It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?D. L. Moody
A few days after we lost Anya, we gathered for family evening prayer, and Arum, my second youngest, was asked to pray. In his brief but heartfelt prayer, he said, “God, thank you for taking good care of Anya in heaven.” I felt great relief that he believed what we told him, even though I was struggling to have the same faith.
Our children continued to pray (as they’ve always done) during our devotions and spoke openly to God about their anger, their fear, their confusion, and their hope in his mercy and grace to help us as a family in our grief.
Let me focus for once on how my children are dealing with their grief, and you will find that theirs is a more encouraging situation than what mine has been. In my writings so far, I have only mentioned their devastation at the time the incident happened and mainly from my own side of the story: my concerns about what would happen to them—whether they were able to cope with it or not.
While our children found it difficult to articulate how they felt to us directly, it was a blessing to hear what was going on inside them and how they were processing their grief through their prayers and their comments, reflections, and questions on the Bible passages we discussed during family devotions.
Going through the book of Job together was especially helpful, but so also has random family talks about collective memories—especially memories of Anya—and things we can do to keep and make her memory impactful. Random things like future plans—college ambitions and career paths for them—occupied our talks. We have become closer, learned a lot, and grown as a family through these talks and reflections.
Not long ago, during one of our devotions, our two oldest talked about how relocating to our home country—and everything that has happened so far—has made them better people than they were prior, specifying ways in which they have changed. The oldest exclaimed in the end, “Gush! I am ashamed of what I was and the things I thought mattered.” The fact that they are able to tell that they have changed fascinated me greatly.
They spoke about how much they have grown in their perspectives about life. Yes, our children were heartbroken and it took them a while to finally get a grip on their sorrow. But they, like us, are only going through the ups and downs of grief, perhaps with better faith than us.
A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that by posing myself as an “averter of ills” between God and my children, I have inadvertently accused God of being irresponsible by thinking he would allow anything to happen that would destabilize my children mentally and emotionally.
How could I have thought that of him, that he was thoughtless in what he does/allows to happen? How could I have thought I cared for my children more than God did? I was acting as though I needed to shield them from his cruel hands—the same hands that made them/ brought them into existence, and has carried them to this point!
As parents, not only are we prone to shield our children from anything we believe will harm them but we also often underestimate their ability to cope with the messiness of life. We forget that God matures them through trials as he does us. Of course, we don’t go about creating trials in order to mature them, but when God directs trials or allows them to come our way, I believe that he has our children in mind too.
This is a general concern among those called into full-time ministry. We often wonder how our children can cope with the demands that ministry places on us. We wonder at the logic of dragging them into difficult choices God is asking us to make. It is an old debate (with so much written on it) as to whether children of full-time ministers of the gospel are themselves called.
Children have a better capacity to believe and take God at his word without asking too many questions. No wonder Jesus would say “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” (Luke 18:17). Children receive the kingdom in total faith, not only when the “science” adds up.
I was particularly afraid for Arum who was closest to Anya and whose grief was so heart-wrenching that I feared for his health and mental/emotional stability. Arum was beginning to exhibit some disturbing signs of trauma. Yet, it was Arum, in the midst of his torment, who could pray and thank God for taking care of his sister in death!
It was this attitude of trying to protect my children from God that made me unable to accept that Anya’s death was going to work out God’s purpose in my family’s life (either as individuals or collectively). Why her, I wondered? Didn’t she have her own life to live? Should she be sacrificed for our sakes? It didn’t feel right that any good will or should come to any of us from her death.
But you see, this view of things is what individualism is; a view of the human person as an entity whose existence is wholly independent of those of others. This is a view promoted by secular humanism.
Christianity, on the other hand, has always projected a different understanding in which the human being is both an individual, unique and unrepeatable, and an integral part of a community. John Zuzioulas discusses this subject expertly and extensively in his book Being As Communion, 1997.
Nothing captures this reality better than the image of the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet one God. We are called to personal faith in Jesus and personal relationship with the triune God, yet we are also “in Christ” as one man, the body, the ekklesia. Each one has a function to carry out for the sake of the body, children included.
This is true also in our human existence. We do not exist for our individual selves only but for others, either in our families, churches, or communities. Human existence is collectively for the good of the human race. COVID-19, I believe, reveals the limitations of individualism. There are times that the entire race must set aside differences and act in agreement against obliteration. Communities that were unable to act thus have suffered the most from COVID-19.
If Anya was brought into this world to live only for four years and four months and be taken to heaven at this time for our sakes, there is nothing untoward or unusual about that in God’s scheme of things. Jesus came into this sinful world to die so humanity may live. Many a martyr have laid down their lives for the sake of the church. This is how God works.
As parents, we like to shield our children from all evils; we like to put “Parental Control” on spiritual matters like we “PG” tv programs! We have kids’ Bibles and youth Bibles, attempting to simplify God’s word for their young minds. This is good and beneficial, but sometimes it explains away some things we perceive as shameful, traumatic, or difficult to understand.
For example, the Bible speaks plainly about bitter resentment, jealousy, murder, sex, greed, and all the shameful exhibition of human depravity. But today, we want to keep our children shielded from all the negativity and evils of this world. We try to create a paradise here (a bubble), inadvertently promoting some desirable ideals that are not collective human reality. When they become of age and have to face the overarching reality of human existence, they don’t know what to do with it. The inconsistencies sometimes push them away from the faith
We forget that our children, like us, have the inbuilt human capacity to cope with stress and to reconcile the presence of evil through the instrument of faith. Above all, we forget that they are children of God, like we are, with whom God relates to directly and by whom he plans to continue his work of preserving the world. The future of Christianity is in their hands.
Oh that my children may “know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). God is my witness that there is nothing I desire more for them in this life.
Though it is very difficult to see them suffer, though I desire to spare them from the troubles of this life and shield them from tragedy of any kind, yet I believe that for them to live truly, they must live for Christ and his purposes. I would rather that they endure the present pain for a better future as people grounded in faith, spurred by the joy that is set before them; before us: eternity with the Lord.