Our 4 Year Old Has Started Asking About Death

Watercolor by Sean Seal (Photo by Jessica Thomas)

Two years ago my husband was laid off from his teaching job. At the time we both felt discouraged and disappointed, yet we had the sense that God was working out His plan for our future. Of course He was. He always is, right?

But we’d both grown to a place of maturity to realize He was working on something positive—the best scenario for our lives. Not saying we didn’t (and haven’t) wondered, “Why, God why?” or experienced dark days fighting feelings of abandonment, but we’ve been able to avoid wallowing there.

I have a hunch God wanted one of us to stay home with the kids, my husband being the likely candidate based on the pay scales of our respective career paths, and He knew we’d never come to that conclusion unless He forced the issue.

And force the issue, He has. Over and again, He’s confirmed that my husband is not meant to be teaching right now by closing door after door. It’s not fun having those doors slam in your face. It hurts and becomes tiresome, but we’ve weathered it well enough.

I’ll never claim to know exactly what God is doing in my life. I’m not one of those who can pronounce it with certainty in the midst of my difficulties, but today, I had confirmation from God that our family situation is as it should be, with Mommy leaving for work and Daddy staying at home with the kids. (Or, perhaps I should say “…working at home with the kids.” 🙂 )

Tough Questions

My first-born tends to be emotionally sensitive. He scares easily at times, which I’m thankful for because I think it will help him stay out of trouble; however, because of it, I’ve been careful during our nightly prayers not to talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection very much.

I’ve emphasized Jesus’ love, how He looks after us all the time, how we can always trust Him. I haven’t said things like, “Lord, thank you for your Son who died for us on the cross” or “Thank you for giving your Son to die for us.” My motherly instinct told me he wasn’t ready to go there yet.

Over the past few days, our son has asked some tough questions, namely “What does ‘dead’ mean?” so I think the time has come.

Important Discussions

Today my husband went into town to run some errands and, well, he just needed to get out of the house. As he and the kids were walking around town, they ended up at the graveyard where both my father and my father-in-law are buried. While visiting the grave sites, my son became contemplative. He started asking questions.

I have to paraphrase because I wasn’t there, but the conversation went something like this:

“Why are they in the ground?”

“Because they don’t need their bodies anymore. We have souls that are separate from our bodies. Our soul goes to heaven when we die. It’s like a car. You get in and drive it, but when you get out, you don’t need the car anymore.”

Son ponders this for a bit.

“Where are their houses?”

“They don’t need houses. They don’t need their bodies anymore. Their souls are in heaven.”

Son struggles with the idea so my husband uses the bug analogy again.

“It’s like a bug. When you squash it, it dies and then the bug can’t do anything anymore.”

More quiet pondering followed with, “Why do we have to get squashed when we die?”

“Well, we don’t get squashed. I was just using that as an example.”

Son continues to ask repeatedly why we have to get squashed. This imagery obviously bothers him.

Scattered through the conversation, my husband had the opportunity to talk about Jesus and to explain why Jesus is so special: “Because He died and then came back to life. He’s the only one who’s ever done that.”

Another poignant piece of the conversation was this:

Husband: “Everybody dies.”

Son: “I don’t die.”

Seeing God in a New Light

My heart ached as my husband related this dialogue to me. Suddenly, I understood God in an entirely new way. I felt just a small portion of what He must have felt for all His children after we ate from the tree of knowledge.

I never wanted my children to experience the fear or uncertainty of death. I created them to live, not to die.

How will my children react to this fear? What actions will it drive them to? Will they succumb to it? Give in to it? Waste their entire lives running from of it?

This isn’t how it was supposed to be. They weren’t meant to know death. I was protecting them, but now I can protect them no longer.

These are the thoughts and questions that went through my mind as I faced the realization that my son is no longer innocent about death. Now he will have to take this new knowledge and somehow assimilate it into his reality. Where will the process lead him? To hope or to despair?

God’s Plan Revealed?

I admit, I don’t always relish the situation my husband and I are in. I wonder why I can’t be the one home, while he goes out into the world and works to provide financially. Honestly, I’ve prayed and prayed for God to allow me to stay home with my boys. I’ve shed many tears and experienced much grief. Inside I carry a constant pang of regret, and I expect I always will.

I could look at my current situation and conclude that God doesn’t answers prayers. Instead I look at it and conclude that he does. God always has a contingency plan.

There are painful, dark, scary realities of this world I never want my children to know or experience. Yet I know I am limited in my capacity to protect them, and I feel especially incapable when I’m away at work. What a relief it gives me to know their Daddy is there to answer their questions. To patiently and continually direct their minds toward our ultimate Hope. In this world where Dad’s are often absent, I know my boys are being blessed in a unique and profound way.

And who knows. Although this was not my plan, perhaps it’s been God’s perfect plan all along.