You never know when you’re going to get those big questions. That’s one of the definite perks of being a stay-at-home Mom, you’re there. In the car, at bedtime, bath time, at inappropriate times in crowded public places, you’re there.
Tonight I was reading stories at the end of a big day. I read one of our favorites from Patricia Polacco (my son’s choice) and I read ten stories from the children’s Bible (my daughter’s choice).
I closed the book. I was done. It was bedtime.
And then my five (almost six) year-old son says, “Mom, it doesn’t seem true.”
“What doesn’t seem true, honey?”
“All this, about Jesus, it seems like a myth, like it’s all a myth.”
You can imagine the tiny tired woman inside my head already sucking down a cup of chamomile sitting bolt upright and spraying it all over the walls of my cranium in surprise.
“A myth?” I said. (Good recovery, Barbara.)
“Yeah, it’s only a myth. It’s not really true,” he said decisively.
“Well,” I said, “Do you remember reading the Odyssey last year?”
“That’s a myth. Four headed dogs, one-eyed Cyclops, they aren’t real. But Jesus is real. There are many historical documents that show Jesus was a real person. It just depends on if you believe what the Bible says about him is true. And I believe the Bible. Some people don’t.”
“But how can Jesus be real? Did it happen a long time ago?”
“And how come we can’t see him?” he asked.
“Well, he was a real baby who grew up into a real boy and when he became a man he did very real miracles and then he really died and his body really came back from the dead. And then he rose up to heaven. The Bible tells us that he’s seated at the right hand of God right now. That’s where he is.”
“So everyone who saw Jesus is dead now?”
“Yes. You have to realize, the questions you’re asking are not new. Do you remember the story of Thomas?”
“No,” he said, listening intently.
“The disciples were in the room and they saw Jesus, but Thomas wasn’t with them. And Thomas said, ‘Unless I stick my finger in his wounds I won’t believe he’s alive.’ And then Jesus did come back and Thomas saw and believed and Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who haven’t seen and still believe.’”
My son was looking incredibly dubious.
“Son,” I said, “You have to remember that I’m thirty-four years old. I’ve been asking lots of questions and the same questions as you for a long time. If you have questions, give them to God, he’ll give you the answers.”
At this point my four year-old daughter pipes up, “But Mommy, how do you give something to God?”
“Did you know that God wants everything from you?” I said, “He wants your songs, your anger, if you’re sad or happy, you give it to God and he’ll return it as something beautiful.”
“But how do you give it to him?” she asked.
“Well, when I write a story I just say, ‘Here, God, this is for you, do with it what you want.’”
“But how do you give it to him?” she asked again, miming the very gesture of offering something up.
“Well, he doesn’t have an address, he’s up in heaven,” I say, “There’s no postal service to heaven. (Think, Barbara, think!) Well, it’s like when you draw me a picture. Do you sit over here and draw me a picture?”
“Yes,” she said.
“And is it mine, even while you’re drawing it? Even when I don’t have it my hands and I’m sitting all the way over there?”
“It’s like that,” I say.
“But how do you hear God when he answers your questions?” my son asks.
“Well, it’s not talking like you and I do. But he talks to me in lots of different ways. Sometimes I pray and ask God a question and then someone comes along and answers the same question I just asked God. Sometimes God uses people like that. And then there’s the Bible. Praying is how we talk to God and the Bible is God’s letter back to us. All the answers to my questions are in there. And you’ve heard of the Holy Spirit?”
“Yeah, the tongues of flame that rested on their heads,” he said.
“Yes. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper. And the Holy Spirit helps us to know the truth.”
“He lives here in your belly,” my daughter says, pointing to her adorable round belly.
I repositioned her hand, “He lives in your heart if you ask him. Have you asked him to live in your hearts?”
“No,” they said.
“Well, you can,” I said, “And it doesn’t mean you don’t have questions. It means you need Jesus. It means that when you have questions you take them to him. I still have questions. But because I have Jesus in my heart and the Holy Spirit to help me I wait for the answers there.”
I looked at my son who was wearing that face he wears when an idea is so intense that it has to soak in. The ideas that cause that particular face go deep and lead him in silence for days until they pop up again in the kitchen as I’m making dinner, or at bedtime during stories and then I know how long he’s been thinking about it and trying to work it out. Isn’t it true that the best thoughts are a result of slow contemplation?
“Do you want to ask Jesus into your hearts?” I asked.
There was a strong yes from each of them, even my son. I was thankful.
“Alright, I’ll pray a prayer and you can repeat after me. When you say this prayer you’re asking Jesus to be the king of your life. You’re saying you need his helper the Holy Spirit to help you to know truth. And it means that if you have questions you take them to God first.”
“Like how?” my son asked.
“Like prayer. You can pray without Mommy, you can talk to God anytime and anywhere about anything. If you want to know if he’s real all you need to do is ask him and wait.”
There were silence and contemplative faces.
I have always known I would never strong-arm my kids into Christianity. I’ve always just told them the truth as I know it. I want their faith to be authentic, which means it needs to be backed by the Holy Spirit not Mom. I’ve seen enough to know that God answers the questions of the seeking. But I also know that you can never be sufficiently sure before you decide. The first step is always taken in faith.
I prayed Jesus into my heart at six years-old. And I meant it. If I didn’t remember it so vividly I might have felt a hesitation, the need to wait until my kids were older, until they really understood, whatever that means. Because the truth is, you never know exactly where your vow’s going to take you and you learn what the promises mean on the way.
God honored the covenant of my six year-old heart and I knew he’d honor the covenant of my kids. Regardless, I don’t know hearts, not even theirs, the covenant doesn’t involve me. It’s between them and God. And so I gave them up.
We prayed a simple prayer.
And then I asked them, “And now where does Jesus live?”
“In our hearts,” they said.
“Yes,” I said.
And I prayed another prayer asking that God would honor the covenant my kids had just made, reveal himself to them, and answer their questions.
I don’t think my son’s questions are over. He may have voiced a doubt he will struggle with all his life. But I believe in the power of my Jesus to answer my son on any level and on any point. And I enjoyed the first hard stretch of letting him and Jesus figure it out between them together. Because my goal is not that my son would have my faith, but his own.