A week ago Ellie Jo unexpectedly pointed to her chest said, “Momma, I think Baby James* went in here. I think he’s in my heart.” ”
“Oh yeah? What makes you think that?”
“Because heaven is in my heart. So Baby James is there.”
And so it begins. My firstborn is taking her childish steps along the path of experiencing transcendence. In this area, more than any other, I feel the weight of my baggage holding me back as a parent.
I recognize the impressionability of kids. I fully believe that we as parents shape their understanding of the world as either a fundamentally good place or a fundamentally bad place. And I think that many people of faith misuse this impressionability to give children a “faith” rather than letting the children discover the beauty of faith for themselves. Telling kids, “This is the way things are” instead of listening for the way that children experience transcendence. Being reluctant to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” and not following those statements up with platitudes.
But there is a fine line here as in, apparently, almost all other aspects of parenting. My kids *want* to learn. They *want* to know what I think and believe. If I were to withhold all of my thoughts until I believed they were no longer impressionable then I would be saying “no” to conversations on an almost daily basis. And that goes against everything I do want to be as a parent.
So Robin and I are tentatively stepping out into the world of conversations about God and Jesus and death and heaven and all sorts of other things that I don’t even have sorted out for myself. The kids attend church with us and are encouraged to ask questions at any time. Thankfully we are surrounded by people who just smile when Ellie Jo loudly wonders why things are taking so long or what will happen next (they got a good belly laugh on the Sunday that she yelled “I CAN’T HOLD IT ANYMORE!” as Robin hustled her to the bathroom). We try to draw her attention to the array of people surrounding us and the way that everyone has different beliefs based on their experiences. We try listen to her voice. We try to say, “I don’t know, but here is something I think about sometimes.”
And then today I read the book Wild Goslings. And I don’t feel quite so alone in my quest. There isn’t much I can say to summarize the book except that it is a collection of essays from parents who are trying to honor the voice of children and find ways to encourage their questions without stuffing their heads full of the “right” answers. If any of this post is interesting to you then you might want to check out the book. There are a lot of especially great questions at the end that I want to work through myself.
Now I’m kind of looking forward to the next conversation with Ellie Jo. I’m curious to see what insights she has over the next few years as she begins to make sense of the world through bigger and bigger eyes. And I’m excited to see Rainier in all the ways he is independent of his sister. I still feel like I’m on a tightrope between giving them too many answers and leaving them wondering if I think about this stuff at all, but maybe that tension is good for all of us.
*For anyone not familiar with our story, Baby James is the kids’ cousin who was born sleeping over a year ago.