Parenting is going to leave all of us speechless at some point: another school shooting that we have to explain, another poor example of once-trusted leadership, another death or sickness or fight that, one at a time, teach and show our children that the world is truly a fallen place.
In our home, some of the harder questions started coming about six months ago, when our 18-month old son surpassed our three-year-old son by a noticeable margin in speech and development. As that margin grew and grew, Harper noticed, too. “Mommy,” she asked matter-of-factly, “Jordi talks and Cannon doesn’t. Why?”
“Well Harper,” I started to explain, “Cannon learns differently than Jordi. Everyone in the whole world learns differently. Some people learn really fast and some people take a bit longer.” And in my typical ‘let’s be positive’ demeanor, I ended with the upside. “Cannon is learning some words though! He’s getting there.”
“Hmm,” she responded, as if that explanation would do for now. But I think we both felt the incompleteness.
It’s not that what I said was untrue – people do all learn at different paces and at different abilities, and it’s so important that Harper understands that at a young age. But why is everything so much harder for Cannon? The why question has had its way with me in the last two years. I’ve cried over it, gotten angry with it, and felt intensely defensive about it. But so much of that – the many things the world might tell me is the reason why Cannon struggles – is not really what I’m talking about.
I’m talking the big why - why does he have to struggle in ways that others his age do not? Why is there pain, disability, sickness, and death in the world at all? Harper may not have been asking at that philosophical level, but she will be soon, whether it be about her brother, her own sin, or something else that she sees, hears, or experiences.
After much searching and reading and praying and talking to people far wiser than me, hoping for an eloquent explanation, for words that would ease the tension I constantly felt, the answer is actually as simple as it has always been: it’s sin. It’s my sin and your sin and our sin, and the fact that at the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, evil came in to the world and everything has been hard since then (Romans 5:12). That is the why.
It turns out that it is as straightforward - and yet lived out as incredibly complicated - as that.
One of the things I’ve learned in five years of parenthood is that children, with their near constant inquisitiveness and very pragmatic questions, actually become our best teachers. If we cannot explain something at the level a five-year-old can understand it, there’s a good chance we don’t have a good grasp on the topic at all. And this is most certainly what God has showed me in the last two years.
I knew about life in a fallen world. We've all seen and experienced the pain that comes from original sin. But I was having an exceptionally hard time finding the words to explain it. And that’s when we went back to the very basics of our faith, the big story of our rescue that God has been writing through all of history - the Biblical Narrative. These four commonly used points became so helpful – it gave me a language for what I have always known but could not find the words for. It reminded me that our small stories truly are written in the scope of God’s big story, and all of our lives can be understood within the arc of these truths.
The Biblical Narrative is the big story of the Bible – a (very short) summary of Genesis to Revelation – and it is a tool that can help you use gospel language with your kids every day. In our home, the conversations often begin with a question or hard topic that we have to explain to our children: Why did Granpda die? Why does my brother have a disability? Why did that friend leave me out? Why do we yell at one another? We frame all of these conversations by starting with creation: God’s perfect plan for the world and how in the beginning everything was good and at peace. Then we talk about the fall, and how sin entering the world changed everything. Sin is why life is hard, sin is why we can be terrible to one another, and sin is why we need a Savior. Then we bring in the good news that Jesus redeemed us, and that is why we can have hope in this world in spite of the sin in our hearts and the hard things that might happen to us. We end with restoration, because God’s Word tells us that the Holy Spirit is still very much at work in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, all over the world, making us more like him all the time – using our gifts, our success, our weakness and our failures for his glory and pointing us to the day we are ultimately and forever restored in Him.
In his book Parenting, Paul David tripp said this: “Tell the story of the person and work of Jesus to your children again and again and again. Tell them how God could have condemned us all to our foolishness and its results, but instead how he sent his Son so that instead of being condemned, we’d be forgiven and rescued from ourselves. You simply cannot tell this story to your children enough. Talk about how God exercised his power to control history so that at just the right time Jesus would come and extend his sacrificial love to fools who didn’t even recognize his existence. Talk to them about how Wisdom came to rescue fools so that fools would become wise. Start telling this story when they are toddlers and don’t stop telling this story until your young adult children have left your home.” The Biblical Narrative cards are designed to help you do just that. I hope we can tuck them in our Bibles or tape them on our refrigerators, and find every opportunity possible to tell our kids, and tell ourselves in the process, our story of rescue, again and again and again.