December 17, 2017

How I Teach My Children About Jesus

1389.4 Holocaust E

I first met Laree Lindburg at a writers’ conference six or seven years ago. We have been good friends, and even business partners, ever since. Laree, her husband, and their three boys live in a flyover state in the heartland. I asked her to share how she teaches her boys about Jesus. Welcome Laree to the iMonastery. 

My friend and former boss-man, Jeff Dunn, asked me to write a post for iMonk on how I teach my children about Jesus. The iMonk audience is one I respect greatly and am a little intimidated by to say the least…so, here goes!

My two oldest children and I are reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. At ages 7 and 8, they may seem on the young side for such a book, but that makes me want to read it to them all the more. Books like this are meaty. These books don’t coat reality to make it go down easier. They present the authentic, dirty, horrifying truth of our world.

Our reading has taken us through chapter seven thus far. Up to this point in the book, the author has laid out a beautiful and powerful story of her family whose roots reach deep into the community and even deeper into their love for Jesus Christ. Mother unselfishly thinks of others despite her inability to speak or function on her own. Corrie is pushed to question whether logically a lie or the moral truth is the acceptable and correct response in such circumstances. And Father who, as he watched his Jewish neighbors being loaded into a wagon and removed from sight forever, shed tears—tears for the Nazi soldiers who knew not what they did.

Corrie Ten Boom’s famous book has passed my nightstand before and I know the heart-crushing stories that she will recount in upcoming chapters. I chose this book over others for our summer reading together because I desire with all my being to see my children know and love Jesus in a messy, sloppy and socially unacceptable yet authentically personal manner. Jesus doesn’t have an imaginary circle around him from which he nudges us aside saying, “Uhmmm. You’re in my space. Back off a bit. Can you say ‘boundaries?’” He invites intimacy, even from children.

As my children listen to me read the gradually more graphic text of The Hiding Place they get scared. Legitimately they are confused about what they hear and inquiries burst forth like bad plumbing.

From such an awkwardly emotional place is exactly where I hoped they would be reacting—each personally invested and questioning why, who and how come. Wasn’t it Jesus who seemed to answer most questions with another question? Or maybe a parable, if he so chose?

After reading a scene which described how the Jewish people were treated—forced to wear a yellow star on their coats and coerced to give up their possessions and ultimately pushed onto a wagon to be removed for good from society—my eldest son ran upstairs and grabbed a book about WWII. He leafed through with much urgency until the pages fell open to the sought-after location. “There, Mom, see—the stars they wore.”

I read that specific caption aloud along with the entire page of pictures and descriptions. Most of the dialogue and photographs were about the concentration camps. Did I want to shut the page and ignore history? Did I want to comfort myself and say, “This is too much for children their age”?  Yes, I did. I was tempted. Only I didn’t close the pages. Why I chose to keep that book propped open on my lap and allow my 7 and 8 year-old kids to peer at the pictures of morbidly thin and sickeningly tortured individuals and to hear the words that described them was because there were pictures of children their age.

It could have been us. It could be us someday, I thought.

A small flame burst  anew in my soul and I wanted my boys to know Jesus, as these people were forced to know him—bloody, urine-soaked, dying—and all for us miserable sinners.

I posed to them a possibility, “Boys, what if this happened to our family? What if, because of our faith in Jesus, all five of us were rounded up like cattle and taken in a semi-truck to an unknown location. There, the enemy divided us up—you to the right, you to the left, me to the back and dad to the front. Then we were taken from one another. Tortured, worked and more than likely killed, never to see our family members’ faces again…What would you do?”

Yep, I said that.

My eldest child began to tear up. Go on, son—cry! We all need to figure out what it would take now before it really happens. We should put ourselves in the shoes of those who have walked in this misery and sadness for their faith. And those who do so even today.

Both boys sat still, motionless even—an amazing feat for two young man cubs—and it seemed their blood stopped must have run cold. Finally, my middle child spoke in barely a whisper, “I don’t know. That would be bad, mom. Really bad.”

“Bad is a good word to describe that situation, right?” I huddled in closer and prayed for their ears to hear and my words to be true. “We can’t do this on our own, guys—not even belief in Christ for salvation can come to us without God’s help.” I pointed to my 7-year-old, “Do you know Jesus, buddy? Do you know why it’s important to know Jesus?”

“Yes,” he answered with some confidence.

“Why?”

He shifted on the couch. “Because we need forgiveness from our sins.”

“That’s right! And you?” I looked to my oldest boy.

He nodded his head in agreement.

“We have hope then, boys. Hope in Someone. Hope that Truth is not only written on paper but alive and breathing and able to save us from our sins—and able to bring us to be with Him. But does that mean we won’t ever have pain? Does that mean that we won’t ever be hurt by others or starved of food or homeless in this life?”

Silence.

“We will experience pain and difficult times—maybe not like the holocaust but maybe so—if Christ experienced such things, we should expect to as well.”

I hugged each boy and drew them near my sides. “Listen, no matter what happens, you never deny Christ. No matter if they threaten to kill me or your dad—you stand firm in your faith in Jesus, okay? We will all be reunited in heaven and worship the Lord together—no matter what happens on earth. We have to trust Jesus.”

Hugs continued and I prayed a short petition aloud. Then they ran up and built an amazing space speeder out of Legos.

This is an example, whether good or bad, of how I daily teach my boys about Jesus. Granted, a better approach, and one I hope occurs even more often, is their seeing action in me. Less talk and more show…like the adage in writing, “Show don’t tell.”

Call me a crappy parent. Give me a pat on the back. Whatever you think—I’m on a learning curve too, but I desperately, intensely pray that I display the One True Savior to my children.

We all should be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have, right (1 Peter 3:15)? Serves as a good review and refresher to day by day teach children that life and death are connected (Deut. 30:15), night and morning are joined (Deut. 6:7), light and darkness go together (Isaiah 58:10) and faith and forgiveness come only in Christ (Acts 26:18).

 

 

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    “Mother unselfishly thinks of others despite her inability to speak or function on her own. ”

    I loved this part of ‘The Hiding Place’:

    ““Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with soup pot and sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair at the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street– and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls which shut it in. ”
    (? Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place)

    Dear Mother-of-man-cubs,
    someday perhaps you can take your boys to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

    there are some places we visit that stay with us for a very long time until they become a part of ‘who we are’
    by way of their impact on the way we then choose to live our lives

  2. This really touch me. Thank you. I really want my children to understand what it really means to follow Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • What does it really mean to follow Jesus?

      I respect the author’s desire to transmit something about Jesus and something about reality to her children, but I have to admit that I’m having difficulty equating “imagining the worst possible thing that could happen to us” with “really following Jesus”. To me this is just another permutation of the ‘Extreme/Radical/All-out’ variety of modern Christianism.

      I used to torture myself with doubts about what I’d do if I was threatened with being burnt at the stake. I thought that this was ‘spiritual’ or something, but it was all in my head. It’s a useless hypothetical either/or (like “would you rather drown or be stabbed?”) which actually doesn’t connect with my present reality at all.

      How does that neat quote go? Something like: “God will give you the grace to handle what happens to you, He doesn’t give you the grace to worry about the things that aren’t going to happen”.

      Honestly: if you and your children have to go looking for suffering elsewhere, consider yourselves blessed and make the most of it.

      • I don’t think you have grasped Laree’s point. She is not instilling unnecessary fear into her boys. She is using this as an opportunity to show them Jesus, a glance they may not get in any other way at their age.

        And Jesus promised us tribulation in this world if we are to follow him …

        • I think maybe she is instilling unnecessary fear into her kids. I get what she is trying to do by not candy coating life, but I think they are a bit young to see pictures of starved, dead children, etc. Yes, we are promised tribulation, but if we dwell on that (as I’ve seen many a Christian do) that is all we begin to see. So many Christians I know, while espousing a God who loves them and cares for them and will take them home someday, live life in terror of “the others” who they are sure are plotting to come after them. We are part of the world and we can’t be a positive influence if we walk around in terror of everybody who isn’t exactly like us.

          I understand the authors motives, but I question her methods. Evil is rarely anywhere near as clear as a Nazi coming to your door and hauling you away.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Anti” has two meanings in Greek: “In opposition to” (like a Nazi coming to your door and hauling you away), and “in imitation of” (like Satan — or any sociopath — transforming themselves to appear as an Angel of Light). The two work very well as a tag team of Fanatic Persecutor and Slick Deceiver, and the latter — the Slick Deceiver– has always been the most effective.

          • It may not be “unnecessary” fear in the case of the Nazis. The question is whether Larree’s kids are too young or not, but that’s up to her. If they are reading The Hiding Place at whatever age they do need to understand fear or it can’t make sense. My kids were young during the ’91 US invasion of Iraq, then during the 2001 terrorist attacks, and I don’t think they could have processed that without a dose of fear. Even the fairy tales instill a bit of fear to keep us away from the wolves.

            But I AM firm about not making enemies, or instilling fear, where there needn’t be any. The Culture Wars are dividing people, dividing Christians, and those who promote those wars may themselves be the ones to fear.

          • Suzanne-

            As a mother, I cosign your post. I respect my kids’ intellect and I am truthful with them insofar as is possible given their age. But…given their age. I also respect their right to a feeling of safety and security, and how important that feeling is for allowing them to develop empathy and ethics as they grow.

            I also become very uncomfortable when Christians use the holocaust as…I don’t know how to put this delicately. As like a way of roughly stimulating their emotional response to tragedy and evil. It seems objectifying to me. Inappropriate and insensitive to the victims. Yes, Christians were martyred, like Bonhoeffer. Others sadly were culpable and cowardly. It’s not really our thing to use as we please, to bring on the sniffles and teach our kids a Tough Lesson About Life.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As someone who found out about such horrors at an early age (natural-talent speedreader since age 4), I think she’s going a bit too far too fast. She’s going to have to be careful to NOT instill persecution paranoia in her kids. (Persecution Paranoia is also part of the Evangelical Circus; I think the original IMonk had a couple essays on the subject.)

          The Church faced a similar dilemma to this sub-thread in the 4th Century, when Christianity finally became legal in the Roman Empire and the Church could finally go above-ground in the open. The previous 300 years of intermittent persecution had defined “Witness” and holiness mostly in terms of persecution and martyrdom; with the Persecutions over and no chance of being Martyred, how then were they to Witness? How could they even be Saved? Some went into ascetic monasticism, literally persecuting themselves with their “mortifications”. Some went into sin-sniffing. Some went into heresy-hunting. And some just went into living their lives.

          • Highwayman says:

            I agree with HUG.

            I’m all for being straight with kids and answering their questions about life, death, illness and all manner of things as honestly as possible, as they’re generally a lot tougher and more able to cope than those who want to protect the “darling children” give them credit for.

            On the other hand, I remember as a child listening to my mother getting very aerated about proponents of the secret rapture theory, on the basis that they were painting a false picture and we should all be ready to go through the great tribulation. Looking back now, I think it caused me needless worry at that age and I really wish she hadn’t.

      • Ben,

        I think rather than this being just another modern permutation of ‘Extreme/Radical/All-out’ Christianity, the author is instead looking back on the examples of those who lived out extreme/radical/all-out Christianity and pointing her sons toward those good examples of faith, as the Church has done since its beginning. It has never been the ‘New Hip Thing’ to gain insight and encouragement (or shame if necessary) from martyrs that have gone before us. That has been around since, well, the book of Acts I guess.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But there is such a thing as tunnel-vision on Martyrdom and Persecution. See my previous comment above, as to how the Church went through a similar dilemma in the 4th Century when they finally got legalized. Without Martyrdom, how were they to Witness? Without Persecution, were they really Saved? How can you ever live WITHOUT Persecution?

          • HUG, I agree, and I am thankful I did not grow up in a church that embraced that tunnel-vision, but did you really get the sense from the author that ‘scare-tactics’ were her only approach to sharing about Jesus with her children? We were just given a glimpse into an intimate moment of learning and sharing between the author and her children, not a ‘7-steps to keep your child in the way she should go.’

            To answer your question: Probably the best way to live without persecution is to write a book about persecution and sell it to a lot of people 😉 .

  3. James the Mad says:

    “Hugs continued and I prayed a short petition aloud. Then they ran up and built an amazing space speeder out of Legos.”

    HUG, Ross & Suzanne: I hear what you’re saying, but I would disagree. First, I suspect this was one of their more potent discussions, and not all discussions are going to be on this same level. But second, and more importantly, the fact that they can go directly from this lesson to building “an amazing space speeder out of Legos” leads me to believe that they have a healthier perspective on all of this than we might think they would at such a “tender young age.”

    I learned a long time ago that even young children can compartmentalize their lives, knowing when they can and can’t behave in certain ways and what the boundaries are that define their actions in certain settings. This is no different.

    • Suzanne says:

      Yes, children can compartmentalize their lives, but what they have seen and heard is there in the recesses somewhere. Ask almost anybody who has suffered trauma as a child.

      I get what the author is trying to accomplish, but I think there are more age appropriate ways to do so. It’s kind of like when my children were young and asked me where babies come from. I could have gone into great and glorious detail complete with pictures and diagrams because that is the reality of it. But to what end? Sowing seeds before the ground is properly prepared rarely produces growth.

      • James the Mad says:

        Just to clarify, I was using compartmentalize in a much milder fashion, and perhaps I should have used amother word with less baggage.

        Yes, I know victims of trauma can compartmentalize things in such a manner that they can seem normal on the outside, and when away from the source of the trauma. What I was thinking of, though, is their ability to be all serious working on a project, giving total attention and obedience to the guy in charge one minute, then go totally crazy and play “dog-pile on the den chief” 5 minutes later. 🙂

        What I’m seeing here is similar – a healthy ability to respect situational boundaries. When they’re discussing The Hiding Place they fully understand the seriousness of the situation. Five minutes later they’re playing with Legos. I see that as a healthy ability to move from one task or situation to another.

    • James,

      I don’t think we disagree. 🙂

  4. Did you ever see a sweeter and sadder picture? These 2darling boys, wearing the Star of David? Do you think the ones who allowed this to happen will have a lot to answer for? Perhaps if children learn to love their neighbors early in life, it would please our Lord very much and save a lot of innocent lives.

  5. Final Anonymous says:

    I tend to err on the over-protective and gender-neutral sides of parenting, but as a mom of boys I understood exactly where the author was coming from. Some (not all) boys are active little conquering machines who wake up each day with the approach “What can I destroy?” They are attracted to the fight scenes in Disney movies, bend crayons into guns, and destroy their own and others’ block towers without a thought to the feelings of the builder — in fact, feelings are often the missing element in all this destruction.

    And yet, they are innocent of malice. Bombs and swords and fights are fun and competitive. They don’t see, without careful and well-timed teaching, the other side of potential violence.

    Absent any psychological disorder, they all learn this empathy eventually, I believe. But finding opportunities to teach it early doesn’t hurt (and may spare hurt feelings of future lego builders). Parents have to carefully consider the temperament of each of their children and use descretion, of course, but I have no doubt some of my boys would have been more than ready to hear this lesson at 7 and 8.

  6. Robert F says:

    “Listen, no matter what happens, you never deny Jesus…..”

    In his novel “Silence,” Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo renders a fictional account of the Japanese persecution of Roman Catholic clergy and converts in the 17th century. In the beginning, the Japanese authorities had welcomed Catholic missionaries, with an eye toward the benefits that might be reaped politically and economically from contact with the West; but with a change in Japanese leadership, that openness changed into a ban of the profession and practice of Christianity, with torture and execution the punishment for those who refused to deny their faith.

    In an effort to crush Christianity in Japan, the authorities decided to focus on coercing the Portuguese missionaries to publicly renounce their faith before the Japanese converts, cagily hoping to discredit Christianity by discrediting the leadership. When arrest and torture of the priests did not result in denial of their faith, the Japanese authorities developed a new strategy. They would force the missionary priests to witness the torture and execution of their own flocks, the very people they had converted; only if the priests publicly recanted their faith would the converts be spared torture and death.

    The young priest and protagonist of the novel, Father Rodrigues, is first tortured and then forced to witness the brutal execution of members of his flock, all the while being told by a Japanese interrogator that he is selfish and monstrous to put the purity of his faith above the lives of his flock by refusing to deny his faith. At first he resists. Ultimately, however, Rodrigues stamps on the fumie, a kind of medallion that represents Christ to the Japanese faithful, and publicly renounces his faith, all the while wondering at the silence of the God, who he knows is real, and believing that the lives of his flock are indeed more precious to that God than whatever words or gestures he might be forced to say or make to save their lives.

    “Listen, no matter what happens, you never deny Jesus….” ?

    • Matthew James says:

      Yep, if that’s what you tell your “flock,” then that’s what you do.

      But if you want to raise your own little “flock” by telling them that there are situations where it’s appropriate to deny Jesus, and you think you can justify that before the Lord someday, then have at it.

      • Robert F says:

        What you don’t seem to understand, Matthew James, is that the directive given to the children in the above post to never deny Jesus, even if “they threaten to kill me or your Dad,” gives rise to a morally far more difficult possibility, and a question in children’s minds that may go unasked even as it uproots their most basic sense of trust: “But Mommy, does that mean that you would never deny Jesus, even if they threatened to kill me?” Because that’s exactly what the bastards would do, and have done since time immemorial. I don’t think you can give an easy and pat answer involving simply never denying Jesus to such a question, and I don’t think you can legitimately assert that there isn’t a terrible moral ambiguity involved is such a possibility, an ambiguity that a God who loves his children must certainly take into account when his children come before him. If you think otherwise, then have at it, but don’t have the temerity to think that you wouldn’t be running an eternal risk as well.

        • Robert F says:

          When I refer to “bastards” in the above comment, I’m of course referring to the persecutors, not the children, as my poor sentence construction above might lead some to think.

        • Thank you for this, Robert F.

          Just a few days ago my pastor referenced Luther’s quote about each of us being “little Christs” to one another in our earthly vocations, and I thought of it reading your two comments. Being a little Christ to my children, I am to give myself up to save them…what would that mean in such a terrible circumstance? I don’t think it’s clear at all. I don’t know that there’s a one size fits all answer to that. But in the here and now, where no such persecution (thanks be to God) is going on in our lives, I know that it is my duty to engender that trust in them that I would do everything in my power to save their lives. Endangering that trust for the sake of some religious thought exercise premised on a persecutory fixation seems…unwise, to say the least.

  7. Michael Z says:

    I’ll echo what the others have said about being careful of “Persecution Paranoia.” If you want to teach your kids about injustice, why not tell them about some of the very real things that are going on in the world right now?

    The father in _The Hiding Place_ weeps for the Nazis who are committing these atrocities. Those Nazis were “good Christians” who thought they were defending their religion and their culture. And “good Christians” today have flown the drones that blow up entire apartment blocks full of innocent women and children just to get at one group of suspected terrorists, have imprisoned others for ten years without trial, have tortured others, and have caused hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq (many of them, ironically, Christians who were safer under Hussein than in the present circumstances).

    If you really want your kids to get the point of _The Hiding Place_, it’s not just imagining what we would do if we were persecuted – it’s also to ask ourselves, “If this were happening to someone else in my society, would I fight against it? Or would I be one of the ‘good Christians’ who stood back and did nothing?”

  8. Amen, Michael Z.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Something I just remembered related to Kincade:

    Some years ago in a blog post about Disneyfication vs Reality(?), JMJ/Christian Monist mentioned some TV coverage of a Thomas Kincade-themed “planned community” (i.e. theme park-themed housing tract) somewhere in the SF Bay area that was selling out FAST. “And the most common buyer? Born-Again Christians, by the fiberglass buggy-full.”

  10. Christiane says:

    I remember that Princess Diana hoped to teach her children about the poor, and she used to take the boys with her when she visited the homeless. So now, both boys have grown up and are involved in charities in Britain that care for the people who most seriously need help.

    We say many things to our children, hoping to make a difference in their lives to guide them in certain directions;
    but they remember most the example of our own behaviors and interactions with others . . . parents model compassion . . . children learn compassion.

    Yes, little ones need to be raised with a thought for others less fortunate, and little ones need to shown how to express that caring through their parents’ actions.

    Each parent knows their child, and each parent can best sort out how to teach the little one. Looking at the faces of the little Jewish children in the photograph, we see possibly two of the one million children exterminated by the Nazis . . . in their memory, may we teach our children to love instead of to fear and hate those who are different. Out of that love, they will know Our Lord’s goodness. They will learn to show that love with the kindness of Our God .