Parent, talk to your child about the end of the world

A lot of what I do is based around building relationships with children and young people. I have had thousands of conversations over the last few years, ranging from the mundane to the really serious stuff. The conversations I have with these fabulous little people allow me to have great insight into what is on their minds. One thing that I have noticed a lot lately is the anxiety that children, particularly 7 and 8 year olds, feel about death, dying and the end of the world. Often, I am the first adult they have had the chance to talk to about this, which makes me really sad because it means their parents aren’t talking to them.

I know 7 and 8 year olds are babies, and they seem way too young to need to know about this stuff, but they are picking up bits and pieces and without an adult to talk things through with, they’re getting afraid. This is particularly so with this year being 2012, the year the world is supposed to end. Parent, you need to talk to your child about this. Pretending it isn’t an issue won’t help. They need to know that there is nothing to worry about. Here are the three most common questions I am asked on this topic (my answers are based on what I would say to an averagely intelligent 7 or 8 year old):

1) What happens to you after you die? 
I know many parents choose not to tell their children their beliefs about an afterlife, preferring to let them figure out their own beliefs. I challenge you to tell your child what your beliefs are. She will figure out her own beliefs as an adult regardless of what you tell her – children go against their parents’ beliefs all the time. At this age, children are developing their core values. These will have been developed, for the most part, by age 10. They are figuring out the world, and they need your guidance in doing so. You can start with “I believe…” and finish with a disclaimer that they may believe differently, and that’s okay, if you want, but give them something. Even if it’s “I believe that dying is like having a really long sleep.”
When talking to children in a religious context who ask this question, I say, assuming I have explained the concept of sin and Jesus’ sacrifice:

“The really cool thing about Jesus is that He died in our place, so that when we die we can go to Heaven and be with God. The Bible says Heaven is a really awesome place, with only good things. When our bodies die, our souls (the part of you inside that holds all your thoughts and feelings) go to Heaven. Our souls already know the way, so we don’t need to worry that we won’t know how to get there.”

Hidden questions (the real reason they’re asking) include: Will I know anyone in Heaven/the afterlife/where ever? Will you be there? Will I be lonely and afraid? How will I know how to get there?

2) Is the world going to end in December?
There are adults who have fallen for the hysteria surrounding this, so is it any wonder that children are falling for it? Yes, it is true that the 21st of December 2012 brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, and almost 400-year long period in the Mayan long-count calendar. But this is like the year ending on our calendar. It’s the end of an old phase, and the beginning of a new one. There is nothing to suggest that it predicts either the end of the world, or a phase in which the world will decline to it’s eventual end. If you are still convinced that there is serious cause for concern, I point you back towards Y2K, when the new millennium was starting and everyone thought that the computers weren’t going to handle the changeover and subsequently the world was going to descend into chaos and then end. Or the countless times a “prophet” has predicted the coming of Christ, and then that day has passed like a normal day. Or the days dated 666 in some way.
With that in mind, I confidently tell children:

“When I was just a little bit older then you are, everyone thought the world was going to end because it was the new millennium and they were worried all technology would fail. I went to bed that night and I was so, so, so scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. But I woke up the next morning, and guess what! The world hadn’t ended! And the world isn’t going to end in December, either. Some people like to say they know when the world will end, but it never comes true. There is nothing to worry about.”

I say this which such confidence because not only is it probably not going to happen, but if it does we’re not going to know about it, because we’ll all be dead. Children don’t yet know how to discern truth from scare tactics from the media. They haven’t had enough life experience to know that predictions such as this don’t tend to result in the world’s end actually happening. The last thing they need is adults buying into the hysteria and scaring them more.

3) When will the world end?
This one usually directly follows the above question. If it’s not going to end this year, when will it end? Spiritually speaking, Jesus could come again at any time. But no one knows when that time will be. The Bible is very, very clear about that. A lot of Christians think that the time is near because current events seem to line up with the prophecies in the Bible. But they have done so since the beginning of time. You don’t think they thought the same thing in either of the World Wars? In the Dark Ages? During the periods of revolutions? The writers of the New Testament clearly thought it would happen any day. No body knows when Jesus will return. Physically speaking, when scientists say “soon,” they are talking within the context of several billion years. Remember that when reading about global warming, imminent eruptions, etc.

“No one knows exactly when the world will end, but chances are it won’t happen while you are still alive. It will probably be thousands of years from now.”

This question scares us all, because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control what will happen. I think that’s why people get so caught up in end-of-the-world predictions. If we can predict it, we can prepare ourselves. The world might end in December, but you might be in an accident and die next week and therefore never know about it. Worrying does nothing to prolong our lives. God knows what each one of our days holds, and no matter what happens between now and the end, all will be alright in the end.

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What I now know about life… (Part 3)

I hadn’t anticipated how good it would be for me to write about what I’ve learnt in the past three years.

To recap, so far I have talked about the specific gifts God has given me, and humility. Now, for Part 3…

God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

This has been most evident in my involvement in an annual youth event that draws a crowd of 400 or so.  The great thing about this event is the number of young people who come to know Jesus as their Saviour through it – it’s been running for longer then I’ve been alive, and it is astounding how many stories come out of people first becoming Christians at this event. The not-so-great thing about it is that, as part of my job, I have to get up infront of those 400 teenagers and, pretty much, ask them for money.

Telling people that your cause is a worthy cause that they should get excited about and give to is hard enough. But remember in Part 1 of this series, where I alluded to the fact that I don’t really do public speaking? Well, what I meant was that when I first became involved in the leadership side of this ministry, I refused to talk into a microphone. Everyone else would jump up and introduce themselves, and then someone would go “…and this is Courtney” and I’d wave a little and die inside with everyone watching me.

So, the first year, no one had really mentioned it to me until the day, when someone casually said “So, are you all set to talk about the ministry you guys do and take up the offering?” ….Uh, no. I am not. I tried to be all set, I really did. But I could not do it. Thankfully my friend, Heidi, knows me so well, and she asked if I wanted her to do the talk that year. She is amazing, seriously. We decided that my goal would be to do it next year.

Well, the next year came around faster then I expected it to. It was like I blinked, and then it was time for me to get up infront of all those teenagers and speak into a microphone in front of them. I was so nervous I could barely talk beforehand (people later admitted wondering if I’d do okay and praying furiously about it). Heidi and I went over my notes and then she prayed with me right before we went into the auditorium. Then I went backstage, and I was on my own. The tech guys and the MC were all so casual about it, which I just couldn’t believe. Obviously they hadn’t seen me try to speak just 10 minutes earlier and almost burst into tears. I had 3 minutes, and they would also be playing a highlights DVD of the kids on silent behind me. When I got on stage, I could hardly see anyone, and my heart was beating so loudly that I couldn’t hear them either. I remember saying something along the lines of “You’re not going to believe it, but this event isn’t the only thing we do here” and hearing someone fake gasp, and so I fake gasped back and said “I know!” and then everyone laughed. I relaxed a little after that (because, you know, they got my joke), but every now and then I’d get a little flustered. Halfway through, I mentioned the DVD and so turned around to look at it and saw myself, and I said “Hey! That’s me!” and got distracted for a bit watching it. Then a bit later I noticed that the giant number that I’d seen earlier had said “3” but now said “0.30” and I realised that it was timing me, and I said “Oh, I think I only have 30 seconds left!” When I finished, I practically ran off stage. The speaker, who was standing back stage waiting to go on, said “Well done! And that timer thing freaks me out too.” So, I did it! And then I walked back into the audience and started to cry from relief.

The next year. Oh my goodness, you don’t even know. I was all good. This time, my slot was slightly later, and Heidi and I went up together, but were “interviewed” seperately by one of the MCs. Which meant that I was up there for longer (about 10 minutes), but at least I wasn’t alone. For the first part, while Heidi was being “interviewed” about her role within the ministry and how others could get involved, I just sat and looked pretty. I played with my hair and spun around on the chair* (yep, got distracted…), and laughed at all the jokes.  When I was being “interviewed,” I got so excited about my job that I barely noticed I was speaking infront of 400 teenagers.

Because, you see, the important thing wasn’t that I was on stage, the important thing was the work God was doing, and would continue to do.

Afterwards, many of the youth leaders who had been both years encouraged me about it. But the one that sticks out to me came from the speaker for that year, who had been at the event with his youth group the year before. He came up to me and said “I want to tell you a story. Last year, a young woman got up in front of us and said ‘I hate public speaking, but please bear with me because I want to talk to you about something close to my heart’ and she did well, though she was obviously nervous. This year, a young woman got up on stage to talk about the same thing, but she spoke about it with confidence and passion.” And then, he said to me “That young woman, both times, was you. It is unbelievable how much you’ve grown.”

What was the different between those three seperate occasions? I think that God had taken me on a journey that was bigger then I’d realised. Not only had He grown me in my confidence, but He’d taught me that what I couldn’t do, He could do through me.  

The first year, I had simply said “I can’t do it.” The second year, I had prayed for strength, but hadn’t really learnt how to trust Him yet. At some time between the second and third year, I think that God had taught me that He was in control, and that He wasn’t going to let me stuff it up if I stood aside and let Him do His work through me.

I may be weak in public speaking, or in many other areas. But if there is a job to be done, and God has decided that I’m the one to do it, He will use my weakness to show His strength.  Hopefully, I will remember this, and continue to learn it more fully.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

*That rhymed. I’m a poet and I didn’t even realise ;)

Lessons from crazy King Nebuchadnezzar

Today I am pondering all sorts of things, but mostly the sovereignty of God.

I’m reading through Daniel at the moment, a book that I’ve always known but never actually read. It is blowing my mind. So often I find myself reading ahead, just itching to find out what happens next. I’m so excited about it that I even got out my Bible and started reading in the food court at Westfield while eating McDonalds. I just couldn’t wait until I got home. I’d been so excited about a full afternoon of shopping, and instead I held a half eaten cheeseburger in my hand and sat glued to the crazy antics of King Nebuchadnezzar.

It’s got to be said, this guy was insane. He had a dream that creeped him out a little, so he not only demanded that it be interpreted for him (which would have been relatively normal, for a king of his time), he actually demanded that the person trying to interpret it tell him what the dream actually was about. His theory, I guess, was that if they didn’t have the wisdom to know what his dream was, how could they know what it meant? But seriously, how could anyone have possibly known what his dream was? I’ve never met anyone who could say what another person dreamed, even when my husband sleep talks, I don’t know what he’s dreaming. It is impossible. He is crazy.

This is where God comes in, and I love it. Part of me is wondering if God was just being a little funny here. He had all the wise men, astrologers and magicians frustrated out of their minds and now angry and terrified because they were going to be executed for not being able to do the impossible, and then this Jewish guy taken from his home turns up and is like “Okay, here’s the deal.” What everyone must have been thinking!

The dream itself is out of this world. I still don’t understand quite why Nebuchadnezzar had that dream. It seems as if God just continually pursued him, but He could have given him a dream that was perhaps more relevant to him. It just seems a little random, but then again, I’m only up to chapter 6 so maybe it will become more clear soon. Either way, the dream fascinates me and now I’m a little bit preoccupied with the second coming of Jesus.

I love as well the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. I love their humilty in not defending themselves. I love their willingness to die for what was right. I laughed my head off at the fact that the fire was so hot it burned and killed the soldiers throwing them in to the pit. And then, oh,the words Nebuchadnezzar says as he calls them out of the pit: “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” Servants of the Most High God – that’s the part that really gets me. He knew who they were! He knew without them telling him the greatness of the One they worshipped! And then, the part that gives me chills, he decrees anyone who says anything bad about God will be killed. And why? Because no other god can save in this way.

King Nebuchadnezzar has another crazy dream, and this one freaks me out. This part of the book appears to be written by Nebuchadnezzar himself, which is instrumental in making it all the more creepy. Essentially, Nebuchadnezzar is told (by Daniel, who is interpreting his dream) that he will be driven out into the wild, away from humans, and that he will live like an animal for seven times (what is times? NIV suggests years, but I’d like to know for sure) until he acknowledges the power and authority of God. And then a year later, he’s walking around going “I’m so amazing, check out my kingdom” and a voice comes to him from heaven saying “You will be driven out into the wild to live like an animal for seven times until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign” and then immediately what is said is fulfilled.

It’s what we’re not really told that freaks me out so much. Imagine being told that that’s what would happen to you. And then waiting for 12 months, never really knowing when it was going to happen, and maybe hoping it would never happen. I can’t even begin to think what his time in the wild must have been like. It’s crazy. What an extreme way to get someone’s attention. But then part of me thinks that it was probably the only way that would have worked. Nebuchadnezzar was a pretty extreme guy. I don’t think anything else would have been quite enough for him.

Tonight, I will be reading about Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, maybe. NIV says that it could be “successor” but he’s refered to as his father a lot. The story teller in me thinks there might be a scandal, like everyone thinks he’s his son, but he’s not, because the queen or the queen mother (NIV isn’t sure) is like “Nebuchadnezzar, your father – your father, I tell you!” and it just seems like a bit of an overemphasis. But this isn’t fiction, it’s real life, so I guess I should concentrate on the important stuff. I’m looking forward to really digging into this crazy floating hand.

I love the Bible. The stories are so rich and the truths so powerful. One thing I’m being reminded over and over again during this journey through Daniel is that God is sovereign. That changes so much for my life. I kind of have two choices, I can either acknowledge this and live my life in a way that reflects His sovereignty, or I can risk being made to live in the wild until I do acknowledge it (well, maybe not that extreme, but certainly things rarely go right when you’re not giving God the glory for all that He has done). I’m always drawn to the idea of doing something that scares you, but I hardly ever actually do it. My big question for the day is whether or not I could actually scare myself by giving God total control. I wonder what would happen.