Part of our evening routine with Josephine is that one of us sits with her after bath time to read a short story, and then keep her company for a few songs or stories on her mp3. It’s a lovely, really special time (although sometimes frustrating). Often we’ll have little chats about important matters – tonight was a perfect example…
“How did God become Jesus?” – innocent enough, you’d think, no? Well, I talked about God putting a baby into Mary’s womb like how she was once in Mummy’s womb. Apparently, I missed the point of the question as with the directness of Paxman she pressed on – but focusing this time on the ‘why’ aspect.
So, I talked about Jesus showing us how God wanted us to live. I tried to make something as complex as the incarnation (and the subsequent life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus) make sense to a 4 year old. As I finished this, she asked “so is Jesus asleep now”, thinking that she was just about to go to sleep herself. Perfectly sensible question, eh?
This parenting thing is great. It brings highs and lows, joys and frustrations. It also brings conversations like this. I’ve written previously about how I want to Josephine to grow to experience and encounter her world, and of course I have dreams about how I want her to live that life. But I also want her to have a life that she chooses, not one I choose for her. I want to share something of what makes me tick, something that feels as natural as breathing to me, without shielding her from the doubt and uncertainty that are a natural part of faith. I want her to ask tricky questions that make me think hard about what I believe, and in doing so make me rethink those basic elements.
So, I’ll do my best to answer questions, but I wonder how much a 4 year old will remember of these fumbling attempts to make sense. Maybe that isn’t the important bit. Perhaps the willingness to have a go at answering is more important as having the right answer in the first place?
I value immensely the upbringing I had where I was allowed to ask questions, to feel around for what was right or wrong, knowing that I was loved. I was given permission to believe or not, whilst knowing my parents desperately longed for me to invest my life in what they believed in. That’s only natural.
Forcing belief down a child’s neck just doesn’t work. It’s something they have to find for themselves. We can create a framework, we can share our story, but only they can truly ‘own’ it for themselves. If Josephine grows up with my faith then the moment she hits a crisis (which will happen), that faith won’t amount to much.
And so I will be a parent who reads from the bible and prays with his daughter. I will help her to think about God and faith. I’ll answer her questions as well as I can and will give her permission to ask as many as she wants. I’ll even try to be brave enough to let her make her own choices when it comes to believing or not, however much it may hurt.
But for now, where does one begin with such an important task as helping your child to think?