“I feel safe”. That was the response from a 10-year girl who had just experienced her parents split up and her dad move out of the house. She said these words at the end of a pastoral counseling session involving her dad and her little sister. It was not that the situation at hand (her parents' separation) had caused her to feel this peaceful feeling, it was what she heard as a result of our session that allowed her to breathe again after such a stressful and confusing few weeks.
I am not a professional counselor. I am not a physiologist or a medical doctor. I am a pastor. I can not offer kids or anyone else any physiological or medical advice. What I can offer is care, a listening ear, God’s truth and prayer.
Most of all, what I can offer is the right story. And this is the most urgent need for children today. Sadly, in our increasingly secular world, it is what so many children are not getting.
"The right story is what children most urgently need...but what so many children are not getting."
For many children today, the story that they hear about themselves and the world they inhabit is the Darwinian Naturalist kind, that they are simply a cosmic accident and the greatest thing they can hope for is to find some kind of personal fulfillment and happiness. The best they can hope for is to entertain themselves and escape from the reality of death and bad things. To be sure, they get a healthy dose of Christian morality mixed in with this storyline. Messages like “be good”, “share”, “respect others”, “be kind” are remnants from our Christian past. But the overarching storyline still says, “do what makes you happy cause life will end”, “be your best self cause you are an evolved human” and “survive the chaos”. At the end of the day, children in secular Canada today are taught Christian morality in the context of a Darwinian storyline of meaninglessness, chaos, and purposelessness.
So when a child, like the 10-year-old girl in my office, experiences a chaotic and seemingly purposeless event, she has no resources to make sense of it. It is only a horrible mess that has left her wanting to defy the system altogether. When her father brought her into my office, his previously sweet, very morally upright daughter, had been “acting out” and fallen into some bad behaviour. If I was a physiologist, I could give her some coping strategies and help walk her through the stages of grief. If I was a medical doctor, I could offer her medication or encourage healthy living. Those may still be good and worthy helps for her. But what this girl really needed to hear was the right story. The Gospel story. Only the Gospel could help her make sense of her chaos and save her from a hopeless storyline.
That day in my office we met and talked and coloured and listened to each other. But then we read the Gospel story from a resource designed for kids. We read about God the creator, Adam and Eve, the fall into sin, the promise of a Savior, the hero Jesus, the victory of the cross over sin and death, the present kingdom and the kingdom yet to come. We talked about how this story is true and it is God’s story and ours at the same time. After we had finished, I asked how her and her sister felt. It was then that this sweet, 10-year-old girl said, “I feel safe”.
What a response! Safe? After reading about so much evil and sin and destruction? Safe? After simply reading a story? Safe? Why safe?
The answer is that the Gospel gave this young girl context for all the devastation in her world. The Gospel dealt head-on with the difficult realities of the world and showed her that God is still in control and still has a plan. The Gospel gave her a taste of the hope that Jesus offers her through his cross, grave, throne and imminent return. This story, this old story, the story of Jesus is what her young heart needed and what she had never heard before. The real tragedy is that her heart had been robbed of hearing this good news until that moment.
"The Gospel dealt head-on with the difficult realities of the world and showed her that God is still in control and still has a plan. The Gospel gave her a taste of the hope that Jesus offers her through his cross, grave, throne and imminent return."
Sadly, this is true of many other children in my country of Canada. There are two ways that kids today get robbed of this good news in my context. First, an increasing number of kids in Canada are growing up today with little to no Christian influence. Many do not attend church and are completely illiterate as to the message of the Bible. These kids are truly growing up in a post-Christian world and they are being robbed of the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They are being left with a story vacuum and they will one day fill that vacuum with the gods of death, the gods of sex, the gods of comfort, the gods of personal fulfillment or the gods of self-realization. These gods will offer them peace, joy, and happiness, but because they are false, they will ultimately leave them empty, unsatisfied and not reconciled to God.
But there is a second way we rob kids of the Gospel, and it is even sadder. It is when kids are robbed of the Gospel even though they have Christian parents and attend church. Many religiously engaged kids are still unengaged in the Gospel story at all. What they receive on a regular basis is merely scattered Bible verses, moral instructions or worst of all, a distorted Gospel that sounds more like self-help than good news. Many in the previous Millennial generation were not told a robust Gospel message but a moralistic and therapeutic message with a little Bible and Jesus sprinkled-in. We gave them rules and principles for life from the Bible and Christian platitudes, but not a good news message that could sustain them during dark times or answer their deepest questions.
Sadly, even in my early days as a Children’s pastor, I too often fell into a pattern of giving good biblical advice and commands rather than telling them the story of the Bible that leads to Jesus. But if we truly want to see the next generation transformed, it will only happen through telling them the right story.
The Gospel story.
Only God’s story of salvation through Jesus can offer hope through the brokenness and chaos.