After our annual Thanksgiving feast last Thursday, I snuggled our four oldest grandchildren (all under six years of age) as we watched one of my favorite movies, Charlie Brown’s “Mayflower Voyage.” All four of the grandkids sat quietly enthralled by the story, though they’ve all seen it numerous times before.
Together we watched as the little Pilgrim children sat on the deck of the Mayflower after leaving their home in England, missing their friends and grandparents in their quest to pursue the freedom to worship God. Then, suddenly they were hit with a terrible storm at sea, sickness, and miserable confinement in the lower hold of the ship. And as the kids watched the animated story, my 5 1/2 year old grandson Jakob suddenly blurted out loud, “Nama, why did God let that happen?”
I was taken aback, and didn’t know how to respond in one statement that would satisfy his big question. Clearly, Jakob was troubled over why obedience to God would not immediately reap good results. Frankly, even adults wrestle with this one! So how do I explain adversity for the sake of the freedom to worship God to a little five-and-a-half-year-old boy in a way that he can understand?
Far too often, as parents and grandparents we so easily slide into sugar-coating stories of our history, or the Gospel itself, in our attempt to avoid frightening our children away from God. We so eagerly want our children to know only love, joy, and peace of the life of faith in Christ. Yet in the process, we end up communicating a very wrong concept of who God is, and often end up inadvertently raising a generation of self-focused “grown-up children” who adhere to a very distorted picture of God as one who exists merely to make life comfortable and happy for them.
But that isn’t “God” and that isn’t the true Gospel. Eventually, these adults end up expecting ease and comfort, and feel victimized when they are faced with the inevitable adversities of life, many of which result from sin in the world.
Psalm 78 reminds us of how important it is to faithfully tell these stories to our children and grandchildren. “…Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that he has done… He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments…”
Yet in telling our children the miraculous stories of what God has done, we need to tell the “whole” story! When we tell them about David’s amazing victory over Goliath, for instance, we stop short of telling them about Saul’s ensuing jealous hatred of him and how David spent years fleeing for his life, though he had done what was right.
When we tell them of God’s miraculous deliverance of the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, we forget to remind them of what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said as they entered the fire: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace… But if not, be it known to you that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden imagine that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18.)
When we tell them the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus, we’re too afraid to mention that Herod was immediately intent on killing the baby, and had all the baby boys put to death in the effort to insure that Jesus did not survive. Little baby Jesus began his life as a fugitive, immediately snatched up by parents who fled with him into Egypt in order to save his life.
And in telling the wonderful story of the Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving, we forget to mention the hardships and trials they endured in order to gain the freedom to worship God without tyrannical coercion.
These are the stories, faithfully told, that build godly character in our children, instead of ease and comfort. Governor William Bradford wrote of the Pilgrims’ hardships that, “These things did not dismay them, though they did sometimes trouble them; for their desires were set on the ways of God and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His providence, and knew Whom they had believed.”
We probably need to do a better job at remind our children and grandchildren that although times will sometimes get tough, we can find great peace and contentment in trusting God to help us through whatever comes our way.
How wonderful it would be if our children could grow with the constant assurance that when problems do rise, like they did for the Pilgrims, and for David, the Hebrew children, and even Jesus himself, they can find great peace in God’s strength, even when He does not make the problems go away like we wish He would.
In the end, the most valuable gifts we have are the ones we’ve paid the greatest price for–our faith in God, our freedom to live for Him. And I don’t think that Jakob is too young for me to tell him that.
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