While laying with my child at bedtime, my 5 year old asked a very potent question – Mommy when the time comes, will we ride our bike to heaven?
I’m not quite ready for my little girls to be growing up and asking big kid questions. Boyfriends. Puberty. Sex and Sexuality. I’m not sure I’m ready to be that parent yet.
And even though death is probably one of the first “big” things young children become inquisitive about (thank you floating goldfish and 3-year lifespan hamsters), I guess I wasn’t prepared for even this discussion.
I grew up in a very religion-filled and Christian home. I avoid the term “religious” because that seems to carry so many negative connotations and that would be the polar opposite of the house I grew up in. With both a great grandfather and grandfather that were ministers and a mom and dad that knew (know) the Bible inside and out, I feel quite comfortable discussing death from a religious view point. We are born to die, our time will come when God is ready and appreciate each and every day and all of your blessings.
But I had not felt comfortable bringing this up with my 5 year old (despite the death of my grandfather when she was 3). I’m embarrassed to say I got a sitter for her during the funeral and this was a man I loved so much and so did she.
I think the root of the problem lies in these two hard-to-swallow truths:
1. Talking to our children about death inevitably confirms our own truth that we will not be here one day to raise our children. That we will miss a lot of milestones in their life. That we will miss the new life as a result of our children – their own children. When we talk about death, we open the door to the chance they will ask us: Mom are you going to die? Are you going to leave me? And we have to answer these questions.
2. Talking to our children about death forces us to consider the even more awful possibility that our children could leave this earth before us. To even type these words is painful for me as is the admission that I am not any more special to God than any of his people. That as much as I love my children, it will not be enough to save them from suffering and pain and even potentially death during my lifetime. My breath leaves my body when I think about this.
So looking at these two points, I think it’s easy to see why many parents avoid this discussion on death and heaven and not being here forever.
But as is true with all things you don’t want your kids to find out…they eventually do. Hopefully it’s because of a pet, or a book or church. And not because they have lost someone close to them. But regardless, this topic is going to come up.
Which brings me back to that night with my little girl laying in her bed. We had been reading a book my wonderful neighbor Trena had given her. It was a child’s Bible but geared more for the 5-6 year age. Two pages were dedicated to the death and cruxifixion of Jesus. I noticed she seemed really interested in this story and we read this portion over and over.
And then it hit her – that statement that said “And one day, All of God’s people will be reunited with Jesus in Heaven.” And she realized…I am one of God’s people! I am going to be reunited with Jesus! Does this mean I am going to die??
And she was scared…because she is 5 and death seems like a vague concept that happens to other people. Because she is 5 and her entire life is wide open. Because she is 5 and to do anything OTHER than live has never entered her mind.
And I was scared….because she is my beautiful child and I would like to keep her young and naive where she actually believes she is invincible. But at the same time, I do know our life’s end goal is to die and be reunited with Jesus in Heaven.
So how could I reconcile this scary notion and this hopeful one together for her? So my first step was to do what all good moms do that are able….I called my Mom. She is infinitely wise and ALWAYS knows the right thing to say.
She talked to Hannah a few minutes and then told me to tell her – When it is our time to go to Heaven, we will be ready. And we won’t be alone because Jesus will be with us the whole time.
That really helped calm her down, to the point where we could continue the conversation and let her ask questions that she needed to.
She asked me if I was going to die because she wanted me to always be here with her. And I told her, Hannah, one day I will go to Heaven but I don’t have any plans for that for a long, long time. But know that if I do, it’s because God knew I was ready. But for now, we are together in this bed and snuggling and I will enjoy this moment.
And then she asked me if she was going to die. Because she didn’t want to die and wasn’t ready to go to Heaven.
And my tears welled up so full I could barely muster any words. Because just a few days earlier I had read about a local little boy who was losing his battle with a neuroblastoma. And he was 5. And he didn’t want to die either. And his parents didn’t want to lose him either.
But here I was – in this moment, needing to answer her question. So I said, yes, one day you will die and go to Heaven. But I don’t believe that time is anywhere near for you. I think you will live a very long healthy life and grow up to do wonderful and great things on this earth.
But know this Hannah, you will be ready. When it comes time, you will be ready and Jesus will be with you so you won’t be alone. And he will take away your fear.
She seemed okay with this – so then she asked, Mom how do we GET to heaven? Will we ride there in an airplane? Will we drive? Mom will we ride our bike to Heaven? Will Jesus ride his bike with us to Heaven? And I just smiled – I reveled in the innocence of a child, in her thinking that Heaven was close to us, close enough to get there by manmade travel.
And then I realized it was me, the adult, who needed this conversation this night. I needed to be reminded of the fact that all our fates are not our own. That we are God’s children and he will call us home when it is our time, but that we will be ready. And that we won’t be alone.
I needed to be reminded that I won’t see all of the wonderful things Hannah and Hazel will one day go and do and all the greatness they will add to the world. But I can teach them now, love them now, and treasure every moment that I have been given with them.
And I needed to be reminded this night, and every night, that Hannah wasn’t the one with the skewed perception…it was me. Heaven is close to us. Closer than we think. And I don’t know how we will get there. Maybe we will ride in a car. Maybe we will ride our bike with Jesus. But I know this, we won’t be alone.