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Three-Year-Olds and Heaven

My little girl has been thinking and talking about Elli a lot. Despite the age difference (5 years) and how young Little Girl is, they were pretty close sisters. I love this photo of the two of them from last Christmas. Little Girl loved her sister and really misses having another girl in our family.

We dropped something off at the funeral home the other day, and I know that Little Girl thought we might see Elli there. I had to explain that it was a place for people to come and tell us how much they loved Elli and how much they love us. That we took Elli’s body in the special bed called a casket and put it in the ground at the cemetery. That Elli is not in that casket, her spirit has a new body in heaven with Jesus.

The perseverance, the eternality, of the human spirit is a weighty thing to grasp at any age. Let alone at age 3.

On the drive home from the funeral home, Little Girl was quiet. I realized she was crying when we pulled into the garage. Once we got her unfastened from her carseat, I gave her a big hug.

She said, “Mommy, I want to be with both you and Elli.”

My heart just broke. She feels so torn, wanting to go to heaven and be with Elli now, and wanting to stay here with me.

Then she said, “I don’t want to die. How long until I die, Mommy?”

While I desperately want to protect her from death and dying, I really don’t think that avoiding the subject is wise. So, even though it hurts, and I feel totally clueless sometimes to comfort her and answer her questions, I am so thankful that she is talking and asking her questions outloud.

I explained that God does not tell us how long we have to live here. This is something we just don’t know (I try to be very honest about the things I don’t know, can’t answer.)

Little Girl has nightmares, so at bedtime and when she wakes up screaming and terrified, we repeat “I don’t need to be afraid because God is always with me.” I reminded her of this most important thing that we do know: God is always with us, no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing, even when we die. So on the day that Little Girl‘s life ends, He will be with her, and she won’t be afraid.

Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

This comforts me too, when I think about Elli dying alone in her room. I struggle with guilt and sadness that I wasn’t there at that most important moment. That I was sleeping, or lazily and slowly waking up, oblivious to whatever was going on in her room. But through the tears and pain, I have to remind myself, “God is always with us, so we don’t need to be afraid,” Elli wasn’t really alone, and because Jesus was with her, she wasn’t afraid.

Yesterday Little Girl drew this picture. It’s all of us in heaven.
I love that she drew Elli standing next to her.

I realized in the days after Elli’s death that I really don’t know what I know about heaven. We say lots of things, comforting things, but are they based in Scripture or are they wishful thinking, superstition, fairy tales? Does Elli really have a new body in which she can run and dance and sing, for example?

A friend loaned me her copy of the new book “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. It’s a comprehensive look at what the Bible teaches about what happens to God’s people after they die. Randy shows how God uses concrete physical language to describe heaven (rooms, gardens, fields, mountains, etc.). That we human beings are both spirit and body. That when Moses and Elijah appeared next to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples recognized them for who they were because they had bodies. He believes this is evidence that we will know each other for who we were in this life – we will remember.

So this is where we are right now. Thinking and talking about weighty things with young ones. Crying and praying over weighty things as adults. Searching for real answers, not band-aids.

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