Bedtime Theology with the 3 yo...
Me: (Attempting to settle the 3 yo in for nighttime prayers) Okay so let's pray to God, who loves us and is in heaven waiting for us.
3 yo: God is waiting for us?
Me: Well, yes, someday we'll be with God in heaven.
3 yo: We'll go to heaven AGAIN? (Emphasis his)
Me: Again? Have you been there?
3 yo: Yeah.
Me: Wow, what did you see in heaven?
3 yo: Jesus. No people. Only Jesus.
Me: What else did you see in heaven?
3 yo: A moose!
Mystic wisdom or vivid imagination? I have no idea how my then-3-year-old could assert that he'd been to heaven and saw not just Jesus but a moose. It's either hilarious or profoundly deep. I ascribe this conversation to mystery.
I was not always comfortable with mystery, unless you count the Nancy Drew novels I read as a child. The stories were filled with confusing plot twists, clues dropped in disguise, exhilarating suspense and a tidy ending deduced by the clever heroine. It's a good metaphor for life itself, minus the clever heroine. So much is still a mystery and maybe more so, to me, as I grow older.
The mysteries of heaven, eternal life, God and the way the Spirit moves on earth are all huge mysteries. How does God hear us? What is heaven like? How does bodily resurrection work, if at all? Can we communicate with those who've gone before? Why are we here? What will we know after we die? Mysteries, all.
I can't pretend to have the right answers for my children, but for now I want to give them a framework. Heaven. God waiting. Eternal love, holding us forever. That last one is the most important. We try to shield our children from worldly chaos, but so much seeps around the edges. When they're young, they need to know this: mommy and daddy are safe and loving and so is the Eternal One.
But one day, I want them to know mystery. And by this I mean that we need not find (or invent) a detailed answer for all the big questions. We can sit in the mystery. It's okay. It's not scary. Not everything needs a final resolution. Live the questions, as the poet Rilke said. People are sometimes afraid of gray, of a middle way, of not exactly knowing the answer. But if your Mystery is loving, you don't need to bash your neighbor over the head looking for a right or wrong answer, or a red or blue one, either. Mystery is spacious.
When I was 25, I went from a small town in the Midwest where I had friends and family to a big city in another part of the country where I knew not one soul. A few weeks in, I was miserable. I didn't fit in, I didn't have friends, I accidentally signed up for a too-hard class, and the cost of living was higher than anticipated. I berated myself for choosing a hard path when easier ones had been offered. I filled out paperwork to transfer to a more rural and more Midwest location.
But then I didn't go. I can't exactly remember why. I did make a couple of friends, and at some point, I think I embraced the struggle. It was really hard. But at some point I realized I could do it, because I was already doing it. Years later I would feel similarly at the most painful point of bringing my second child into the world. The struggle, the mystery, even the pain, was not the enemy.
These faith conversations with my children open me up to mystery, which I celebrate. I know the conversations with my children will get harder; I'll need mystery's rest all the more. I hope that in their own way, my children will rest there, too.
Note: This conversation occurred April 3, 2019