“What’s Good Friday, Mommy?” my 8 year old asked. Oh crap.
As a mom with longtime faith — faith that grew stronger after I became a parent — I suddenly find myself dealing with what I’m calling “a great Good Friday dilemma.” Spoiler alert: I also happen to be a Sunday School teacher. Although my Pre-K and Kinder students are too small to really understand everything that went down on Good Friday thousands of years ago, my daughters are now old enough to know what’s what with our beloved Holy Week leading up to Easter… How to explain the painful image of Jesus hanging on the cross, the death, the world-changing reason about why this most historical event shaped everything we believe as Christians?
I thought fast to answer my daughter’s question. Everything came out in an age-appropriate jumble that made sense in my head and also aligned with what we’ve already learned church. “Good Friday is the day Jesus died on the cross, so all of us who believe in Him can live forever.” Her response? “Oh. Okay.”
Since our brief convo, we’ve been to a few Holy Week services and she’s come up with more curiosities about why Jesus had to go through what he did on Good Friday. I’ve come up with a few more organized thoughts for talking about this most poignant day with our little ones in ways they can relate to — ways that start with explaining the meaning, rather than detail gory circumstances of what happened on that particular day.
1. Keep it simple. Gauge your child’s age, maturity, what details they might be able to handle. Like I said, it is pointless to scare small kids about the physical pain of crucifixion if they’re not developmentally ready to understand it.
2. Each year, aim to discuss the story of Holy Week and Good Friday in spurts… adding more details with each year your child grows. Think of revealing the story in layers. Preschool age kids can start with “Jesus died so we can live forever in Heaven” and high schoolers can examine the events of the day in the Bible (the tortuous carrying of the cross up the mountain, etc).
3. Do not be afraid to say the word “death” with children. Death is a part of life, willed by God. Although Jesus dying on the cross was certainly a most dramatic and world-changing act, I opt to say the word ‘death’ sparingly and undramatically as possible, as it appropriately ties to what happened, to minimize any fear that small children might associate with dying.
“It was awful and it hurt Jesus a lot. Lots of people thought Jesus was a liar and didn’t like him at that time. He was punished for something he didn’t do. He knew he had to go through that, to die, to show the world that God is our Eternal Father and that we can have life after death…”
For my kids, I also like to explain Good Friday into a context that relates to our lives now. The Sunday School teacher in me recognizes Good Friday a few different ways:
1. Forgiving others. God gave all our sins to Jesus on that day, His only son, so our sins would be forgiven forever. Good Friday is a day to remember how powerful forgiving someone is… a friend, an enemy, anyone who wronged you. (This is perhaps the biggest part of the season leading up to Easter.)
2. Finding comfort and security in our beliefs. There were a lot of people who didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God (that’s why they crucified him). Good Friday is a time for us to remember that our beliefs will always be challenged and tested, just like they were back then.
3. The power of being thoughtful. A friend of mine likes to dim lights and turn all sound off between 12noon and 3pm on Good Friday — in honor of the hours when Jesus died on the cross. Kids can have quiet time — reading, drawing or building Legos — to learn that Good Friday is meant to be a somber time. Consider attending a Good Friday service to show kids the contrast in mood against the celebration of Easter Sunday.
4. Knowing it is okay to feel sad… and there is always hope no matter how dire a situation can be. Life can give us very difficult times — feeling sad about them is not wrong or shameful. Just like Jesus had to stay strong to fulfill God’s will for a greater good, we will sometimes be required to go through things that are hard for us. Remembering that God’s power always brings us comfort and light through terrible times reminds us that suffering does not last forever.
5. Real love is beyond what we can sometimes understand. God’s love for us was, and still is, selfless. Mary’s love for Jesus (as his mother, with him on that day) was selfless. Jesus’ love for us is selfless. This season, we can show others how much we love them — our friends, neighbors, family. Love is the most powerful energy given by God. The more we love others, the more we honor what Jesus did for our lives on this earth. Good Friday is a perfect day to do something especially thoughtful for someone else.
For older kids, discussing some of the more challenging, physical details (ie: crucifixion as punishment for wrongdoing at that time, being nailed the the cross) can deepen the meaning and sorrow of Good Friday to then illuminate the glorious, contrasting power of Easter Sunday. Some older kids might ask questions — this is good! We don’t know all the answers, but that’s okay (that’s what our Bibles are for… to study). One of my newfound favorite resources to help with questions that older kids might come up with about Good Friday is this article.
Good Friday is a solemn, toned-down day… Jesus’ death gave us new life. Because without darkness, light is not possible.