I talk about God a lot, especially with my kids. Pretty much every conversation we have is directed in some spiritual sense, because that’s who I am and because I don’t know how to leave that out of my parenting. My kids hear about Jesus the way they hear about the pancakes I’m making for breakfast and our plans for the weekend- it comes out because it’s on my mind. The thing about childhood theology, however, is that the stuff I’m telling them is (let’s be honest) super weird sometimes. Sharing your faith with a child, especially your child, makes you seriously consider your belief system. Try telling a 3 year old about a man who was actually God who dies on a cross and then comes back to life and who also knows you and loves you…and then brace yourself to answer some complicated (and justified) questions.
I actually love that- I love working through what God says and what I believe, out loud, with these young souls and minds that I’ve been entrusted. I tell them who my God is because my whole heart beats with that truth. I know my babies believe what I say about everything at this point in their lives, and I take that responsibility seriously. So we talk about God in lots of ways. We pray for our friends and neighbors. We “exercise thankfulness” (there’s a phrase they’ll laugh about later) even when we don’t feel thankful. When they are mean to each other, we talk about what real love looks like, and we try again to be kind and patient and slow to anger. When I am wrong or when I am mean or impatient (oh how I wish I never was!), I apologize and ask forgiveness, because I want them to know that God honors humility over self-righteousness. We talk and we talk and we talk, and nothing is too sacred to discuss.
One question that my 4 year old daughter Clara grapples with is the sheer size of God. Clara, like the rest of us, would like God to be quantifiable. She wants to measure deity between her outstretched arms, or perhaps in distance, like “as far as it is to fly to Hawaii?” or “from here to the moon?” When I tell her that God is so big, he could actually hold the entire world in his hand, she worries, “But what if he spills us?”
She also wants to know why, if God is so big, we can’t see him.
See? The theology of children. Not to be underestimated.
That’s a fair question, I tell her. And I wonder too. But sometimes, we want to see things in a way that can’t be seen. Like, can you see my love for you? I ask her.
Well, she says. You do love me.
Right, I nod. But can you see it? How do you know it’s there? Is it a real thing, like a toy we can hold, or like the rug we’re sitting on? How do you know I love you?
When you kiss me, she says. When you make me lunch. When you let me wear dress up to play outside.
All of that, and more, and I hope you know how much I love you, I say as I pull her close. And that’s kind of how we see God. I see God when I watch you learn. I see God when I hold my babies. I see God in the stars at night. He’s there. He’s so big that I can’t really understand, but He’s in the ocean and in the stars and in you.
She snuggles in close and that’s enough for today; enough to know that we can at least search and be satisfied in the vastness of the quest.
It’s a conversation worth having, one worth having for the rest of our lives, really. Where is God? And why do we care?
So now I think about this stuff all the time, because if I’m going to tell my kids about my God like it’s absolute truth, I better consider the gravitas of such a claim. And be willing to search with them for the face of heaven.
Well, last night, I am happy to report (to you and to Clara), I saw God.
Earlier this year my friends (you!) raised money to buy baby wraps for refugee moms in my town. Baby-wearing is a passion of mine, because it’s been a sweet experience for me these last few years, and because I think it creates a good and simple connection for new moms as they struggle through the madness of a newborn. Especially for vulnerable mothers, without solid support systems or helpful community around them, a baby wrap gives time and space to take care of other things, like older children or jobs or themselves. So I have a stack of baby wraps in my closet that I take to new refugee moms and help them learn how to wear their babies.
I took a wrap to an old friend of mine last night. She’s not a refugee, but she is housing several small ones. She is a foster mother, and currently has a home full of little girls who are not fleeing their country, but who are living in a strange land nonetheless; including a baby who is only a few days old. My friend reached out on facebook about needing a way to carry the brand new baby she had just picked up from the hospital, and I basically forced my way over to her house with a wrap, despite the fact that we haven’t seen each other since summer camp 15 years ago.
It didn’t matter. As soon as I walked in, I felt at home. Not just because her house was warm and peaceful, covered in organized piles of pink clothing, but because we both wanted the same thing: for her to have what she needed to raise these little humans until their parents or an adoptive family takes them home. I mean, I spent an hour over there. One short hour in this journey that she takes every minute of every day, accepting the burdens of other people’s mistakes and loving children who are not her own. The baby was two days old. Two days in this world, and already plunged into consequences outside herself. I held that just-born girl and cried, imagining her mother somewhere with empty arms. I held her and cried because I was so thankful that my friend could keep this precious baby safe for right now. I cried because this world is full of broken people, and it hurts.
So I spent an hour with this amazing friend of mine and we practiced putting on the wrap and tucking her newborn foster daughter into the folds against her chest. It’s like a swaddle with a heartbeat, I told her, and we laughed. I took this picture and then we hugged tight and prayed for the children in her home, and I left.
I walked back into the summer evening, warmth floating off the suburban streets and up through the dipping maple trees, the sky soft with pastels of forest fire smoke lingering on the sun’s setting horizon. I got in my car and shivered as cold air blasted across my face. I shivered again at what I had just witnessed. I looked at the picture I took of my friend, with the other woman’s baby pressed to her heart, and I wept.
I am so relieved to live in a world where children still belong to us all. I am so relieved to know that although the world darkens – although the evil squeezes like a vice, and we want to explode or shrink or sometimes both – God is here. In this quiet neighborhood in a small town, in this little home tucked in an anonymous cul-de-sac, God is working. My friend’s hands are doing God’s work as she folds pink clothes and feeds hungry mouths and absorbs the pain of broken families. There’s God, front and center, weeping and saving and working.
That’s what I want Clara and Sammy and Audrey to know. When life frightens you with dark corners, when scary men and evil women shout their lies, and when the apathetic masses turn their faces away; God is still here. And once you know what He looks like, once you’ve seen that kind of staggering grace? You can’t miss it the next time. The brilliant light of selfless love is surprising in such a dark world. And I pray that, like Paul on the road to Damascus, you won’t be able to keep walking once that flash blinds you. You will have to stop, so startled by the Almighty, and you will be changed.
Because once we see what God looks like, we can’t just keep walking. Everything is different afterwards-
and my gosh, what a relief.