In the car a few weeks back, my children brought up a surprising subject.
“Daddy,” my oldest said, “do you believe in the devil?”
“Who’s that?” his little brother asked.
“He’s an angel that turned against God.” The big guy paused dramatically. “Against God. And now, he’s out there, trying to get us.”
“Um,” I said. “Yeah, but it’s not that bad. People who believe in the devil also believe that God keeps them safe. All you have to do is be strong and the devil can’t touch you.”
“Yeah.” I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that I had two incredibly attentive children in the back seat. “In the stories, the devil is always trying to tempt people to turn away from God. If you’re strong enough to say no, you’re fine.”
“Oh,” my youngest said, “that’s easy.”
“What if he promised you the thing you wanted most in the world?”
“Nah,” he said. “No problem.”
“What if he said you could live forever?”
A scared sort of quiet filled the back of the minivan, and I realized I’d gone too far. It was time to back track. “It’s not that bad,” I said. “Every time you’re strong, you get stronger. Like, let’s say you’re scared of the dark. Every time you walk to the light switch instead of running you get stronger. Or maybe you really want a piece of candy. Stopping yourself from grabbing or whining for it makes you stronger. Every time you stay in control, you get stronger.”
I could tell by the lack of response that I wasn’t getting anywhere. Instead of reassuring them, I’d terrified them.
“There are a lot of stories,” I said, “where people beat the devil.”
My oldest perked up. “Really?”
“Yep,” I said. I told them the story of Stingy Jack (you can read it here at history.com), but it didn’t help too much. You might even say it made things worse.
As we pulled into the garage, inspiration struck. It was already past bedtime, but I knew I couldn’t send them to bed like this. “There’s also the story of the fiddler,” I said.
“Not another story,” my oldest said. He looked pretty pale.
“Fiddler?” his little brother asked.
“I’m not telling this one,” I said, “because there’s a guy who tells it a whole lot better than me.”
That got their attention. It’s not too often that I say someone else is a better storyteller than me. I herded them to the computer, did a quick search online, and cranked up The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band.
The song grabbed ’em right away. They went completely still as they concentrated on hearing the lyrics.
Then the devil started playing the fiddle, with his band of demons playing backup. “No fair,” my oldest shouted. “That’s not fair!”
“That’s the devil,” I said quietly.
My youngest’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “He’s good! He’s too good!”
“Just wait,” I whispered under the music.
Then Johnny started to play and their two scared faces lit up with giant smiles. My oldest hopped up and down, pumping his fist and spinning. My youngest crossed his arms and nodded, like he’d known all along that Johnny would win.
The music whirled on. “I told you once, you son of a gun, I’m the best that’s ever been.”
“YEAH!” My oldest couldn’t contain himself any longer. “You son of a gun!”
The song ended. “Come on guys,” I said. “Bedtime.”
Thank you, Charlie Daniels.