My three-year-old, Havyn, dressed in a purple tutu, a bright pink shirt and sparkly Tinker Bell shoes she’s still squeezing into from last Halloween, speaks this question during an afternoon walk. The sun is hot - far too hot for a September afternoon - and we are all rushing toward the next patch of shade. I hear her question from behind, just as we find the next welcomed relief of cool.
“Well, sweetie, I don’t think God only lives in the sky. He is all around us.”
“Really? I heard he lives in the sky?”
I nod and smile. “Yeah, I think people talk about God living in the sky because he is so big and powerful and mysterious and endless – like the sky. But really, there’s a little piece of God in everything. He is everywhere – in you and in me, and in the clouds and in the tree. God shows a bit of himself through everything, and we can see Him all around if we pay attention.”
Now it is my four-year-old, Kyler, dressed in his favorite bright orange Under Armor shirt, soccer shorts and dirty feet from a day of barefoot play, pondering life’s mysteries on the back porch as he pauses from an intense round of chase. I rub his buzzed, sweaty head and admire his rosy cheeks. We kick our legs off the edge of the porch, rubbing our feet in the cool grass and watching the bright white clouds floating overhead.
“Gosh, buddy, I never thought about that. Are you confused because you’ve heard people talk about Jesus living in their hearts?”
“Yeah, and if he lives inside us, wouldn’t he be like, ‘Ew! There’s so much blood everywhere! Get it off me!!’?”
I giggle and pause for a moment. “Well, sweetie, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think when people talk about Jesus living in their hearts, they don’t really mean that his body is inside their body. They mean that the part of Jesus that never died – his spirit – lives inside the part of you that will never die – your spirit. When we talk about a spirit, we aren’t talking about something we can touch, like this grass or this porch. It’s more like the air around us: we know it is there, even though we cannot see it.”
“Mama, how did God make everything?”
It’s the three-year-old again, noticing a huge oak tree at one of our local parks. She stares up the wide trunk, a million times her height, and then looks down at her hands. I imagine she is inspecting them for signs of their Maker.
“That’s a great question, sis. What do you think?”
Shrugging and laughing at herself, Havyn answers, “I don’t know. I guess he just makes us all at his big factory!”
My heart warms at her creativity. “Well, maybe! Although I haven’t ever heard of a God Factory before. As far as I know, when we say that God made everything, we mean that he made a way for all things to exist. For example, he didn’t actually build that tree over there with his own hands, but he put the potential for that tree inside a seed, and he put the Earth in just the right spot to get enough sunlight and enough rain for that seed to grow, and he made the Earth with just the right mix of nutrients and gases so that the seedling could thrive, and then eventually this tree grew.”
All three of these conversations happened this week, amidst fevers and fatigue and our furnace giving out. You would think our children were in Sunday School every week or attended a religious preschool. You would think we have family devotionals or read them Bible stories before bed. You would think, at the least, that we are actively raising them in the church or constantly engaging them in spiritual conversations.
But the reality is, none of that is really true. Because for better or worse, I have purposefully kept our kids from many of those experiences, cautiously trying to avoid some of the religious fundamentalism and spiritual confusion that I myself have had to work through as an adult. I have hesitated to surround them with a world of answers, when so much of life is mystery. I have hesitated to wrap their questions up too neatly, and I have been open about my own journey of searching and learning and growing.
And so as the kids brought each mystery before me, in many ways I was totally surprised by their thoughts. At some point, through culture or family or friends, they absorbed these ideas - but never in my presence, and never directly from me. And although at first, each time, I was taken aback and had to rally for context and understanding, I just as quickly found a smile filling my entire face. I found myself welcoming their quandaries and adoring their “Why’s.”
But I will not always know how to answer them. I will do my best, stumble over my words, laugh at myself and delight in their child-like faith. I will try to honor their humanity, and the humanity of every person on earth. I will search, keep searching; learn, keep learning. I will say, “I’m not sure.” and “I don’t know.” more times than I’d like, but I will do it with a commitment to walk alongside them through every step of their searching journeys.
And I will ask for help. I will search for stories. I will ask you, How do you speak to your children about the Divine? What quandaries have your children brought to you, and how did you respond? How do you balance uncertainty and security in answering your children’s questions?
Tell us your stories, friend. Let’s do this crazy thing called parenting together.
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