The sun had already set in our time zone in the southern hemisphere. A friend arrived with a small television and a large antenna to set up on our rooftop terrace. I stood next to my dad as the antenna was adjusted myriad directions, coaxing a clearer picture from the screen.
The stars twinkled in our black sky as white bursts of light were broadcast live. The United States had responded to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. There was a war. I was 10.
This wasn’t the only war I knew. At the time, our family lived in a country defined by rebel factions, attacks on civilians, power outages, missing friends, bodies maimed by landmines, and a continual fog of human suffering and political uncertainty. The effects of war were well known to me before the end of my first decade.
My children are now that age. On January 3, when an Iranian general was killed in a U.S. strike, political tensions rose. Five days later, Iran launched missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq.
As I listened to news while cooking dinner, I wondered, along with millions of other global citizens: What’s next? My young children wandered in and out of the kitchen, asking questions about what they were hearing.
Over dinner, while my husband was at work, I had to answer an important question: how do we talk about war and rumors of war with our young children?
1. Set the Tone
Though the voices of the news commentators are tinged with uncertainty and even fear, their tone doesn’t own our home. Children take cues from their parents. With a still-developing concept of geography, my 8-year-old asked, “Will a rocket hit our home?” She’s really asking, “Should I be afraid?”
Childhood is the training ground for the circumstances that children will encounter as adults.
My answer that day was the same as any other day: we don’t need to fear, because we are where God has called us to be. Our confidence is not in an ideal of safety, but in a person, Jesus Christ.
2. Lead Specific Prayer
Where people are involved, there is no lack of kindling for prayer. These are some specific people and things we can pray for:
Iranian and U.S. military and political leaders, by name
Around the dinner table, we prayed that those in power would show restraint. Restraint, one of the 12 principles of war for United States joint operations, is a value that even small children can understand and ask the Lord to grant.
The families of those killed in the attack
I assumed there would be casualties—that in the coming hours, American, Iraqi, and coalition families would receive notice that a loved one had died. We prayed that, in their moment of grief and immense suffering, they would cry out to Jesus.
We have brothers and sisters in Iran. We pray for their faithfulness, just as I hope they are praying for ours.
Other conflicts and wars
We think about conflict when it hits close to home. In reality, people are suffering in war every day. For them it’s not a potential future circumstance; it’s now. This threat of war is a call for repentance—for our own selfishness at only being concerned when we think it might affect us.
3. Explain War
I tell my children, without qualification, that war is horrible. It is not good. It is a result of sin.
Young children don’t need a treatise on just-war theory. They don’t need an overview of the principles of war. What they do need is an accurate understanding of the consequences of sin, sin that seeks to take root in each of us. Battles are fought on the global stage, but the sin battles raging within bring the military battles to fruition (see James 4:1–2).
At this stage in young children’s spiritual formation, understanding personal spiritual battles can provide needed context for battles that rage on a global scale. Conflict confronts them every day.
4. Prepare Them for Other Voices
As my children are returning to school, no doubt the subject of war will arise. We need to talk explicitly about how to respond to war and rumors of war. Our children should be equipped at home to overflow in prayer instead of fear, blessing instead of cursing, and compassion instead of anxious speculation.
By the grace of God, we are not at risk of being killed by a missile around the dinner table. But we still have an urgent situation in our homes. Childhood is the training ground for the circumstances that children will encounter as adults.
By the grace of God, we can lay the foundation for them to understand that in a world where war is a reality, a sovereign God is at work.