Have you ever been asked, “Where were you when . . . ?”
As a child, I heard countless stories of my grandfather’s days in the U.S. Army, marching across Europe in World War II, and how the Lord protected him on D-Day.
My mother often shared her memories of hiding under a school desk during Cold War bomb drills, or of watching TV coverage of the moon landing in 1969. And every one of my parents’ generation can tell me where they were the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
I’m now old enough to have stories and memories of where I was when something significant or tragic happened in the world.
On September 11, 2001, I was leading a group counseling session with students at an alternative school when a coworker knocked on the door, pulled me aside, and told me planes had flown into the Twin Towers in New York. It’s a date I’ll never forget.
With the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaching, many of us will spend time recalling that day. We’ll remember where we were, what we felt and thought, what we saw and experienced. We’ll remember the lives lost and the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the sake of others. We’ll remember our national grief and our righteous anger in response to the horrors of that day.
As we do, though, there will be children around us who don’t remember. My children were not yet born on 9/11. To them, it’s a national tragedy, one they read about in the final pages of their history books in school. It’s like the stories I heard as a child of those world wars or of JFK’s assassination—one they don’t have an emotional connection to because they weren’t there.
How can we talk to our children about that day?
Keep It at Their Level
Talking about 9/11 with a 3 year old will look different than it does with an 8 or a 13 year old.
A young child who sees adults with sad faces and hears them talking about 9/11 may ask questions. Answer with short, simple responses. They don’t need details, just the basics: “On this day, we remember the people who lost their lives when a group of angry men attacked our country. We pray for their families who miss them so much. And we pray that God would bring the peace only he can give.”
An older child might want more information about what happened. Share according to their age and stage of development. School-age children learn about 9/11 in their history classes. This provides parents an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings about what they’ve learned and help them make sense of it in a biblical context.
In hearing about what happened on 9/11, some children might respond with concerns about a future attack where they live. They might ask, “Could that happen again?”
We certainly can’t brush off the likelihood of bad things happening in our nation or even in our hometown. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen. But we also don’t want our children to live in fear that terrorists lurk around every corner.
We live in a fallen world where bad things happen. But we also don’t want our children to live in fear that terrorists lurk around every corner.
The truth is, while no one knows what the future holds, we know who holds the future. So we help our children bring their concerns to the Lord in prayer. We talk about our faithful God who is always with us and hears us.
We help them remember other times they’ve felt scared and how God has been with them and cared for them. And with our older children, we might also show them ways our local, state, and federal governments have implemented security measures since 9/11.
Frame It in the Big Story
Whenever I talk to my children about hard things, I always frame it in the context of the big story of Scripture—of creation, fall, redemption, and glorification. To be honest, it’s also how I tell myself the hard stories of life.
Creation: Talk to your children about how God made the world perfect and free from sickness and death. There was no sin. Adam and Eve didn’t argue with one another. They didn’t call each other names or hurt each other. There was no such thing as terrorism, war, or death. They loved each other as God loved them.
Fall: But then they broke the one rule God had for them and sin entered the world. Adam and Eve’s son killed his brother, and people have argued and fought and hurt one another ever since. That’s why things like 9/11 happen. Our world is broken by sin.
Redemption: When we see people hurt one another or when we learn about terrible things like 9/11, we feel sad because we know that’s not how things are supposed to be. But there’s good news! God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, born as a baby into this world. He grew up holy and perfect. He was never unkind. He never hurt others. Because he perfectly obeyed God, he became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He took the punishment we deserve for all the ways we break God’s law. He came to heal our sinful hearts so we can love God and one another again. And he can redeem any sinner, even a terrorist.
Glorification: One day, he will return to take away all our hurts and sorrows, and we’ll live with him forever. In eternity, there will be no more anger or terrorism or death. We’ll live in peace with God and others forever.
This is the Bible’s story and one we need to teach our children so they can understand why our world is the way it is and what God has done about it through his Son. It’s also the story our hearts need as we reflect on 9/11.
Teach Them to Lament
This past summer, our family visited the National Firefighter Memorial in Colorado Springs. My husband is retired from the fire service and wanted to honor the memory of fallen coworkers listed on the memorial. While we were there, we came across the list of firefighters who died trying to rescue people during 9/11. We read through name after name. We talked about the tragedy and loss of that day. My children witnessed our sadness and grief.
It’s important to help children learn what to do with the sadness they feel, not only for the circumstances of their lives, but also when they learn of national tragedies, such as 9/11. They need to learn to lament to God all that they feel.
It’s important to help children learn what to do with the sadness they feel.
To lament is to cry out to God, telling him about our emotions, seeking his comfort and help, and trusting that he is our refuge. Lament is the proper response to the brokenness of this world.
We can model such prayers to our children as we pray aloud about the events of 9/11. Helping our children learn to lament equips them to cry out to God with their future sorrows, to trust him to be their refuge in times of trouble.
Do you remember where you were on 9/11? Talk to your children about that day. Tell them the story of why bad things happen and what Christ has done. And together offer a prayer of lament as you remember those whose lives were lost.