“Did you hear that children my age probably died in that tornado today, Daddy?”
Those were the first words out of my eight-year-old daughter’s mouth when I got home from work last night.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to grow up in a day so filled with tragedy AND instant media coverage. When I was eight, I felt stressed about parent-teacher conferences, a bully at my school named Curtis, and selling Babe Ruth candy bars to raise money for my baseball team. My children are growing up feeling anxious about school shootings, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters that claim hundreds of lives.
When Claire asked me that question, I knelt down and looked into her big blue eyes. I saw sadness. I also saw panic. Her little heart had formed enough to feel intense feelings, but her little mind simply hasn’t had enough time to figure out what to do with them.
How do we shepherd our children’s hearts and minds through grief and sadness?
This may sound simplistic, but the first and best way to help our children is by praying with them, and inviting them to pray as well. The truth from Philippians 4:6-7 that we rely on all the time, also applies perfectly to our children:
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (New Living Translation)
Praying gives children a form, or structure, in which they can express their feelings. Young people often struggle in answering questions such as, “How do you feel?” But invite children to talk with God and ask Him for what they want, and they’ll often open up and share what’s on their hearts.
Prayer also helps our children feel like they have taken action. And they have! Last night, we prayed as a family that the church—the Body of Christ—would heroically rise up and take care of people who are hurting in Oklahoma. And the church will, I’m sure of it. And when God’s people comfort the grieving, feed the poor, and help rebuild communities, all of us who prayed can know that in some mysterious way we were a part of God’s provision. Claire, because she prayed, helped those in need. And without me saying it…she knew it—I could see it in those same big blue eyes.
If you’ll pray with your children tonight, you’ll give them an opportunity to work things out with the Lord. They want to speak with God about Oklahoma…they may just need you to kick off the dialog.