“Hey, Dad, how come hard things happen in life?”
I stared into the rear view mirror, peering through the darkness to catch a glimpse of my 8-year-old son in the back seat of the minivan. After the meal at Friendly’s, I felt stuffed. Heat rushed from the dashboard, trying to put me to sleep. My recent back pains had even died down a bit now that I was sitting in the van. We were only waiting for Maile and the girls to come out with our takeaway ice cream, and then we’d be good to go.
“What do you mean by hard things?” That’s called a stalling tactic.
“Well, you know how sometimes we pray for things and they don’t happen? Like that.”
I didn’t feel sleepy any more. Or all that comfortable. It isn’t that I dislike questions, or get spooked by doubt. I simply felt sad, the same way my heart drops a little when he asks any other kind of adult question. Why? Because he’s growing up. He won’t always come into my room at 10:30 pm wanting to reread me an especially funny passage from Hank the Cow Dog. I can’t imagine he’ll be interrupting my work very often when he’s a teenager, just to sit on my lap and put his head on my shoulder. And these questions, reminders that he will not always be eight, fall through me like tiny specs of sand falling through the hourglass of my life.
“You know, that’s a great question, Cade. Sometimes it’s because we need to wait. Other times it’s because God knows we don’t even want what we’re asking for. You know, I used to pray that certain girls would fall in love with me…certain girls who are not your mother. And I’m really glad those prayers weren’t answered.”
He laughed at that.
“That makes sense,” he said.
“But,” I said, trying to find his eyes in the darkness. “Sometimes we just don’t know.”
“It’s interesting,” he said, “that God’s invisible. He’s real, but you can’t see him.”
That last bit was just as much a question as it was a statement. Through the darkness and the heat blasting from the dash and the cold air creeping in around the edges of the window, a heaviness descended on me. Nothing depressing or disheartening – simply the weight of a parent watching their child grapple with the questions of being, the questions of the universe, the questions of existence. But another part of me felt awakened, alive.
“That is interesting. You know, some people don’t believe in God.” I said this in an almost encouraging way. I hope not too much so. I just wanted him to be able to be honest with me, even in doubt. “Do you ever wonder if God is real?”
“No,” he said. “Because even though we can’t see him, we can still see everything that he does.”
“That’s a good point,” I said, then I got quiet and let his mind wander.
Maybe I’m making a terrible parenting mistake. Lord knows, I’ve made my share (forgetting Sammy was in the car and going into church without him comes to mind). But if my children grow into faith, and I hope that they do, I want it to be something that they’ve wrestled with and come to terms with on their own. I want them to help them find answers to their own questions, not simply meaningless answers to someone else’s questions.
Belief is not belief when it’s only regurgitation.
Maile and the girls piled into the van and we drove away through the dark, cold night. But the stars. Yes. The stars.
* * * * *
Similar posts include this series of “Stuff Cade Says.” But it’s mostly funny stuff: news bulletins about rogue stink bug attacks, questions about whether or not I could breastfeed our youngest son with my, um, knuckles…that kind of thing.
26 Replies to “Cade and I Discuss the Merits of an Invisible God Who Often Doesn’t Seem to be Listening”
Boy, Shawn. That’s the stuff I think about when I think of my daughter’s future. I think of how I will answer the tougher questions. And I realize that a) on one hand, one does not have to have all the answers in life (nor CAN one), b) other people participate in your child’s spiritual development too – hopefully in a good way, and c) ultimately, you’re left to answer to the best of your ability, and be an available, encouraging, and loving parent. God has a role to play too, if He is real (and I hope He is), and I need to remember that His role in my child’s development is more important than mine, but that as the Body of Christ, we are (at least to some extent) manifestations of God on this Earth – His hands at work, healing, praying, teaching, etc.
Stalling tactics indeed. I would stall too. :) As a new parent, I am afraid. But I am also in awe, and filled with love. It’s a mix of warm, vulnerable emotions and paralyzing fears and a strange realization that I am no longer the youngest generation, and that I am mortal, and that I am 33, and that I will never ever be 16 again.
Whew. A lot to process. :)
Thanks, Chad. When you say you are afraid and filled with awe and love, I can relate with that. Great comments.
Shawn, you are a great parent!
Not because you don’t make mistakes, everyone does… but because you see your children as individuals and you honor them and their questions by listening and discussing options with them… that my friend, is a great parent!
Thanks for the encouragement Janet.
Shawn, As a grandparent, Ari’s, I’m saying amen to your post and to the way you are functioning as “The Answer Man”! What a great time to be in your kid’s lives! Those questions asked of you at this time are a great gift. Sounds like you are receiving that gift with care and wisdom.
As per the unspoken question of bad things happening And why, I’ll never forget a newscast on the evening of the nickel Mines shootings. A local man was being interviewed who said ” Two things we know are true in this community. One is, God is good. The other is, We do not know why things happen as they do.”
Taken together, wisdom’s essence.
Keep on being a great Dad! Al Longenecker……Dave’s dad
Thanks, Al. It is an exciting thing, watching the way they begin to explore the world and the meaning of life.
That inihtsg’s perfect for what I need. Thanks!
I resonated deeply with this. I have this same experience with Yosi – those questions I’m glad she asks, but also fill me with some sense of sadness and fear at the depths her mind and heart are already beginning to work through. I want her to, but damn. You know?
Also: those final lines are golden.
I’m glad you caught this one David. I know this topic of communicating with your children about religion and faith is something you think through quite a bit, and I value your feedback.
With a teenager in the home, I’m learning–sometimes–to let the questions be, to let him voice what’s on his heart and mind, without answering. Giving him a safe place instead of a pat answer. To let him know he’s loved no matter what. Besides, he’s old enough, and wise enough, to know that mom & dad don’t have all the answers. And God knows he’s seen enough of our struggles. My sense is that there’s tremendous security for him in having a safe place to fall. That, although his parents are totally unhip, we can be trusted. And that is what I would like to see–have him transfer that trust from us to God.
Hi Chad – from one Chad to another! I like your answer. I think that’s wise. It’s hard to know I will never have all the answers for my daughter, but also comforting that I do not have to have them to let her know she is loved. I want to be a good parent to her, and I want that to color how she perceives both me, the world around her, and hopefully God as well. Good thoughts. Thanks.
Thank-you! Great name you have there–you do great credit to it. ;-)
But seriously, pleased to make your virtual acquaintance here on Shawn’s blog.
Shawn, I’m an adult and have had the same questions. But having parents that instilled faith in a God I couldn’t see and often had more questions than answers, I eventually came to know and trust in that God for myself. I think you’re giving your son good answers and still allowing him to develop his own beliefs. I really don’t think we ever get all the answers to their inquisitive questions right, but we do our best. Just be glad he’s asking those questions.
When he is sitting in your minivan at 8 years old is the PERFECT time for him to wrestle with his faith and for it to become his own. When he’s 19 and away at college with who-knows-who to influence him, on the other hand, is probably NOT the best time for him to wrestle with his faith. Oh, he will then too, but if his faith can become his own long before he really needs it to be, the wrestling won’t be nearly as difficult later. Keep it up, Shawn!!
Shawn, this gives me hope. I wish more parents would be as open and honest with their children as you are. I adore my parents and am thankful for the way they raised me but I wish there had been more room for questions and exploration.
I think your son and my daughter would get on famously. So stay away!! ;)
Ugh…these types of discussions both delight and terrify me, as you’ve so eloquently stated here. I long so much for her to know and trust God the way I do, bit I know the most meaningful steps of my hour ye were the shaky ones taken on my own, not holding to mom or dad’s fingers (read: them telling me every last detail).
Thanks for the extra link in the parenting chain that lets us know we’re not doing this alone!
(“It’s interesting,” he said, “that God’s invisible. He’s real, but you can’t see him.”
That last bit was just as much a question as it was a statement. Through the darkness and the heat blasting from the dash and the cold air creeping in around the edges of the window, a heaviness descended on me. Nothing depressing or disheartening – simply the weight of a parent watching their child grapple with the questions of being, the questions of the universe, the questions of existence.)
“But if my children grow into faith, and I hope that they do, I want it to be something that they’ve wrestled with and come to terms with on their own. I want them to help them find answers to their own questions, not simply meaningless answers to someone else’s questions.
Belief is not belief when it’s only regurgitation.”
I also have an 8 year old son. I can identify with these feelings. My 6 year old daughter also asks these kinds of questions. I have to admit, that sometimes I am absolutely terrified at the weight and responsibility that I have to not hinder, but encourage their questions and wresting. I honestly wish that I would have wrestled myself at a much younger age and allowed God to reveal Himself to me personally, instead of wrestling now as an adult, at the same time trying to guide my family.
Anyway, thanks for sharing this. It was helpful. :)
And thanks again for the book. I look forward to reading and sharing it. My Dad grew up Black Bumper Mennonite in Lancaster, PA, and has Amish roots. :)
Great stuff. Loved this! Some left you some link love in the comments of my blog today. I wanted to come check it out. Love what I read.
I have to tell you, I hope my kids one day are willing to have such deep conversations with me at that age. Even if they might not realize how deep they are. Good job on letting him think it over on his own.
Sounds like good fathering to me. Better than “regurgitation”- I like that. I like that you were able to direct him in the right direction and be honest (telling him that some people don’t believe in God). Too many (well-intentioned) parents try to tell their kids exactly what to think, and then they go to college…
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