On a crisp August morning in 2017, I stayed with my girls in our van while my wife ran into the Murfreesboro Sam’s for hot dogs. We had only two daughters back then, a 17 month old who could break hearts with the size of her grin or break ears with the decibel level of her dissatisfied scream, and a just-turned-three-year-old whose constant flow of questions and narration could transition from side-splittingly whimsical to deadly serious without so much as a comma. My 17 month old was happily strapped into her rear facing car seat (a rare event when the van was not in motion), and my 3 year old was content to stay in her car seat as long as we kept talking to each other. This segment of our conversation began with a question she had started asking both my wife and I on a semi-regular basis.
With a fact-seeking tone my daughter asked, “Daddy, you going to die?”
“Yes, eventually I’ll die Elizabeth.” I said, resigned to repeat a conversation I felt that I’d had one too many times.
“Why?” she asked (as she tended to do after any declarative statement was made in her general vicinity).
“We all die eventually. Probably not soon, but one day,” I responded evenly.
“I’m going to die?” She asked casually.
“Yes. …Life is like a book,” I said, motioning an opening book with my hands. “We all have a start, like opening the cover, a lot of pages to turn, and then the book comes to an end.” I showed the book closing with my hands and passively hoped we could turn to more interesting topics of conversation, but alas my daughter followed my wonderful analogy by going back to her list of people that she occasional confirmed would eventually die.
“Granddaddy going to die?” she asked, again as if asking about the weather. Now you need to understand that ‘Granddaddy’ is and was my daughter’s only living great-grandparent, all the others had died, Sweetmama within Elizabeth’s memory (which is quite keen). But Granddaddy was a healthy 81 year old man who continues to live and work his farm outside of Memphis.
“Yes,” I answered – not giving an inch.
“Granddaddy going to die on the farm?” My little girl clarified.
I paused to think for a moment, “Probably so. I think he’d be happy to die on his farm,” I said reflecting on how much he dislikes going to the doctor’s office or hospital. Elizabeth paused for a moment and I wondered if she was thinking about which other people she needed to confirm would die someday, but she surprised me with a different line of questioning.
“Where would you be happy to die, daddy?” I thought for a moment about the complexity of the question my three year old had just posed. I wondered if I could express, simply enough for her to understand, my desire to finish life well and die exactly where God wants my family and me to be- wherever that is, pouring our lives into whatever community he puts us, arm-in-arm to the end. As I tried to find words to put into concrete terms the abstract thoughts floating in my head my daughter spoke up.
“I’d be happy to die on a cross.” She said with happy finality.
And then, as suddenly as the conversation had plunged into the depths of theodicy, teleology, and soul-baring-intimacy, my barely-three-year-old girl moved on to ask when mom would be back with hot dogs and where we were going next… unaware of the tears of pride, fear, joy & sorrow that I was left crying.
When does a young child become a follower of Jesus Christ? What marks the first real confession of faith? Perhaps, in a family that saturates their daily conversation with Bible stories, prayers, and talk of God – the exact turning point of becoming a follower of Jesus might be more of gradual process than a single decision point. Was Elizabeth making a first confession of faith? Who but God can know? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to faithfully present the gospel in our everyday activities, trusting God’s grace, until our children join us in that daily presentation.
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” Proverbs 25:2
I think that many children who are raised intentionally in the faith, might find themselves in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ without being able to point to a discrete turning point or prayer (I myself came to such a realization in my childhood). I do not say this to diminish the importance of celebrating and remembering when a child begins to express a desire to follow Christ.
Recently I seemed to caused some confusion when I wrote, “I am thankful for Lydia’s recent confession of faith…” What I meant by this was, inasmuch as Bethany and I can know the heart of our child, it was evident to us by her statement and other choices, that Lydia was beginning to desire to follow Jesus. Let me give you some context:
Each night of lent, as we moved the wooden figure of Jesus bearing a cross closer to the center of our 40 candle spiral, I would ask the girls several questions, one night the questions unfolded like this: “Where’s is Jesus going?” “Jerusalem!”
“Why is he going to Jerusalem?” “To die on the cross.”
“Is this an easy or a difficult thing for him?” “Difficult.”
“That’s right, it was difficult, so much so that Jesus sometimes didn’t want to have to go to the cross. But do you know what? Jesus was God’s son, and he obeyed his heavenly Father completely – no matter what. He never failed to obey God – even if it was hard or he didn’t feel like it.”
The quiet pause of contemplation afterwards told me that both of my older children were giving unusually devoted attention to my words. Then Lydia spoke up, “I want to obey like that.” I glanced at Bethany and we shared a look that agreed this was an important and weighty comment. We were impressed with Lydia’s grasp of the our fundamental problem (disobedience), and it’s solution (the obedience of Jesus Christ). Then, I tried to follow that up by saying, “That’s really good Lydia…” But as with little Elizabeth in the first story, the moment was gone as quickly as it arrived. My child’s attention had moved on to the all important question of who would get to blow the candles out.
To encourage, cement, and remember moments such as the ones above, Bethany and I have made a quilt for our home and children. Around the outside of the quilt are areas with symbols for the rituals and milestones of the Christian faith (Birth/Adoption, Infant Dedication, First Confession, Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Vocation/Ordination, Marriage, Finishing Well, and Death/Glorification). Our quilt is a reminder to orient our lives, remembrances, and individual stories around His story. And as our children live into these milestones we celebrate them and eventually embroider those dates or time periods into our quilt. I think we will be embroidering the year 2020 for Lydia’s first confession of faith rather than a specific date.
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” Romans 10:9
Please pray for:
-Honduras as a country. COVID19 restrictions are still tightening and a large portion of the people are at risk for hunger and not getting medical care for necessary (non-COVID19) things.
-A 12 year old patient in our hospital with an infected knee (ultimately this would end in a fused joint or amputation if we cannot eradicate the infection). Pray that he would walk again, hopefully even run.
-Wisdom, regarding our decisions for what to do next when COVID19 restrictions lift (returning to language school, staying at the hospital, or some hybridization)
*I used the adjective quantum in the title, because the geeky side of me cannot help but see the similarities between subatomic particles and early childhood salvation. Perhaps a short explanation: the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is an interesting math proof in the field of quantum mechanics, showing that you cannot simultaneously know the position and the momentum of any given particle. The more clearly you define the momentum the less certain you can be of the position, and vice versa. A related idea that is sometimes confused with the uncertainty principle is the observer effect. The observer effect states that the systems and particles at the quantum level are so delicate that any process introduced to directly observe and determine the state of said particles will itself change the system. It is like a blindfolded kid trying to determine the shape of a house of cards by feeling with his hands without toppling the cards. The house of cards would be irrevocably changed by the observation.
A child’s confession of faith is much like a subatomic particle. It’s fleeting, it cannot be pinned down, or fully spelled out, and if you try to grasp it to directly, by asking a kid about it or if they want to say a prayer with you – the child will generally try to figure out what you want to hear and say that. I am convinced that there is a deeper significance and more resolved permanence when a child confesses Jesus as Lord from an intrinsic motivation rather than an extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivations are hard to teach, it’s more about modeling than telling, more about sharing excitement and coming along-side than leading or explaining. Extrinsic motivation is easy – peer pressure, candy, time-out, and stickers, are all external motivators – the child is not doing or avoiding an action for the sake of the external good, for something that is unrelated to the action.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are not the views of Samaritan’s Purse or World Medical Mission.