Should you take your child to a funeral? Conventional wisdom would say no. Parents are supposed to provide positive experiences for their children and protect them from dark realities, right? And a funeral (if we even call them that anymore; “memorial service” sounds less ominous) are certainly a dark reality.
But while the impulse to protect or shield our children can seem normal or wise, the wisdom of Scripture suggests an alternative to our conventional assumptions.
Here are three positive reasons you should take your children to funerals.
1. To Help Children Understand That Death Is Part of Life
Our children experience death all around them. Unfortunately, it’s often either glamorized through a round-winning “head shot” in Call of Duty or desensitized by the sheer volume of death in the latest Marvel film. Ironically, the more our kids encounter death in pop culture, the more abstract, surreal, and distant it can seem to them.
Ironically, the more our kids encounter death in pop culture, the more abstract, surreal, and distant it can seem to them.
Meanwhile, the rest of society seems bent on sanitizing or erasing the specter of death. Note the subtle changes, for example, in our vocabulary. “Graveyards” became “cemeteries,” and now we have “memorial parks.” “Funerals” became “memorial services,” and now we have “celebrations of life.” Cemeteries used to be common fixtures in churchyards, reminders for Sunday parishioners that death will come to us all. But most newer cemeteries are hidden away from view, unseen in the day-to-day rhythms of most people’s lives. And consider our cultural obsession with youth, fitness, vitality and anything eaten, oiled, or applied to keep death and decay at bay. Our children aren’t being helped to understand that death is a real evil in this world—an evil that forces everyone to consider how to steward their lives (Ecc. 9:1–12). Funerals help our children recognize the full weight and gravity of mortality.
2. To Model Grief for Our Children
We know how to have fun with our children, but do we know how to weep with them? If we only expose them to life’s joys, but not its trials, are we truly preparing them for a world that groans under the burden of sin (Rom. 8:20)? In the face of death, the cultural extremes of avoidance and stoicism on one hand or emotional collapse and unrestrained grief on the other won’t give our children the full range of God-given emotions that will help them process life and its difficult events.
Our children need to feel loss, to process it honestly, to see us moved by grief, and to watch as we lean upon God, even in his dark providence. As we process the loss together, age-appropriate conversations about his goodness, sovereignty, and the problem of suffering can be broached in a way that strengthens their faith and prepares them for a world where these three doctrines constantly intersect. Funerals help our children learn how to grieve in the face of death and to hope in the light of Christ (John 11:25).
3. To Help Our Children See the Gospel in Darkness
The gospel of Jesus Christ never shines brighter than in life’s darkest moments. No life event makes this clearer than a funeral. I never had to say anything to my children about the importance of the gospel when I took them to funerals, because they could see and hear it for themselves. They could see the overwhelming grief of those who didn’t know Christ—contrasted with the grace, hope, and resolve of those who did. They could hear sobs of despair contrasted with voices of hope.
True, my children may not have been able to articulate these differences when they were younger, but it was clear from their wide-eyed expressions and curious glances that the differences registered at a more foundational level. The effect of such an experiences creates fertile soil for the seeds of gospel conversations to sprout—about life, death, eternity, and why we make much of Jesus and the salvation he offers. Unlike almost any other life event, funerals help our children understand the power and necessity of the gospel.
Unlike almost any other life event, funerals help our children understand the power and necessity of the gospel.
Yes, funerals can be difficult. They are visceral and tragic reminders of sin’s earthly consequences. But that doesn’t mean God can’t use them to cultivate wisdom and hope in our kids (Ecc. 7:1–4). As parents, we hope their lives are marked by God’s goodness and favor rather than life’s darker realities. But in a fallen world we should seek every opportunity—even funerals—to disciple them and grow their confidence in the certain hope of Christ.
- Remember Death (Matthew McCullough)
- 5 Ways to Talk to Your Children About Death (Jeff Robinson)
- To Grow Spiritually, Start Thinking About Death (Collin Hansen and Matt McCullough)
- Remember Death. Enjoy a Life of Hope. (Phil Letizia)
- Memento Mori: What It Means and Why It Should Matter to You (Matthew McCullough)