Talking with children about death and God and Christmas (and much more)

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One of my sons talks a lot about death, and it comes up in the strangest conversational contexts.

Such as:

“I like to talk baby-talk.”
“Why? Do you want to not grow up and always be my baby?”
“No, I want to not grow up so I don’t have to die.”

Yeah. Heavy thoughts going on inside that mind of his.

He will then sometimes go on to enumerate his fears about people we know who are elderly, or who are ill; people, that is, who seem to be a bit closer to death than we.

This same child is also keenly aware of religion and faith.

For example, he recently offered his own simple argument for an open communion table — if the bread and wine are really God’s, they should be for everyone, because everyone belongs to God.

He can’t see it another way.

For many people, having children is significant to their faith: people who have been away from church for a long time often find themselves drifting back when they become parents.

Perhaps that is because children, in their own ways, make us face the realities of life: death and pain, joy and grace, greed and impatience, love and beauty.

Too often, I think, we tell stories about “the darndest things” that kids say in relation to Big Questions, without noticing the profundity of their deceptively simple insights.

We think it’s just small talk.

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Small Talk, a new book from my friend Amy Julia Becker, is the kind of book that takes the things children say seriously. It’s neither a dour theological tome nor a saccharine-sweet book of “cute things kids say.” It is a theologically astute yet consistently accessible account of a parent’s honest wrestling with questions Big, Medium, and (seemingly) Small — birth and death, Christmas and Easter, laughter and rest. Along the way, conversations — and just plain Life — with her children illuminate and enflesh ideas that in other contexts would remain cerebral; conjectural.

It’s a book that will speak to you right in the middle of diapers and mayhem, and will speak to you even if you’re long past the time of raising kids, and even if you’re not a parent at all. For life and faith with kids turns out to look a lot like life and faith, period.

There’s nothing small about baby talk. Or Small Talk.

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