It was the last thing I had been expecting, and the horror of it has only grown in the seventeen years since it happened. For those of you wanting to know how to talk during the tough times, let me tell you that this was one of those occasions when God really does give his children the right words at the right time, though I did feel terribly unprepared.
“Of course, I will be glad to pray for him,” I said.
Who wouldn’t pray for a sick three-year-old who looked dangerously close to death? Having only one relevant question for the man on the other end of the telephone line, I wasn’t anticipating the staggering blow with which, using just a few very thoughtless words, he proceeded to pummel my heart.
This may have been, if not the very last, at least one of the final last-straw moments that forcefully propelled my husband and me from the familiar comfort of the church of our roots and into the frightening world of Spirit-led churches. Looking back, I probably should have thanked the preacher for the insight that his short telephone conversation had afforded me.
But at the time, my primary response was a growing dread, accompanied by the fear that attaches itself to a tragedy that just might not be fixed in time. And time was already becoming terribly short.
Having no personal knowledge of the dying three-year-old’s parents, as gently as I could, I asked, “Has the child been taught to know Jesus?”
Now when I was growing up, maybe I was not anything like your average three-year-old. I know that by the time I reached three years of age, I already relished the Bible, Jesus, and church. By that ancient old age, I had already woven my heart into two favorite pastimes: singing God’s praises at home and in church, and learning as much as I could about God whenever my parents got out their Bibles.
Story time at night was my favorite time of day because that was when my mother would gather my brother and me into her lap, sing songs about Jesus, and read to us from a children’s Bible story book, the kind that showed dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden, and dinosaurs getting ready to board Noah’s Ark. As early as age three (but probably much sooner), thoughts of creation, a fallen world, sin, judgment, Jesus, and redemption filled my mind constantly, favorite television shows and movies notwithstanding.
For some reason, by then I had also deeply imbibed the idea that if I lived a great Christian life, like so many of Jesus’ followers in New Testament times, then somehow my name and my story would be included in the Bible. As far as I was able, I wanted to make sure that mine would be a good story that would make both God and me proud.
I remember sitting many times off by myself, pondering whether or not, like many of the people my parents read to us about in the book of Acts, I would have sufficient faith to die for Jesus, if circumstances required it. What if my faith wavered when the pain became too much? Already, I was discovering within myself an abysmally small pain tolerance, and the thought that I might turn away from Jesus at the point of a painful death absolutely terrified me.
However, I never mentioned any of this to my parents, whom I knew to be strong, brave, hard-working people, the kind of parents who might not quite understand the irrational fears of a three-year-old contemplating a martyr’s death. Though I didn’t know how my parents might react to my desperate dilemma, the one thing that I did know was that I didn’t want them to EVER find out. Whatever it took, I would never allow my parents to know that their precious three-year-old daughter was a dyed-in-the-wool comfort-loving coward. The shock of it, I assured myself over and over, would have just been too much for them. Because if push came to shove, if my amazing parents had had to die for their faith in Jesus, I knew they would have been unfailingly brave to the very end. Oh, how I endlessly longed to be able to say the same for myself!
With this in mind, you can only imagine my miserable surprise upon hearing the preacher retort in a rising voice, “How would that even be possible? He’s only three years old!”
And, I thought, if he hasn’t been taught about Jesus by now, whether he lives or dies, it may already be too late for him.
“Well,” I snapped, “You may be sure that he has already been made acquainted with Mickey Mouse!”
Almost immediately after that, my husband and I began the awful process of “church shopping”, determined that whatever happened, our little ones would be taught to know Jesus from the very beginning of their lives. To do anything less would be to set them up to enter eternity, at whatever age they did enter it, completely unprepared. Which terrible news would come to them already too late.
February 7, 2018