Note: Here’s a personal journal entry from November 1999, with a bit of family news at the end.
How could I explain the sacrificial death of Jesus to a child? Rather than slogging through the theories of well-meaning theologians, here’s a simple story I told my seven-year-old daughter Bethany a few weeks ago. Nearly every night when I tuck her in, she asks me to either cuddle with her or tell her a bedtime story. I always give her the option of reading a story or making one up. On this particular night, she asked me to make one up. I wasn’t really prepared for that, so I sent up a quick S.O.S. to the Lord in prayer and asked him to help me communicate something that would draw Bethany closer to him. Here’s the gist of what came out.
Once upon a time in a place called Candy Land, there lived a family of four M&Ms. There was a red one, a blue one, a green one, and a yellow one. Two of them were the kind with a little nut inside. The other two were plain, but still delicious. Their names were Slippy, Drippy, Tippy, and Pippy. The Candy Maker who made them, loved them, and wanted to protect them, so he told them to stay out of the sun. “You will melt if you stay out in the sun,” he said. “In fact, you will die.”
But sure enough, the four M&Ms didn’t obey the Candy Maker. “We want adventure,” they said. “It’s a beautiful day outside, and we want to experience the sun in all of its warmth and beauty.” At first, nothing happened. They just got a little softer inside, but the hard candy shell kept everything hidden. “We’re o.k.,” they said. “Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, this is kinda fun!”
But over time, the M&Ms started feeling sick. Eventually, they totally melted on the inside, and they were about ready to die. They were scared and started calling out to the Candy Maker for help. “Please, Mr. Candy Maker, please, we need your help!”
And even though the Candy Maker was saddened by their behavior—and a bit angry that the M&Ms had disobeyed him—he loved them so much, he decided to help. With a firm commitment to the safety of his M&Ms, he sent his favorite treat from the candy shop to go rescue them, Puddles the Popsicle.
Puddles was a frozen, squeezy kind of Popsicle, the kind that comes in a plastic tube. Puddles loved the M&Ms just as much as the Candy Maker. In fact, Puddles was just like the Candy Maker in every way. They seemed to think alike about everything.
So Puddles the Popsicle came to where the M&Ms were lying in the heat, melting and suffering—about ready to die. And Puddles, in love, lay down beside the M&Ms, wrapping his frozen body around them to shield them from the sun. It sure was a hot day, but Puddles was able to transfer all his chill from himself to the M&Ms so that they could become firm and hard and safe again, just like before.
Sadly, however, in the process of saving the M&Ms from melting, Puddles himself started to melt. In fact, he completely thawed out and became nothing but a lifeless tube of popsicle juice. There, beneath the blazing rays of the mean old sun, the benevolent Puddles died for his friends.
This made the M&Ms very sad. Certainly, they were glad to be alive themselves, but they were now terribly sorry for not listening to the Candy Maker in the first place. But the Candy Maker was so pleased at the beautiful thing Puddles the Popsicle did for his M&M friends, that he blew some fluffy white clouds in front of the sun. And then he caused the temperature in Candy Land to drop quickly, all the way down to below freezing.
When that happened, Puddles the Popsicle became frozen again. He came back to life! And everybody was overjoyed. In fact, they were all so happy that they decided to get together once a week and celebrate what Puddles had done for them. Twice a year they especially celebrated, remembering with food, fun, and music the day Puddles came, and the day he came back to life again.
In time, Puddles went back to the candy shop to be with the Candy Maker. (They were so much alike, you just couldn’t keep them apart.) But he promised to come back again one day. In fact, he was such a wonderful Popsicle, it was like he had never left in the first place. And everybody in Candy Land lived happily ever after.
Not the labors of my hands / Can fulfill Thy laws’ demands
Could my zeal no respite know / Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone.
Bethany got the point of this little story. I know she got the point because I asked her to draw a picture of what it meant. And she drew for me the four M&Ms and Puddles the Popsicle, and the blazing sun. And there in the middle of the page she drew a diagonal line, on the other side of which was a portrait of Jesus. My seven-year-old got the point. Do you?
I suppose I need to start brushing up on my storytelling abilities for children. In about six and a half months, Lord willing, Bethany is going to deliver her first M&M. I’m eager to meet the child. I’m even more eager for the child to meet Puddles the Popsicle.
“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him [or her] to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28a).