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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

06 May 2009

A Child’s Life and Death Worries

Q: Our 10 year old grandson e-mailed us: “Sometimes I dream that one of you has died and I wake up crying.” His mother (our daughter) she said he told her that he had been thinking of that for some time. He has been more attentive to us lately, wanting to stay with us more often. We are all Christians living in the same town and going to the same church. Finally, my question: What is the best response to his e-mail?

A: At least part of your grandson’s behavior might be addressed better by a counselor or the family doctor. My expertise in child development is limited to the observations and experiences I have as pastor, parent, and grandparent. If my suggested course of action is insufficient, his parents might then consult his pediatrician or their family practitioner.

I do know that children come to a time in their lives when they start realizing death’s details, especially its finality. This may encompass worry about their family members’ mortality. Often we find a triggering death that holds the child’s focus. Pet, family, friend, or even fictional (book or television) deaths can lead to special concerns for loved ones. It may not even be a death. Other losses and separations can also spark a child’s speculations about loved ones dying.

Now I Lay Me Down to SleepAs long as his life isn’t controlled by these nightmares, you probably don’t need to do much more than you already have. Show love and affection. Tell him that as far as you know, nothing is going to happen to you. Between the extremes of dismissing his concerns and giving them too much attention, can continue your due diligence.

Since you’re Christians, you have a definite advantage: You can anchor all you say and do in “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)” Your grandson is old enough to do more than report his dreams; he can also speak of his emotional and spiritual reactions. Let him discuss his own perceptions about his grandparents’ deaths.

Don’t belittle the pain he feels — it’s a pain born of love. Instead, let him know anew how much God, and you, love him. Remind him that Jesus will raise up and reunite all Christians. Let him know that you also realize that death is “the last enemy to be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26)” Yet because Jesus is raised, death’s destruction is absolutely certain.

Teach your grandson to make Paul’s confession in Romans 8:38-39 his own. Help him memorize and understand these beautiful words of faith: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let him know that it’s fine to sorrow over the death of family and friends, while trusting we that our grief will turn to joy (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Show him how Jesus reacted to the death of Lazarus in John 11, both in sadness and in action. Point out how Jesus undid Lazarus’ death both as a sign of His own resurrection and as further promise that He will also raise us up. If you need more help, please enlist your pastor and, as necessary, trusted medical or counseling help.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

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