A few nights ago as I was leaving my boy’s bed room our son Micah lifted his little four-year-old head up off of the pillow and quietly asked, “Dad, where are you going to go when you die?”  My initial reaction was to say, “Micah, daddy’s not going to die.”  But that’s not true.  I am going to die and as a rule Shelley and I try not to lie to our boys…

A few months prior to this exchange our dog Bradley died of cancer.  We were sad, but Shelley and I both thought it might be a good introduction (if there can be such a thing) to death.  At some point we all have to learn that ‘things’ including ourselves are impermanent.  So we tried to prepare the boys for the day of Bradley’s death.  We told them, “Bradley is very sick and she’s not going to come home today, but she’ll live in our hearts forever.”  They were sad, but they took comfort in the idea that Bradley somehow lived on in our hearts.  I naively thought that would be the end of that…

“Dad, where are you going to go when you die?” I couldn’t respond with, “I’ll live in your heart.”  I didn’t think that was going to cut it.  I had no idea what to say.  The grand irony of my speechlessness lies in the fact that I am paid to talk about things like that.  I’m a pastor of a Presbyterian Church and death is something I talk about a lot.  I attended seminary for 4 years, where I studied and wrote about things like death and dying.  I have visited with widows who have lost their husbands of 60 + years and yet when my 4 year-old asks about death I clam up…

I don’t think I’m alone.  Many of my pastor colleagues with young children struggle with how much we should attempt to direct our children’s spiritual formation.  I think it’s a reaction against some of the heavy handed ways earlier generations of pastors tended to attempt to form their children.  It’s not uncommon for people I meet who find out I have two children to say, “oh my goodness, those poor pastor’s kids.”  So, I know I don’t want to parent like Reverend Moore (no relation) in the 1980’s version of Footloose…I imagine you don’t want to parent that way either.  Most of us are trying to raise our children with as little ‘brainwashing’ as possible.

On the other hand I think as parents we have an obligation to help provide meaning and direction to the events that occur in our children’s lives.  When dogs die we need to help make that make sense.  When towers crash or they see images of violence on the news at night they need a vocabulary to talk about things like evil and sin.  When they experience joy or reconciliation they need words like Grace, Faith, Hope, and Love.

In the case of my own children they were born into a Christian home, with a dad who happens to be a Christian minister.  So I’m becoming more comfortable with religious language.  I’m not going to try and keep them from exploring the world of faith.  But I am going to talk to them about God, life, and death using the language of my tradition.  After all, it’s the only language I really have.  And if your children are anything like mine they have very little tolerance for anything that could be disingenuous.

To my son’s question “Dad, where are you going to go when you die?”  I eventually answered, “Well son, when I die I’m not exactly sure what it will be like, but I can tell you this I think I’ll be with God, but I will never stop loving you.”  Did I answer all his deepest existential questions?  Nope.  But he did respond by saying, “Dad, I love you.”  And he drifted off to sleep.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.


  1. Joseph- Great blog my man! I know that’s a tough question to answer… I like the ‘poor pastors son’ line! haha! See you soon.


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