“Are these all your kids?” When out in public with my children, it’s a question I hear frequently. It’s a question that possibly has two different meanings. It usually means, “are you the mother of the children present?” The answer is yes. It sometimes means, “Do you have four children?” The answer is no and the answer is complicated.
How do I tell people how many children I have?
The day following Jane’s death I sat down with a woman that I love dearly. I grew up spending so much time in her home and learned so much from her that I affectionately call her my second mother. This dear woman has lost two children, a stillborn and an adult child. I had watched her walk these roads of suffering and now sitting on the couch with her I wept from the depths of my own similar sorrow. With a round pregnant belly, three children playing upstairs and one daughter being prepared for burial, I looked at the woman and sobbed, “How do I tell people how many children I have?” With grace, patience and a truly understanding demeanor, she squeezed my hand and said, “That’s hard. It’s still hard for me. You may find that the answer changes at different times and circumstances. I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.”
I have always found that it is a way to tell others about Jesus.
It’s true. I find the questions hard, because our loss hurts and it’s uncomfortable to invite strangers into personal pain. I also find that my answer changes. The truth that I have five children never changes, but there are times when I understand the answer that is being sought is that I am in fact the mother of those present. It isn’t the time to make others unnecessarily uncomfortable. Sometimes, I understand the question to mean how many children are in our family and will answer accordingly. Other times, my bold and truth telling children, will quickly correct and call any stranger’s attention to the fact that, “we have one more child, but she died.” No matter the situation, I have also learned that my second mother was correct. It is always a way to tell others about Jesus.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.1 Peter 3:15
1 Peter 3 has a lot to say about suffering and suffering to the glory of God. At some point in the last year I realized that in order to both best mentally prepare for questions that would come and honor the Lord, I needed to be prepared to give an answer. I will be the first to admit that for most of my life, I have not adequately given an answer for the hope I have in Christ to strangers. I was quick to sacrifice the truth for a laugh or answer with one word in order to save time. It’s not that I didn’t love Jesus or know my hope was anchored in Him, but unfortunately he wasn’t on the tip of my tongue and I was answering from my flesh instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to order my words. When asked how my day was going, I used to say things like “Fine” or “At least we’re all here” or “The kids are fed and alive, so we’re ok.” Even typing that last response now feels like acid poured over an open wound. Not only is that not the case for me anymore, it was never giving glory to God. I was never truthfully telling people how I was making it through the day. I confess, it used to irritate me when people made rude comments about how many children we have and I was quick to respond with a sarcastic joke and take a quick jab back. It was neither handled with gentleness or respect. It was also never giving an answer to the hope I have in Christ.
Now here I am, fielding uncomfortable questions, risking crying in the automotive repair shop and taking extra time for conversations at the library. Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy. In my case, it has taken a horrible loss and tragedy to be honest and prepared to tell others about Jesus. I couldn’t offer a quick, sarcastic response even if I wanted. The lie would be too much and the shame consuming.
Being humbled is difficult and painful, but also beautiful and holy.
So how do I respond? It changes depending on the way the question is asked. It changes depending on what children are with me. Gratefully, I realize it changes because God is all knowing and the Holy Spirit will always have the right words for the right circumstance. But when asked how many children we have, my prepared answer is honest. If my kids don’t beat me to it, I generally respond by saying, “We have five children, but one of our little girls passed away last year.” At that moment, I immediately feel the ache in honesty, the pain in how much time has already transpired and the dismay in our reality. Usually, my response is met by discomfort by others and a quick apology. My flesh’s response would always be answering with a quick “It’s ok” and an attempt at making the other person feel better and less awkward. But that’s not true. It isn’t ok that Jane died. It also doesn’t answer to the hope I have in Christ.
So instead I say, “Thank you. We miss Jane terribly, but we are so thankful that God allowed us to be her family.”
Sometimes, this response is met with more painful questions. Other times, people excuse themselves to leave or change the subject. On really special occasions, the Lord ordains for me to generously share the hope I have in Jesus. Being generous with my story, in an honest, gentle and respectful manner is one way to honor God through suffering. And no matter what, being prepared to give an answer to the hope we have in Jesus should always be our first response.