Bedtime theology with the 2 yo...
(Two scenes, two different days)
Me: Who is this? (Points to picture of Jesus).
2 yo: Jesus-loves-me! And this is another Jesus-loves-me! (Points to a similarly dressed disciple with similarly dark skin).
Me: Do you have a toy in your pocket?
2 yo: Yes! I have pocket in my Jesus-loves-me-shirt! (The shirt he wore to church that day).
My toddler thinks our savior is named Jesus-loves-me. He's not wrong. Jesus love for us is central to who Jesus is. This is what I mean when I say anyone can do theology. To be a theologian is to talk about God and my two-year-old has decided to start with love. A little child shall lead us, no?
Frankly, these were the kind of feel good conversations I needed with my kids right now. Some of our other conversations lately have been kind of heavy. I've been traveling for work a lot these past couple of months, which puts us all off-kilter. And tonight I just came downstairs after a long chat with the older kids about the Israel-Hamas war. Mom, one said, they are basically all being bullies! There's so much pain in Gaza and we can do so little to help.
What does it mean to suggest, as my toddler did, that Jesus' very identity is synonymous with love for us? Love hasn't stopped war, hatred, bullying or suffering. Love hasn't gotten those fuel trucks into Gaza to keep the hospitals open. Love hasn't been able to get Israel and Palestinians to find a workable and peaceful two-state solution. But I still cling to Jesus-loves-me because, really, what else can I do?
I keep thinking about how Jesus walked on the soil that's so war-torn now, in places like Jerusalem, Bethsaida, Nazareth, Bethlehem and the road to Emmaus. Jesus-loves-me was there and he loved so many people. It was a love that gave until the end - a shocking display of non-violence and forgiveness.
That love is for us, and it's hard to claim when the world doesn't feel very loving. But it's probably what we need right now: the assurance of love, or at least the possibility of it.
I heard an interview on public radio last week with an author who recently released a book about anxiety and mental health in children. This immediately had my attention. Specifically, the author talked about the "achievement culture" and how children are pushed from an early age to succeed and excel and achieve. Many struggle in this pressure cooker, said the author, Jennifer Breheny Wallace, but some still thrive. Which ones? The ones who know they matter.
Breheny Wallace: "...What I've found and what I've implemented in my own parenting at home is the importance of teaching our kids their value inherently for who they are away from their achievements. But also, importantly to depend on them and rely on them to add value back to their family, to their friends, to their communities. Kids who felt like they were valued and were depended on to add value back had a kind of protective shield."
Tell kids they are valued for who they are and help them add value back. I literally yelled at my car radio: This is what the church can do! We can be doing this!
How fortunate we are to have a Jesus-loves-me who loves us just as we are, fully and wholly right now. How fortunate we are to be able to share our gifts and talents with the world, to fill not just others but our own hearts too!
I told my mom the other day on the phone about this interview. I joked that she was right all along when she says "put kids to work." We laughed about this her common refrain, but we both know she's right: in giving and serving, we receive.
My heart is still heavy with the pain in the world, but I'm heartened by the little things we can do, among the people in our lives, to remind others of their value and to add value back to the world that Jesus-loves-me loves.