(Justin posted this of FB last week, and I thought it too important to not add here.)
Last week, Annalía asked Karlene to check on her Beta Fish that she affectionately named – Sharkbait. Apparently he didn’t seem to be eating his food, and when Karlene checked on him, he was as stiff as a board. When we told Annalía that her fish had died, we promised her that we would go to the store and buy more fish along with an aquarium. So, a few days later we picked up an aquarium with all the accessories and a handful of goldfish, a couple snails, and shrimp.
On the way out of the Walmart parking lot, I said, “Annalía, we have a lot of fish. How cool is that?”
“That’s so cool!” she responded excitedly.
A moment later, I heard “Abraham… Abraham… Abraham.”
“What does Abraham have to do with it?” I asked.
“Abraham and Lot,” she answered. It took me a second to realize that she had associated the word “a lot” with Lot the nephew of Abraham. I laughed.
“Daddy, was Lot a good person?” she asked.
I thought about Lot, his seemingly poor choices at time, but then again, he is listed in the Hebrews Faith Hall of Fame. “I think he was good person for the most part,” I answered.
Let me pause this story a moment to say that we’ve been blessed with a very articulate 3-year-old, which has proved to also be a challenge at times. Right now, we’re in the “why?” stage. Every answer we give, no matter how straightforward, is always responded by “why?”
As we continued our drive, our conversation switched back to her dead fish Sharkbait. “Why did Sharkbait die?” she asked. Since Sharkbait’s death, she’s been very inquisitive as to why he died and death in general, as morbid as it seems.
“He was old.” I answered. “Fish die when they get old.”
She seemed worried. “I don’t won’t to die.”
“I don’t want you to die either,” I responded. “But you know, animals and people die. Sometimes accidents happen or people get old.”
I thought about saying something like “because that’s just what happens,” but a truly inquisitive child deserves so much more. “Because,” I explained, “Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and because they disobeyed God and sinned, everyone has to die. But you know what Jesus said?”
“Jesus said, that if you follow Him, you will go to heaven.”
“So, I won’t die?” she asked.
“Well, people still die here on earth, but they get to go to heaven and be with Jesus.”
She seemed a little scared of heaven. Then again, she’s scared of everything. “I don’t want to go to heaven,” she responded.
“Well,” I explained, “heaven is a wonderful place. But those who don’t follow Jesus sadly go to hell – a place filled with fire.”
“I want to go to heaven,” she stated. “Daddy, will Sharkbait go to heaven?”
Again, her question was beyond my theological understanding. I quickly mentally scanned my Scripture knowledge indexed in my head and then the Disney movies like “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” but I didn’t really know the answer to that question. I thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure,” I responded.
We pulled into the driveway. I thought about getting her out and taking her inside; it was past her bedtime. But I stopped myself. “Annalía, would you like to follow Jesus?”
“Yes,” she responded.
“Well, would you like to tell him that you’d like to follow Him?”
I didn’t need to prompt her further. I didn’t need to say, “repeat after or me” or anything like that. Before I even finished that sentence. She was praying. “Jesus, I want to follow you. I don’t want to go to the bad place. Thank you for dying for me. Amen.”
One theological question I’ve pondered so much in the past year or so is the issue of salvation and the whole “once saved always saved” debate, along with what does it mean to believe in Jesus. As I’ve interacted more and more with teens who come from Christian homes and call themselves Christians (perhaps even said “the sinner’s prayer”), I’ve wondered about the legitimacy of their commitments, especially when studies show that 80% of them will walk away from their faith in their early twenties. “What does it mean to believe in Jesus? How do we follow Him? Can people say the sinner’s prayer and then just turn away from following Christ? Are they saved?” These are just a few of the cognitive questions I’ve been asking, not for my own salvation sake, but to better effectively explain to others about the significance of our commitments to Christ. When answering Annalía’s questions, I wanted to use terms that translate to our language, which is why I said “follow” instead of “believe.” As I studied John 6 this week for Bible Study Fellowship, I came to the realization that a lot of people want to follow Jesus for various reasons. The people in John 6 wanted free physical food, others do so because they don’t want to go to hell, but I believe Jesus wants us to follow Him because we love Him – because just as for the same reason we married our spouses, we want to spend every moment with Him. These commitments, I believe, will be much stronger because their foundation is greater. I tried not to focus on hell too much in our brief conversation, knowing that Annalía is afraid of absolutely anything – animals, water, amusement park rides, slides, etc. I didn’t want to scare her into following Jesus. I wanted His love to beckon her to do so.
As I sat in the front, and listened to her prayer from the back seat, I was so excited to be a part of leading Annalía to Christ. What an awesome opportunity to see a blooming seed that has been watered by so many people from church and Bible Study Fellowship and so on. I even thought about a friend of ours at church, who from the time we mentioned that we were going to have a baby, has on many occasions prayed that she would come to know Jesus at an early age.
While I would like to breathe a huge sigh of relief and say, “she’s going to heaven,” I realize that now begins the tough moments of following through on her commitment. “Annalía,” I said, “I’m so proud of you. Mommy and Daddy want to help you follow Jesus. So, we’re going to remind you of your decision, okay?”
“Okay,” she said.
An R.C. Sproul podcasthas been resonating in my ears. On one of his episodes having to do with Joshua, he talks about the phrase, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Dr. Sproul said something like, “What does it mean to train up a child? Does it mean we hope that at some point they’ll come to follow the Lord just by hearing about it? No, it’s more than that. It’s an active training and teaching and molding of our children.” The most important thing we can do as parents, relatives, and friends now is to tell her how proud we are, remind her of her commitment, and help her to live every day following Jesus.
With kids, you always wonder how “real” those commitments are, and if they’ll just forget it about it in an hour or two. Well, on Thursday, a few days after her decision, as we were going around a circle saying what we were thankful for, without any prompting, Annalía said, “I’m thankful for following Jesus.”
I’ve never been prouder to see my daughter taking those first baby steps in her lifetime commitment of following her Heavenly Father.