I knew the night was coming that I would have to tell the kids. I dreaded it deeply.
My cousin Kim had died.
She was in her early 40s and had metastatic breast cancer. She left behind a loving husband and two children.
We had been praying for her every night for months. As we followed her journey through her husband’s online journal, we celebrated high highs and low lows. At many points, it seemed she would be victorious.
We praised the Lord.
At other points, the very improvements for which we had praised the Lord were wiped away in an instant with the devastating results from her latest tests.
We prayed with all our hearts for improvement again.
After 18 months, she turned a corner for the worst and it was clear she wouldn’t make it. She passed away in December.
That night, we shared what happened with our kids, who still aren’t old enough to really understand what death means. They listened with wide eyes as I explained how God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we hope, and that everyone must pass away at some point. It was Kim’s time to go to Jesus.
Nathan interjected with shaky hope, “But at other times, God DOES answer our prayers, right? Like how he made TJ all better!”
My heart crumbled.
TJ was a friend of the family. He had died not long before but we hadn’t told the kids yet. He, too, had cancer. And for him, too, we praised God for apparent healing that turned out to be only a temporary improvement.
At that moment, I couldn’t even speak. I didn’t have the heart to tell Nathan that God didn’t actually answer those prayers in the way we hoped either. I simply nodded and quickly moved on.
I’ve thought of that night many times since then and wondered why I was so hesitant to engage the kids in a discussion about TJ passing away.
I now realize that I was subconsciously trying to protect a certain reputation I wanted God to have with my kids – a loving Creator who encourages us to pray and answers those prayers a reasonable percentage of the time. But we were striking out on every prayer request, in big ways. I didn’t want my kids to get the wrong idea from their “prayer sample” that God doesn’t answer prayers.
What I should have done is use it as an opportunity to better develop their understanding of God’s character.
A reputation is who people think you are; character is who you really are. If reputation and character don’t match, disappointment is inevitable when the truth comes out.
The reputation I wanted to build for God was not consistent with His character – His character is not rooted in a prayer success rate as defined by humans. How prayer works is very much a mystery. But God’s character is knowable and certain: He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, everlasting, unchanging and perfect.
That God may not be the comfortable God I wanted to portray, but that God is a God of comfort. Knowing His character allows us to trust in difficult times that we are part of a bigger story rooted in God’s perfect ways. That is a foundation our kids need far more than any comfortable picture we may be tempted to paint.
Consider for a moment the reputation God has in your family right now. How would your kids describe Him? Is that description consistent with His character?