My nearly five year old son is never at a loss for questions which will make me realize exactly how inept my logic and lofty ideals are when it comes to practical application. For all the books I’ve read, time I’ve given to thinking about the deeper things, and the extensive writing I’ve done in countless diaries over the years, there really is very little I’ve got so well figured out that I can give Jaden an answer to satisfy his curiosity on such questions as those he asked yesterday.
My boy has a love for writing, just like his mom. He loves getting and sending mail just like me as well. Yesterday, he decided he wanted to do some pages out of his activity book he got from church and send the completed pages to someone. The someone he wanted to send them to was Jesus, which is a sweet enough idea, but I really wasn’t sure what to tell him when he asked me how we could make sure that Jesus would get our mail. To a five year old, the idea of Jesus being everywhere all the time and already knowing what’s in the envelope before you even hand it to him is a little abstract, to say the least.
My parents have a stocking for Jesus hanging by the fireplace, alongside all the other stockings. I told Jaden he could put the letters in the stocking. Whew! Salvation!
Later, I was wrapping a gift for my nephew and Jaden decided he would like to wrap gifts, too. He found two action figures he hasn’t played with in awhile, but still likes, and decided he wanted to wrap them up and give them to….Jesus. I helped him wrap the gifts. He asked me if I thought Jesus would like them, and I told him I’m sure that Jesus appreciates that Jaden wants to make him happy. I suggested that perhaps Jesus might like it if Jaden gave the action figures to another child. Jaden quickly determined that was a terrible idea and said they were for Jesus and he was going to put them in the stocking.
Later, we went to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. I considered that perhaps I could use Santa as a tool to help explain Jesus, but determined that it could become confusing if there wasn’t someone dressed up as Jesus that we could go meet and take pictures with.
This is a dilemma for me, because I want to explain Jesus, things of the spirit, all the unseen things which faith gives us eyes to see, in a manner that is honest and yet understandable for my son. I realize there are myriad songs out there which I could teach to my son, covering everything from the salvation of bullfrogs and butterflies to building houses on a rock or on sand, but I want to help Jaden understand these things in a way I never could.
I grew up believing God was somewhere “out there” or “up there.” I was removed from God, and he was removed from me, and it is only through Jesus that we are reconciled, yet even Jesus was someone unattainable. What did it mean to “invite Jesus into your heart”? I was unsure then. I am less sure now. Other than being insurance against a fiery eternity of conscious torment, who and what was Jesus, and how did he matter in my day to day life?
I realize I can’t answer all these questions for Jaden, as there are elements of developing faith in whatever we place our faith in which must be experienced to be understood. I know, however, that I want to impart to Jaden that God is not far removed from us, but works in us, through us, among us, and God is for us. I want Jaden to understand that the salvation from hell which I was told about every week of my life while growing up in church is only a small part of what Jesus offers, and the real gift is the transformation which takes place in our every day living as we embrace the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The gifts imparted to us through faith are not reserved for whatever happens after we die. Jesus spoke repeatedly about the kingdom of heaven existing in the present. The gifts offered through salvation are ours for the taking, right here, right now.
Faith doesn’t come by sight. Sight comes by faith. How do I impart that truth to my boy?
I suppose the conundrum is born out of the neat little boxes of doctrine which surrounded me as I grew up. People are often uncomfortable with the mystery of God, and it is easier to develop a theology based around the idea that the Bible has real, concrete answers for every question about God, his purposes in sending Jesus, what salvation means, who is actually “saved” and who is going to spend an eternity in hell, what is sin and what isn’t, and all manner of questions relating to what we should believe and why we should believe it. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” was the bumper-sticker logic tossed around frequently when I was a teenager. At the time, it worked. It felt safe. However, as I got older and life became more complicated, as life is want to do, the neat little boxes didn’t stack so well as I began to unpack them.
Sometimes it is necessary to lose one’s faith in order to find it, and that’s been my experience. I have wandered far from many of the teachings I grew up with. I have come to understand that there is no shame in saying you don’t have all the answers, because no one has all the answer regardless of what they may claim. Faith isn’t about believing only what fits neatly and stacks nicely in pretty little boxes. There is joy to be had in running free within the mystery.
I believe in Jesus in a way I have never been able to before, and I feel at once fulfilled and hungry like I never have before. As I consider how to invite Jaden into this mystery, I realize I don’t necessarily want to tell him a different story, but I do want to tell him a better story. I want to tell him a story of love, freedom, and acceptance, and how knowing we are loved can empower us to show love to others and change the world. There is little good that comes from living in a paradigm in which only one segment of the world’s population is right and everyone else is not only wrong, but destined to burn in hell for all time for their grievous error. There is little hope for the world if that’s the best God has to offer us, and it begs the question of what’s so good about the Good News, because for billions of people, the Good News is anything but that.
I am convinced the Good News really is good news. I am convinced that Emmanuel, “God with us,” really is news that brings good tidings of great joy for all people. I am convinced that the kingdom of heaven can be experienced here and now, and if there is a heaven, it’s not an exclusive country club but a wide open space which will be full of people who will surprise you by their presence. I think God is like that. He’s not nearly so choosy as we might like him to be.
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
-Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
I want to impart to Jaden the faith to see what cannot be seen, to understand what can’t be found in the boxes of doctrine. I want to tell him a better story. If that story somehow includes a truthful yet creative way of explaining how we can be sure Jesus gets the letters we mail him, all the better, because I don’t know what I’ll do when my parents put away their Christmas decorations.