When I was a child of maybe ten, I heard a sermon about the sin against the Holy Spirit.
I don’t remember my response to it in the moment. But evidently the horror of the idea sank deep into me, creating a nightmare. In the middle of the night I rushed into my parents’ bedroom crying and asking for their help. In my dream, I had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. I was sure I was going to hell for committing “the unforgivable sin.” I needed my parents to remind me of God’s unshakable love.
Both my mom and my dad comforted me, assuring me that I was going to be fine. They kept explaining that it was not possible to commit a sin like that while sleeping. I was not convinced! Finally, they explained it in a way that made sense of my fear. If I had committed the unforgivable sin, the Holy Spirit would no longer be working in my heart. I wouldn’t care if I’d sinned or not.
My fear of having sinned unforgivably showed that the Holy Spirit was in my heart and working.
Their love and the love of God comforted me greatly in my parents’ room that night. I learned that nothing in heaven or on earth could separate me from the love of my Father in heaven. Jesus had expressed this love in his sacrifice for me.
What I did not learn until perhaps a decade later is that I had rushed in on my parents in the heat of a very intimate moment.
What I had thought was the middle of the night had only been perhaps 11:30 p.m. Talk about committing the unforgivable sin! My parents’ loving response to me despite my more-than-awkward interruption of them turned out to be a wonderful analogy for me of how much our God loves us. Even when we do really stupid things, really inappropriate things, or cause others lots of pain, he will not leave us:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39 NIV)
How do we convey this powerful love of God to our children? I’m guessing most of us will never have our children interrupt us in such a moment.
Do you have a memory of an incident that gave you a special opportunity to share the powerful love of God with a child? Or did your parents share such a moment with you?
The last time my dad spoke was in joy over seeing his new great-grandson. A few days later he was gone.
Now my mother has died. It took some time for it to sink in that I will never, ever be able to talk to them again—until heaven.
How do you explain death to a little one? We hardly understand it ourselves.
What a shock. The person is alive one day and then suddenly not alive anymore.
And the Bible says so little about our heavenly interactions with others.
So how do we help our little ones understand death when someone near them dies?
Each of our daughters was almost two years old when a grandmother died.
First one great-grandmother, then another, and then the adopted grandmother who lived next door.
These deaths seemed only negative at the time, since we were not ready to lose these special people. We even joked that we had better not have another child–not wanting to lose another grandmother when that child was two!
But the passing years have increased my gratefulness for the timing of those deaths. Each of our little girls learned early how to say goodbye to a loved one who had died.
People sometimes warned that our children would find it traumatic to go to a funeral home. We found, however, that our girls did not experience those visits as traumatic.
Though initially surprised by adult expressions of grief, they learned that death is a normal part of life. They needed to be taught to handle it well.
Though they still missed their special grandmothers, they experienced no trauma from the public grieving process.
Most importantly, they learned that Jesus went to prepare a place for us to live with him after we die. They knew their grandmothers loved Jesus and went to be with him and that we would join them someday.
One of our fun family stories is of our little one informing visiting relatives that Grandma would not be able to go out for lunch with us that day, because she was still in heaven.
I had explained to her when Grandma died, that it meant we wouldn’t be able to see her anymore because she had gone to heaven to be with Jesus.
What I had not realized was that she would think going to heaven was like Daddy going on a business trip. When her time was done, she assumed Grandma would come back.
I thought of that story again in a different way when that same daughter brought her fourteen-month-old son to my mother’s death bed to help me grieve her passing.
Though he is too little to understand it much, we both found it precious to see him wave to his Great-Nana and say “Bye, bye.”
He did not know enough about death yet to be sad, but he knew enough to give her a respectful farewell. It was good. Meeting death with little ones has emphasized for me that God is bigger than death.
What A Wrinkle in Time gets right is that scripture is essential in the lives of children. And that parents need to bring scripture directly into their children’s lives.
Meg’s dad may not have been adept in his use of Romans 8:28 with her. Especially since she was angry at him for botching her tessering and causing her so much pain.
Romans 8:28 is probably one of the most often poorly used Bible passages, and Meg’s dad’s use was no exception. Meg needed time to recover physically and emotionally before hearing this scripture from her dad. She was angry and needed to simmer down first.
But the passage was spot on from his perspective:
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
He had just rescued Meg from the stunningly hypnotic power of IT and enabled the trio to find a way to rescue Charles. He was trusting that he was called by God and that God would use even negative events to serve his overarching purpose.
We may not approve of Madeleine L’Engle’s unorthodox ways of incorporating scripture into her fantasy characters’ lives. But we need to admire a father who calls his daughter’s attention to scripture in times of crisis.
I sometimes got pretty tired of my dad’s reading James 1 with me when people picked on me in junior high. My daughters have also admitted that they sometimes had a hard time relating to the scriptures I shared with them when praying through difficulties.
But James 1 stuck with me. At one point I had it memorized in several versions. It is still one of my favorite passages.
A daughter I shared countless passages with during her struggles came to me later with a request: “Mom, can you write down for me all the Bible passages you’ve shared with me?”
—What? Why? How am I supposed to remember them all?
I hadn’t even known at the time that the passages had helped her.
I knew she had a friend going through extremely serious struggles. It turned out she wanted to write these passages on index cards for her friend. She wanted to comfort her with them as they had comforted her. God’s use of his word in my daughter’s life, even when I hadn’t known it, amazed me.
I’m sure that by the end of the novel Meg’s dad would also have heard a much more positive response from Meg on Romans 8:28. By then Meg saw how everything did work out and that the negative event was a powerful learning experience in the triumph.
Meg would have seen with twenty-twenty hindsight that her dad had been seeing with eyes of faith. The tricky thing is that eyes of faith require faith–and have no proof.
How scary it is to speak words of faith into our children’s lives, when we really don’t know how God will work.
We just know he will. And that’s what A Wrinkle in Time gets right.
My mom realized her five-year-old was missing unconditional love the day she asked her, “Mommy, will you still love me if I go to prison?
Energetic, enthusiastic, full-volume—my little sister had a knack for getting herself into trouble. Sometimes she may have deserved it. But generally she simply had more energy or volume than adults wanted her to have. Her misdemeanors left her with the feeling of missing unconditional love.
Vases may have gotten in the way of her energetic movements. Adults may have stopped napping at the sound of her arrival in the house. Things may have fallen over during her exciting games. Adults may have said their ears were hurting from her excited yelling about whatever she was doing.
But at first my mom failed to see that my sister was assuming her frequent punishments and reproofs proved she was a bad person.
Probably many of us do that as parents. I know I did—and only realized it much later.
Fortunately, my mom’s wake-up call allowed her to change her mode of parenting my sister.
—”Mommy, will you still love me if I have to go to prison?”
—“What do you mean? You’re not going to prison.”
—”But what if I do? Will you still love me then?”
—”No, Honey, you will never go to prison.”
—”But what if I do?”
—“You won’t ever go to prison, but I will still love you if you do.”
—“Honey, I will never stop loving you. If you ever go to prison, I will visit you all the time. I promise.”
That day my sister felt better, feeling unconditionally loved, while my mom felt terrible. My mom realized she needed to completely change the way she responded to my sister when upset. In those moments, she needed to talk about the problems of my sister’s behavior in ways that focused on the behavior rather than on her person.
Mom began to talk about how Jesus loves people in prison and loves all of us, regardless of our behavior.
She also noticed two poison words she had been using a lot with my sister: “always” and “never.”
I wish I could have learned that lesson then for all my future relationships. Unfortunately, I needed to learn the same thing the hard way. Though I never had children assume they would go to prison, I’m sure I sometimes made mine feel that they were worthless.
What Mom needed to focus on with my sister—and I needed to with my daughters—is how much God loves us. No matter what.
Anyone who knows my sister now would have a hard time believing this story. Yet if my mom had allowed my sister to grow up feeling worthless, I’m sure she would never have become the powerful Christian she is today.
Even when we mess up as parents, God forgives us and can bring our children to forgive us too.
When God is silent.
What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers? The Bible tells us that God always hears us, but sometimes we get absolutely no response to our prayers. God is silent. My friends and family have often heard me complain that I wish God would send a banner down from heaven to tell me what to do. I always feel certain that I want to do God’s will. I always believe I just need to know for sure what it is. But God has never worked that way for me.
However, I have had a few crazy stories of God answering my prayers instantly in the way I wanted him to.
Like the time early in our marriage when our washing machine sometimes worked for the spin cycle and just as often did not. Two mechanics could find nothing wrong and suggested we buy a new machine. We did not have extra money to spend on a washing machine, especially one we might not even need. But I was sick of having to wring clothes out by hand and have them in the dryer for what felt like forever.
So out of exasperation I prayed that God would please make the machine either never work properly again or never malfunction again until we needed to buy a new one. Ten minutes later the machine worked perfectly, as it did consistently for six more years. Wow. Sweet! If only I could always get God to answer my prayers like that.
Unfortunately, too often it feels uncertain whether God is answering or not.
When a friend is struggling in a marriage or a loved one is gravely ill, God can even seem to answer with positive signs and then follow with negative results. Or sometimes nothing changes at all. The waiting can drain me and make me feel angry at God.
Too often I identify with C. S. Lewis’s description of pounding at the door of God and feeling that God heartlessly hears and ignores the pounding.
What these experiences show is that often God wants me to listen to him in a new way.
Usually my waiting and listening produce growth–when I actually keep looking to God during my waiting. When God is silent, I need to keep looking at him, knowing he is working. I just can’t see his work yet then. Then, during my waiting, he usually produces a much better answer than what I had originally requested.
For instance, I didn’t know that my daughter’s struggles in her school would lead us to switch her to a far better school for her. We never would have considered doing that if God had answered our prayers by simply fixing the bad situations.
Years later, we prayed that God would end the continuing crises in my family. He didn’t, but I saw huge personal growth. My growth came through my stronger dependence on God and my sense of peace about his plans for my life.
Often when God is silent in my life, he is actually saying to me, “Be still, my child, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).