3 ways to teach your kids about death and the cross

My 4-year-old daughter Maggie has always been a bit studious for her age. She knew colors when she was 2, was reading the entire alphabet when she was 3, and by the time she turned 4, could read a digital clock.

So I was a bit surprised when my wife told me toward the end of last year that Maggie had failed a holiday pop quiz. The question from my wife was the same one that Charlie Brown shouted to all of his friends: What’s Christmas all about?

Maggie’s answer: “presents.”

I’m sure she said it in an oh-so-sweet voice, and I bet she even had an oh-so-precious smile on her face, but she also was oh-so-wrong. Christmas, my wife told her, is about Jesus—even if presents can be part of innocent holiday fun. By the end of the day Maggie had watched a cartoon about baby Jesus and had been read a book about baby Jesus, and it’s safe to say she went to bed that night knowing that Christmas wasn’t all about dolls, dollhouses and pretty pink necklaces.

Of course, it’s easy to teach children about Christmas, with its spotlight on a sweet tiny baby surrounded by animals and shepherds on a clear, starry night. It’s such a “sterile” and “clean” story that even non-Christians are attracted to its power.

But what do we do about Easter? Instead of a baby, we have a bruised and bloodied man. Instead of shepherds in worshipful awe, we have mocking, hate-filled onlookers. Instead of a stable, we have nails, a crown of thorns and a cross. And instead of a story about life, we apparently have a story about, well, death. How do we teach our children that?

At first blush, it may seem like we shouldn’t. I don’t let my kids watch scary cartoons, much less horror films. Shoot, I won’t even let my 4-year-olds watch “Kung Fu Panda.”

Maybe we should just follow the crowd, replace Christ with the Easter bunny, and gorge ourselves with chocolate. And that sounds like a fine idea—until we realize that Easter isn’t about death but about life; that it’s part of the greatest story ever told, and that the souls of our children are literally at stake.

So what do we do when our kids say, “Mom and Dad, what’s Easter all about?” Here’s one way to start:

1.  Teach them the truth of Christ. Our children can handle stories about death, simply because they already know about it. Each summer they watch flowers wilt, and each autumn they see trees shed their leaves. They step on ants on the sidewalk, and view motionless roadkill on the side of the interstate. Death, in other words, is all around them—even if we futilely try to “protect” them. They don’t need protecting. Before they even could crawl, my children were hearing about Jesus’ death on the cross. Not once have they said, “Wait, Jesus died?!” It’s all they know.

2.  Teach them the love of Christ. As tempting as it is to explain Christ’s death by blaming those “mean soldiers,” we shouldn’t. That’s because He willingly went to the cross, because His death was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins, and because His actions were driven by love. The Bible even says it was planned before the beginning of time (1 Peter 1:20). We can excitedly tell our children that Christ “died for your sins and my sins because He loves us.” In fact, it’s a love far superior to our own love for our children. Isn’t that a story worth sharing?

3.  Teach them the marvelous ending. If the Easter story ended with Jesus’ death on the cross, not even I would want to share it with my kids. But it doesn’t end there! Jesus conquered death, rose from the grave, and because of that, those who believe in Him can live forever with Him! It’s an ending that beats anything our kids will ever get from a Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks film. And it’s also more exciting than anything resembling an Easter bunny.

Michael Foust

— by Michael Foust

Foust is the father of four small children and blogs about parenting at michaelfoust.com.

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