“Mom, what should I do when Harry tells me he won’t be my friend, unless I let him cheat on the spelling test?” “Dad, if we’ve been working so hard to save money, how come we’re not going to Barbados like Mia?” “Mom, why did that celebrity die when they worked so hard, had such great health care, and went to the gym every day?”
Little people ask big questions. To our embarrassment, toddlers do not nuance their inquiries about injustice. Even teenage children humbly cross-examine Mom and Dad when their worldview crumbles. On one hand, as their parents, we love receiving such questions. We rejoice in participating in their intellectual exploration. We cherish that in an uncertain world we are still their rock (at least for a few more years). Yet, often we find ourselves tongue-tied. We replay conversations and notice the deficiency of our advice and of our answers.
Indeed, if you are a Christian parent, then you, like me, often find yourself fluctuating between speedy, time-crunched responses and answers that swiftly springboard to Jesus. With regard to the former, we encourage our child to simply “tell the teacher”; we explain that Mia’s parents won the lottery and can now afford such luxury vacations; we skirt the topic of death lest we make our children overly anxious.
At other times, our answers are more thorough and infused with gospel zest. We point our children to Christ. We talk about Jesus’ love for the tax collector (and even the spelling test cheat), or Christ’s displeasure at the deceitful Harrys of this world. We explain that we’re called to contentment even if our friends are vacationing in the tropics. We use the tragic passing of the young and successful celebrity to speak of the importance of trusting in Jesus before we die.
The latter gospel strategy has much potential spiritual benefit, and the former answers are not wrong. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that neither approach gets us to the heart of our children’s dilemmas—“Dad, what do I do in the face of this real spelling test predicament?” “Mom, why is it that sometimes the bad guys go on vacation and the good guys to the grave?”
Where do we take our children to answer them comprehensively? We should take them to the School of Wisdom—to the often-neglected Old Testament books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. In these precious books, God helps us shepherd our children as they navigate the “what-should-I-dos” of a world that has been ordered by our Creator, and the “why-sos” (of a world that has been broken by His creatures).
What Should I Do? Answers from the Elementary Classroom of Proverbs
The book of Proverbs has a very clear educational refrain. In the opening nine chapters, we meet a father appealing to his son—telling him to heed his lessons. Furthermore, in that section, Wisdom is personified as a female schoolteacher calling the simple into her classroom (Prov. 9:1–6). From chapter ten onward, numerous wise saying are then imparted. Hence, teaching our children Proverbs is like taking them to elementary school.