live in is full of beauty. Joy. Moments in which God’s grace and mercy are so tangible that we weep in gratitude. But there is also unimaginable darkness and chaos and tragedy. We tell our kids that it’s okay to feel their feelings. When life gets hard, it’s okay to cry. And when pain befalls our neighbor, we weep with those who weep. However, it’s so crucial to remember that this is not the end of the story. Because, that giant chasm between us and God? Jesus came to bridge that. He came, lived the perfect life we could never live, and died an innocent man on the cross in our place. All of this happened so that we can be reconciled to God and have the hope of redemption. The promise that one day, heaven will come down to earth and there will be no more pain or tears or mass shootings or racism. But, in the meantime, our God is still in control. He is still on His throne, and His love for us has never, ever wavered.
This world we live in can be a crazy-scary place for our kids. And, heck, for us adults too. Sweet goodness, parenting in the days of headlines highlighting Tamir and Newtown and Paris and Nigeria is no joke.
At the end of the day, though, I can do everything that the world says is right as a parent. I can teach my children to be brave and to love and to speak up in the face of injustice. But if I tell them to love without pointing them to the God who IS LOVE, I have failed. If I teach them to use their voices for justice without first directing them to the God who IS perfectly holy and just, I have failed. And if I teach them to forgive without reminding them that they are first forgiven by our God who overflows with grace and mercy, I have absolutely failed.
Parents, let’s give our kids real answers. Let’s get honest with them and teach them the hard truths of this world, for ignorance helps no one. Let’s see them emboldened to bring truth and justice and grace to those who need it the most. But, most of all, let’s give them Jesus.