serving the nazarene

the gospel and the death of a fish

we got a goldfish to give away as a “white elephant” gift at a party we attended early in december.  it got a few laughs, and then was handed back to us at the end of the evening.  “we don’t need a fish,” they said.  alright, fine.  madeline seemed pretty interested in the fish anyway.

we took the fish home.  madeline was thrilled.  she thought we were giving it away (so did we.).  she reminded us multiple times a day to feed her fish (whom she named… you guessed it – nemo).  she sat in a chair next to his bowl often and just looked at him.  she was a good fish companion.

until last friday.  i passed by nemo’s bowl on my way into the kitchen, and in the corner of my eye noticed that he seemed very pale.  i examined him more closely and discovered that his gills were not moving, his fins were not waving about through the water, his eyes were not blinking, and his mouth was not doing the usual fish pucker thing.  he was dead. 

i delayed relaying the news to madeline as long as i could (i was still waiting for lindsey to come home from shopping, and preferred for us to handle it together if possible).  i knew, however, when madeline insisted that we feed nemo his lunch that i could not tell a lie or simply redirect her attention elsewhere.  the truth had to come out.  with all the articulate wisdom of a third-grader with stage fright i stuttered out a few sentences about nemo.  “honey, fish don’t live forever.  in fact, they have very short lives.  i think nemo must have gotten sick.  he died.”  a confused stare from my daughter.  

“he can’t eat his lunch?” 

“no, honey.  he isn’t alive anymore.  he can’t swim, or eat, or see, or smell.”  she started to look really sad, which made me assume she was beginning to grasp at least that it was sad for her fish to be dead, though i’m sure she didn’t understand the concept of death. 

“nemo’s gone?”

“yes, honey.”

a few moments passed quietly, and then she asked, “can i see him?”

she saw the fish.  i tried to explain to her what it meant that he was dead.  i don’t think she got it.  i suggested that we flush him down the potty as a way of saying goodbye to him.  she thought that was silly, but i told her it was better than putting him in the trash, and assured her that, as gill proclaims in one of her favorite movies, “all drains lead to the ocean.”

i’m not sure what all this has to do with the gospel.  as i put off the discussion of the dead fish, i contemplated the possibility of using it as a springboard to talk about death and life, and sin, and jesus’ death.  but then i thought, “she’s three!  surely that’s not fitting for one so young.”  is it?  perhaps all she would come away with is a fear that at any moment she might get sick and die like nemo did.  that didn’t seem like what i wanted her to take away.  so i decided to leave out the connection.

so i wonder, when, and under what circumstances, does it become right and fitting to teach youngsters about the realities of sin and death and judgment and eternity?  of course we’ve talked with her about jesus’ as the ruler of the universe, and we celebrated his birth at christmas.  we’ve read a couple books that talk about jesus dying on a cross.  but how and when do you bring home these enormous realities? 

rest in peace, nemo.



January 22, 2008 - Posted by | family news, theological pondering

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