I know it will come as a surprise to those who’ve been privy to my choice of children’s sermon subject matter over the years. Still, believe it or not, I try to exercise some discretion when it comes to exposing my boys to the darkness and suffering in the world.
As I’ve noted here before, my boys expend countless hours debating whether or not, say, Gandalf could contend with Jesus in a no-magic-allowed cage match (Jesus).
And so I’m reluctant to puncture their innocence by pointing out that sometimes it seems as though God is less reliable in this world than the Man of Steel.
Case in point, Oklahoma.
I didn’t get to the NPR dial quick enough and the story was unaccompanied by the ‘this could be disturbing to children’ warning.
They heard all about the tornado and the damage and the kids.
And the kids.
And then they asked me questions, each one like they were tabulating God’s cosmic justice on an abacus and seeming surprised at the sum.
I had no idea how to navigate the if/then questions. If God….then…why…?
Related here’s a piece from the NY Times by Bill Franzen about talking to your kids about the darkness in the cosmos.
Avoiding any frank talks with your children about the dangers lurking “out there” in the universe is completely natural. Pointing out a full moon or the Big Dipper is way easier than telling your little Johnny flat-out that a single meteorite the size of his school bus would wipe out everything in the region, including us, and so all his crying now isn’t going to change that.
But as hard as it is to see your youngsters lose their innocence just like that, tiptoeing around the topic of scary stuff in our cosmos will only create worse problems. Better to be candid now, and simply weather little Johnny’s night terrors and his long phases of avoiding all friends and activities, than to hold back on the facts.
Sooner or later your little Susie is going to find out for herself about the inevitability of an asteroid slamming into Earth — probably through a “friend” or on the Internet. So shouldn’t news of our planet’s complete vulnerability come out of your mouth first? Take the initiative early on. That way you can at least reassure her that, as far as killer asteroids go, she’s much more likely to die on an amusement-park ride or at a fireworks display.
Recently I was lying on a blanket in the backyard between my 7-year-old twins, Mark and Missy. We were up way past bedtime, savoring a spectacularly starry night sky. I really got going about supernova explosions of massive stars and about how this results in tremendous gamma-ray bursts that can shoot deadly beams of intense radiation many light years through space, and how, if one ever reached the Earth, it would spell extinction for everyone. I avoided the temptation to sugarcoat things. The twins needed me to tell it like it is.
Well, Mark sobbed away hysterically while Missy asked one simple question: “Are we still gonna get a Christmas tree?”
“Sure we are,” I said, and told the kids they’d probably have Christmas trees for the rest of their lives. I emphasized that it could even take thousands of years for any gamma ray burst to zero in on Earth and so, no worries — we’d be long dead by then anyway. Eventually, maybe, they will take some comfort in that.
It’s hard trying to control your children’s feelings. Yesterday, when I told them about the chances of a huge comet someday crossing Earth’s path, they became very frightened indeed. But, to my credit, I let them know that it was perfectly normal to feel scared — I’m scared, too, I confessed — and gave them probably too many reassuring hugs. Then I microwaved popcorn and we watched “C.S.I.” together, and the twins’ questions turned refreshingly earthbound: What’s rigid mortis? Do kids ever have to get that life insurance? How do vultures know you’re dead and that you’re not just knocked out?And, What does sexy mean? (“Ask your mother next week” — I wimped out on that one.)
Honesty and directness are the best tools for ever so gently shattering your children’s assumption that our planet is a safe and secure place. And if this sometimes makes them feel that their lives on Earth are somehow less meaningful — hey, welcome to the club. But steer clear of the planetarium, unless it’s Laser Rock Night. Then by all means go, even if the homework isn’t done.