Good Friday is grim. It’s horrifying and violent and brutal, this day where a man was tortured and nailed to a cross and left hanging there for hours until he died.
This is why I’ve said very little about it to my kids.
Every parent knows that the innocence of children is something precious and fragile. The first chapter of Random MOMents of Grace is all about this, about how I instinctively want to shield my young kids from the inevitable realization that bad stuff happens. Why force them to confront the awful brutality of one human being to another? Though they go to Mass every week and are no stranger to a crucifix (in their room they have one that belonged to Scott as a kid), we rarely talk about the death of Jesus.
If I had my way they’d never have to know that there is such a thing as deliberate cruelty. Is it wrong to want to skip over the crown of thorns and the nails and proceed directly to Easter Sunday, to the sunrise and the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ and the bunnies and lilies?
But perhaps — just perhaps — they’re more ready for the cross than I think they are.
As I work around the house, I listen to the boys play with Legos, with action figures, with toy cars. Increasingly, it’s about bad guys versus good guys. ”These are the bad guys!” one of the boys will say, showing me some smiling yellow Lego people. “And these are the good guys!” they’ll say, showing me some more smiling yellow Lego people. If it’s not Lego figures, it’s Batman or Spiderman and the Green Goblin. Whatever they’re playing with, their toy universe is divided: good versus evil. (It’s a divide that doesn’t leave much room for redemption, for bad people becoming good, but they’ll get to that someday.)
What their play shows me is that somewhere along the way, they’ve picked up the concept of evil. They know there are bad people who do bad things, like chase Spiderman or attempt to catch the good Lego folk. I’m profoundly grateful that their image of bad behavior is still, on the one hand, abstract, that evil has not directly touched their lives in a horrifyingly personal way. And yet I have to admit that as much as I have tried to protect them, the jig is up.
Just the other day, Luke was looking at a picture book called The Week That Led to Easter. There was a picture of the Crucifixion (minimally disturbing; no blood or gore). He pointed to the Roman centurions in the foreground. “Those are the bad guys,” he said, and it hit me: They get it. They get it more than I thought they did. Bad people exist. Bad things happen.
Good Friday happened. And I can’t pretend that my boys’ tiny little loss of innocence has not happened, either.
Maybe, then, it’s no longer about keeping them from knowing about the horror. Maybe it’s about helping them look beyond the horror, learning how to integrate it into a larger spiritual framework. It’s about showing them that there is something big and beautiful beyond the evil, whatever that evil is.
Recently I was re-reading Margaret Silf’s wonderful book The Other Side of Chaos. She speaks about the Gospel story of the death of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. She points out that this story is not about a God who says Do this and I will keep bad things from happening to you. It’s something very different:
Lazarus, through the ministry of Jesus, transcends the power of death, but not before he has actually gone through it. Whatever the facts may be surrounding this incident, the message is clear: “If you follow me, the angel of death will not pass over you and save you from what you fear, but you and I together will pass through the worst that you fear, and by doing so we will transcend it.” (The Other Side of Chaos, pages 133-134)
I need this kind of faith : a tough faith, one that accepts the existence of pain while helping me see that pain is not the end of the story. I need the God who says, yes, I will walk with you through this dark valley and it will be dark and terrifying, but there will be light on the other side, and I will help you get there. I say that knowing that in those moments of crisis, it may take me a long long time to get to the light, and that my faith may be — no, surely will be — rocked. But I trust in the light, because I know it’s there.
So maybe I don’t need to hide Good Friday from my boys, nor do I need to take the other extreme and harp on the blood and gore. Maybe it’s about acknowledging the cross, the loss, the death and darkness of the day, while always reminding them that on the third day, all of that is transcended. Those days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday are the Christian faith in miniature, really: a tough and unflinching acceptance of the awfulness of pain, and yet a promise that it will not stay that way.
If I gave them Good Friday without Easter, it would be awful indeed. The good news is that I don’t have to. I can acknowledge the death and pain in the context of a broader and beautiful truth, one that the boys already seem to know intuitively, one that shows up in all their Lego and action figure play: In the end, goodness wins.