This most holy of weekends is an amazing experience of the faith, but it also poses some unique challenges for parents. There’s one that I wrestle with each and every year, how do I talk to my children (ages 10 on down to 8 months) about what happens to Jesus? It’s a brutal event, certainly not PG. Obviously your conversations with your children will be unique based on your relationship and their own spiritual experience and maturity, but I would like to share a few tips that I have found very helpful.
1) Let the child lead. God’s Word resonates in hearts and minds uniquely. He will speak to your child, and as parents we can be spiritual leaders not by telling our children what to pay attention to or focus on, but rather to ask them what God revealed to them. What they noticed. What stood out. Then, once the child has told us where God is leading their hearts already, we can come in and support the work that God is doing. Often the thing I think I need to talk to my children about is miles away from what is already stirring in their hearts. I can better serve by following God’s lead, not hoping he’ll follow mine.
2a) Don’t fear the truth but be gentle. The Passion is difficult but trying to avoid or sugar coat what happened does not serve your child. You can simply the language and summarize so the message is age-appropriate, but stick as closely as you can to God’s Word.
2b) Don’t fear your child’s emotions. None of us as parents want to see our children upset or sad. Sometimes, however, it is appropriate and more helpful to let them have their feelings and just be with them in it. The Passion is upsetting, it should be. If we give into the temptation to soften the blow and try to ignore or look past the fact that Christ in fact faced a brutal death for his love of us, then we rob our children the chance to feel the impact of what Christ really did and how much he really loves us. To refer back to 2a, keep it age-appropriate, but it’s ok if your child has some strong feelings. Be there with them, cry with them, talk to them, and just be in the moment. Love and truth go hand in hand.
3) Finally, you don’t have to have all the answers. That’s always the case, but if your kids are anything like mine they ask some very difficult questions. “Did Christ really have to die? Couldn’t he have saved us another way?” “Why did Pilate just let them kill Jesus if he knew Jesus was innocent?” “How exactly does Jesus dying make my sins better?” I could point you to some really great (and lengthy) theological treatises on those subjects, but good luck putting them into 5-year-old-speak. The good news is, you don’t have to! Share what you know, what your experience of God is. Then, pray with your child that God might teach you both more about his great love for us. Our faith is a journey to God, not a test to pass. We don’t need every answer to get to Heaven.
Also, you can always suggest that your child just asks father after mass 😉
We wish you and yours a most blessed Triduum and look forward to this blessed Easter season!