We were in church when he said it, which made it a hundred times worse. Well, not church exactly, but the fabulous little art/craft/secondhand shop connected to my mum’s church, and filled with steel-wool haired ladies bustling around trying to sell us padded coat hangers and antique electric jugs. And, to make matters worse, he’s got the most piercing, piping little voice you’ve ever heard. The kid has a natural stage voice, and can cut through a crowd in a second to make himself heard without even trying.
He’s only four, in his defense, and his big brother had recently lost yet another tooth, so the tooth fairy had made an appearance, she of the shady past and hazy details; she of the “what do YOU believe?” status, showing our kind of reluctance to tell either the truth or the lie to a kid so young. And that may be it, it may be the reason why he said it, because he’s a logical kind of kid and he needs to know black from white, true from TV, and it’s his way of questioning, these bald statements of un-faith in a tone that suggests he’s really fifty and explaining things to his four year old self.
I’m not sure any more why he said, where the conversation stemmed from, even though it was only last week. All I remember is this piercing little voice singing out over the prints of Byzantine icons and small wooden crucifixes, “But Jesus isn’t real…”
We jumped on him with our best theological arguments, all of us, even his brother and sister. “Yes he is!” “He’s just invisible.” “It’s like the wind. Just because you can’t see the wind doesn’t mean it isn’t there. God’s like that too.”
I find it hard with that one. If I tell him Jesus lives in my heart he thinks Jesus is small. And Jesus died on the cross some 2,000 years ago, so what’s he doing in my heart anyway? And if he’s in MY heart, how can he be in anyone else’s? So we explain the Trinity as God in Heaven who has a body but whom we can’t see, Jesus is Heaven who has a body and came to earth, also whom we can’t see, and the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t have a body, who’s the presence of God with us here. He doesn’t really get it. Who would? Theologians with years more experience than me still can’t fully explain the Trinity, or how all three can be one. Why would my four year old understand it either?
But it bothers me sometimes, the times I worry about whether I’m failing my child or my church for not giving him the most complete religious education I can. I try my precious best. I love him for all I’m worth and I pray every night that the reality of the presence of God that I’ve experienced so deeply and so transformatively will one day seep into his consciousness. I think, deep down, he knows that presence. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he probably knows nothing else but that feeling of peace and love. Fortunately. What am I saying? This is a GOOD thing.
I’m trying to quell the guilt. It’s not helpful. And if I believe (as I do) in a God who is big enough to create the universe and create man in his image, then I must believe that God is also big enough to correct my mistakes when I ask him to.
I don’t worry that much. Not anywhere nearly as much as I pray. And play. And bake.
Ohhhh baking. School holidays and new kitchens make for some serious baking going on in our house, and, thanks to my joyous new oven, the baking is gooooooood. I made a pumpkin streusel coffee cake (or, if you prefer, a pumpkin streusel diet Dr. Pepper cake) the other day, from an American recipe I gleaned from my American friend, Sharon. It’s delicious, a total favourite for all our kids, and with very good reason. We sat down at the table with our cake and our jigsaw puzzles and my four year old looked up at me and said “Who made this cake?”
I looked at him, puzzled. “We made it, just now. You licked the beaters, remember?”
“No, who taught us who to make it?”
“You mean who gave us the recipe? It’s from Sharon in America.”
“Ohhhh.” He took a bite, and said in that same slightly patronising voice, like he’s fifty years old and explaining it to his four year old self,
“But Sharon isn’t real, is she.”
Oh son. Just because you can’t see…
It’s an interesting conundrum, and I think that most adults have meditated on the reality of the world and the seeming evanesence of the Godhead, and wondered.
But the reality of the world is an illusion, itself. Matter is not solid – it’s composed of tightly-bound and organized energy fields on the atomic and subatomic levels, and for all we know there may BE no solid matter, as we might define the term on gross observation.
Which is a hard thing to explain to a chap who’s just been felled by a cricket bat.
On the question of the Trinity, perhaps this will help – a small military unit is defined by a number of factors. First, its traditions, to which its members are molded. Second, its commanding officer, whose personality can make or break a unit’s morale, cohesion, and effectiveness; and finally, the men who make up the unit, themselves.
Perhaps the traditions are the Father, the OC the Son, and the men the Holy Ghost, in their corporate ‘spirit’. (I would love to claim this as an original idea, but it’s been developed from one introduced by C.S. Lewis..)
That’s a good description Andrew, thanks…don’t think he’s gonna get it though 🙂
The trinity is one of those things I tend to accept as I-just-don’t-understand. It’s been a looooooong time since anyone’s asked me to explain it.
(By the way, you should see my kids’ version of “playing spiritual warfare”. That’s hilarious!)
Spiritual warfare’s interesting – and I’d love to see a description of our kids’ take on it.
It forms a large part of the theme of “Blessed Are the Pure Of Heart” – I took the basic model of ‘war in heaven’ and the angels’ role from Teihard de Jardin. Quite a challenge, but it was fun to write.
Of all the ages of my children and all the children I’ve taught or cared for, 4 years old is my favorite. I love their honest transparency and the questions they begin to have and articulate. It will all begin to make as much sense as it possibly can in time, and the questions he has and the ideas he formulates will help lead to his understanding of things that are so difficult to understand.
I laughed at the cake-baking scene … adorable.
Sharon you’re right about that, four IS a fun age. I’m glad you think it’ll all make sense to him in time. He’s the most concrete-thinking of all my kids, and by far the most baldly honest. I tried a dress on a few weeks ago for a night out with my husband. The kids watched me. The older two sucked in their breath with a “Mummy you look GORGEOUS!”. I asked them all “Do you think it makes me look too fat?” (I’d put on a few kilos since I bought it, and it was very figure-hugging). The 4yo says “YES!” and comes and starts pushing at my stomach, saying “What IS that? What’s in there?” I said “Honey, that’s ME”. I should have told him it was Imaginary Sharon’s Pumpkin cake 🙂
Master four may end up on a bit of a mystic christian path.
try science. air. oxygen. energy. good paths to understanding the unseen. energy may be a bit advanced yet… but breathing is good.
He may well do. He seems to have a pretty good grasp on it now. His big thing today is “invisible is real, imaginary is not”.
He’s a cool kid 🙂
I like your kid, Megan, obviously the thinking kind.
Yes he is. Too smart for his own good sometimes too. I took him along while I did a talk on writing for his 9yo sister’s class at school. The class loved it and asked a million questions and we went fully over time. He sat quietly with them and listened. At the end of the day though he CRITIQUED me on my teaching skills!