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Working mom works in life's lessons

March 31, 2000

As I tucked the covers under my son's chin, my thoughts were already drifting to how good my pillow would feel.

cont. from lifestyle

A little yawn escaped from his mouth. Good sign. Bedtime would not be far off for me, either.

But as I leaned over to kiss his cheek, his eyes flashed open.

I could see the wheels churning and braced for what was coming. Little did I know what was on his mind.

"So, Mommy, tell me about this place called hell."

I was half perched on his bed, and had to catch my balance so I wouldn't end up on the floor.


Did I just hear what I thought I heard? What a request.

Parents are told to expect difficult questions. And I've already answered the typical, "Why is the sky blue?" "Why do I have only one nose but two eyes and two ears?" and "When I was a baby, how did I get inside of you?"

But you can imagine my reaction to this one.

"Well ... Tristan ... let ... me ... tell ... you ... about ... it ...this ... way."

I answered slowly because I wasn't sure how to approach this.

As a Christian, I certainly didn't want to sugarcoat something so basic to my faith.

But as a working parent, I certainly didn't want to be up all night chasing away nightmares filled with flames and demons.

I was silently praying for an answer as I looked down at his expectant face.

Then I remembered the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar. Aha.

Parables are short, simple stories that teach a moral lesson. In a nutshell, this parable teaches that what really matters is what's in a person's heart, not what they look like, not how much money they have and not how healthy they are.

On earth, the beggar lay at the rich man's gate, waiting for crumbs. Dogs licked his sores. When he died, he was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom and was comforted.

On earth, the rich man dressed in fine clothes, ate sumptuously and had all of his wants fulfilled. When he died, he was buried and went to hell.

Once there, the rich man looked up to heaven and asked Abraham to have Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in water and put a drop of it on his tongue to lessen the torment of the flames.

Thirst. Now there's a concept even a 4-year-old can understand.

"Well, Tristan, you know how sometimes when you wake up in the middle of the night because you're thirsty? Then you wake me up and ask me to give you some water?"

He nodded.

"In hell, there's no one to give you a drink."

His eyes grew wide. "Oh, Mommy, I don't want to go there."

"Well, you won't honey, because you've asked Jesus into your heart and you're learning his teachings, how to treat other people with kindness and consideration. But, you know, dear, this is a lifelong process. God is a god of judgment, but he's also a god of forgiveness and love. If you mess up one day, you just have to try to do better the next."

"OK, Mommy."

I'm not sure how much he understood of what I said, or if I said the right things, but as I turned out the light, I noticed his perplexed look was replaced with one of peace.

I stood in the hallway for a long time, thinking about our conversation.

Sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is knowing what information to provide at what age. Our kids' minds are taking in so much, trying to make sense of it all. They have no hang-ups yet, so they innocently ask questions about everything.

And the complexity of kids' questions always seems to be in direct proportion to the number of problems you solve at work that day. The longer you spend at the office, the harder the questions are.

At times I wonder who am I to be teaching him. I often feel inadequate. But I think it's important that he sees my imperfections so he will accept his own and those of others.

I also pray he sees the good in others and that we're all just trying to find our way along this rocky road of life.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean is Lifestyle editor for The Herald-Mail.

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