Last week, my five-year-old son spent a week in Connecticut with my mom and dad. When he returned, shod in new tennis shoes and somehow taller, I plied him with questions about what he had done with Grandmother and Grandfather.
“We went to McDonald’s,” he began. “And Sonic. And Pumpkintown. And a funeral.”
When ministry kids visit ministry grandparents, the itinerary is sure to be interesting.
My son is actually quite familiar with funerals. As I was writing this, my husband and I counted at least 12 funerals or visitations that our kindergartener has attended in his lifetime. And, while he was attending his thirteenth with Grandmother, my three-year-old and I were at a funeral visitation here.
Our kids have been introduced to death. And I’m thankful.
This month, of course, even my local Kroger has been filled with skeletons and tombstones. But real death—standing in the chapel three feet from a crying widow and the temporal body of her husband—is far more horrible. The plastic bones in aisle 12 trivialize the impact of death. In the covenant community, death means real grief for friend, child, and spouse.
And death is a real opportunity for God’s people to come alongside of one another, “to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4) My children go to birthday parties and picnics, but if they skip funerals, they will miss the opportunity to learn how to grieve with the body of Christ.
Last night, in family worship, our survey of the Old Testament led us to the story of Elisha and the bear. My husband recounted the rebellious children, the insulted prophet, and the justice of his God. Afterwards, our youngest son said: “If a bear comes after me, I would run away!” This led to a valuable conversation. First we, yes, advised him to get out of the path of oncoming bears. Then we also reminded him of the inevitability of death, of our sin, and of God’s just judgment.
The Scriptures don’t minimize death, and taking our children to funerals has allowed them to see personally that death is both more scary and less scary than our horror film culture presents. It is not cobwebs and spooky music. But it is dreadful. Introducing our little ones to death allows us to talk about its real sting: sin. (I Corinthians 15:56)
This passage of Scripture continues by saying: “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.57) When death is real, the Gospel can be a real solution.
In the course of many trips to the cemetery, our five-year-old, with his concrete thought process, wanted to know what happens to Christians whose bodies are buried. With each funeral, we would explain that the person’s soul is already with Jesus, waiting there until the Last Day when his body will be returned. This became a theme. For many months, driving through the neighborhood or standing in the grocery line, I would hear our son’s deliberate voice: “But, Mommy, how does Jesus put our bodies back on?”
Some questions are too wonderful even for grown-ups to answer. But, having seen death, having recognized its reality, our children know: people who are really going to die need a Savior who really lives.
Every death is grief. But it is not grief without hope. And that’s why we take our kids to funerals.