This past week, I sat down with my son, wrapped my arm around his shoulders and braced myself for a conversation I’d had a feeling was coming. The shamrocks had been packed away, and in their place came a stack of Easter books. Many of them were filled with images of fluffy bunnies and colorful eggs, but there was one that showed a man, almost naked and nailed to a piece of wood. And this year, my son noticed.
My heart was pounding and I felt myself starting to sweat. “Thaaaaat…. is Jesus,” I started, cautiously. Yes, Jesus loves you, this we know. How quickly can I flip the page and mumble through the middle portion of this story before he realizes what happens? No wonder jelly beans became a part of the Easter celebration: to distract the children from all the, you know, murder.
Death is not something we’ve had to talk about yet in our house; we haven’t lost any friends or family members close to my children, thankfully. I don’t even use the word “dead” when referring to the stink bugs collecting on the windowsill or the monsters at Halloween. It’s not that I don’t want to be honest with them; it’s just that they’re so little and I want to let them hang on to their ignorant bliss as long as possible. I soon realized, though, that my son’s understanding of the world was changing.
It felt sad, like a piece of that protective bubble I’d built around him was chipping away. I didn’t want him to know that people die, and that people are capable of hurting and killing others — especially that people would hurt and kill JESUS. He’s the nice one with the lambs, for God’s sake.
But this is the world we live in, and these are our beliefs. I knew at some point he would need to learn the story to understand the depth and gravity of the events on which we’ve built our faith. Turning a page and noticing the famous (albeit gruesome) image in a children’s book, I realized it was time to start the conversation — ready or not. But how do I explain something — a confusing, upsetting mystery that is difficult for even adults to swallow — to someone who gets nightmares from cartoon sharks?
“Some people didn’t like Jesus, even though he was very good,” I said. “And so they hurt him, and he died, and it was so sad. It was the saddest day the world had ever seen. Everyone thought he was gone forever. But on Easter, he came back, and then he got to go live in Heaven with God. No one had ever done that before. When he did that, he made it so that we can all go to Heaven with God when we’re done living our lives here, even though we make mistakes sometimes and do bad things. He showed us how much God loves us. God sent us His son, and He forgives us, and He is good.”
I paused, realizing I had been spewing bits and pieces of what may or may not be kid-appropriate theology at him for several minutes. “Do you understand? Do you have any questions?” I asked him, suddenly all too aware of how fragile he seemed.
He looked over at me and said, “Yes. EASTER EGGS.”
I think it was a question, and it was one I was relieved to hear. Yes, Easter eggs. Phew. Let’s do that.
Later in the week, out of nowhere, he asked if Jesus had bled. I said yes, and we talked about it again. We talked more about forgiveness, like we do when we say we’re sorry to each other. We talked about marshmallow eggs and bunnies, too, and why we celebrate new life in the springtime.
I’m not sure how much stuck with him and how much went over his head. Above all, I wanted to stress that although h it’s a difficult story, it has a happy ending — that the world we live in isn’t perfect and can be scary and mean, but that good will always prevail. I wonder if there was ever a day when God sat down with Jesus and said, “Son, we need to have a talk and it’s going to be a tough one. It’s about Easter. You’re probably going to hate it. But trust me, the ending is awesome.”
I suspect that was the day He invented jelly beans.