What I'll teach my daughter about God.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

At night time, if I stay very still and very quiet, I can hear Jellybean breathing through her baby monitor. I have to hold the monitor right up to my ear, and sometimes, she's breathing so quietly I have to hold my own breath in order to hear hers.

I still myself. Utterly and completely. I hold my breath until I hear her own. In that moment of vulnerability between not-hearing her, and hearing her, I am totally still, and then when I have the relief of the knowledge that all is well, I have a little exhale-prayer of thank God.


Recently, I've been mulling over what to tell our daughter about God. She has, at the moment, a very basic knowledge. She knows you say 'amen' at the end of a prayer, and that we give thanks for our food. She knows that some of my books are about God. (Sometimes she'll pluck a random book from the shelf and tell me 'Mama, this book is about Jesus.') We end each night with a prayer of thanks for the good things that happened that day, and we ask Him to protect us as we sleep.

There is a bit of a battle going on within me. As a child, we weren't church members, but I did spend a lot of time in big, grand churches, especially on days like Remembrance Sunday. My parents did a lot of work with Canadian veterans, mostly in honour of my Granddad, who was Canadian and fought in the war. I loved the elderly people, and they made a huge fuss of me, buying me sweets and chatting to me. One of them even wrote to me sometimes, and I still have his letters. (It only occurred to me recently when my Mum gave them to me how touched I am by this. That he took the time to do that.)

My childhood church memories are tied up in that, then, that sense of duty, of giving quiet respect, and the proud feeling I had when I saw my Dad carrying the standard, all smart in his uniform. I didn't really understand it, it was just something we did.

I believed in God in some basic sense. But my parents gave me the freedom of choice. They never had me Christened. They let me find my own way.

I do respect them for that.

But at the same time, I now know God, and I see things from a different perspective. We take Jellybean to church every week. She dances during worship (sometimes, adorably, with her little friend L. They hold hands and jump and accidentally tumble into each other down the aisles). Church is a fun place for her, because our church isn't afraid of noise and mess and the general chaos that children bring. In fact, everyone embraces it. Everywhere my daughter turns, she finds a warm smile and a wave or a high-five.

It's family. And I'm so happy I get to raise her in that.

But what do I tell her about God?

It's something I could get tied up in knots about if I'm not careful. I'm wary of saying the wrong thing. And I want to protect her. I want to cushion her a kind of safe, risk-assessed way, encouraging her gently, steering her along her path until she finds God for herself.

But faith doesn't always feel safe. Or risk-free.

And everybody's path looks a bit different.

***

I mentioned in my last post (which was basically a really long waffle about books) that my faith hasn't been 100% steady this past year. If you were to put it in a formula, it would be depression + anxiety + terrible world events = wobble. Also - and I'm not in any way suggesting that people with children are more empathetic, just talking about myself here - when I had Jellybean I felt like a bit of my heart kind of broke off and is now walking around inside her, and as she gets older I am essentially sending part of my heart out into a fairly dangerous world, and that makes me feel really, really vulnerable. So before, when a news story would make me sad, I could switch it off, turn my brain to something else. Now, news stories have Implications. For her. And I know that makes me sound selfish, but that's how it is. When I see stories that involve children suffering, I cry and then I cry some more. Not just for those children, but for their parents, that have loved their children as much as I love mine and have had their hearts broken.

I'm aware that sounds sentimental. It is. But it hurts. Sometimes, the world feels unfathomably mean.

Also, I started to question some things that I took as 'standard for my beliefs', even if some of those things made me feel a little uncomfortable, nagging away at me, like an itch that I couldn't scratch. This year was my attempt to scratch away at them, to figure out the truth. I'm not saying I have all the answers (I don't), but that I spent many hours reading and researching and reflecting.

It wasn't comfortable, or fun. But it does feel ... right. Like a really slow process of steadying myself.

So with all that in mind: the ups and downs of faith, the questioning, the occasional doubt, the difficulty of witnessing human suffering and what that means about God ...

What do I tell her?

***

I will tell her this:

Sometimes, the world seems mean. When you get older, and you start to look at the world a little more, and you start to peer out of your own bubble, you notice things that make you feel afraid or uncomfortable or angry. You will notice the amount of injustice going on in the world. You will wonder why humans are the way that they are. What the point of us is, if we just hurt each other. You will see things happening - like the way, around the world, baby girls are not welcomed into families, but disregarded, or even abandoned, because they aren't as important as boys - and it will make you feel rage, but it feels like a helpless rage that just bounces around inside you, like a scream echoing endlessly in a big empty cavern. The knowledge that, no matter how much of your life you give to a Cause, you will never be able to fix the problem altogether, is painful.

Sometimes, you will ask questions that feel like they might be the undoing of you. Like, why does suffering have to exist? Why are some people born rich and others born in squalor? Why can't God just cure that disease? Why didn't He stop that accident from happening? Where was He when we had that bad news? Why is everything such a struggle for us but so easy for other people?

Sometimes, people that share the same faith as you - that profess to love the very same God - will do things that make you want to quit. I'm not talking about small doctrinal differences here, I'm talking about actual pain, physical or emotional, that Christians cause other people. Some church-going people are angry about stuff. Not just angry. They are FURIOUS. And they might think it is a good, productive, holy kind of anger, but it isn't. Or at least, it doesn't come out that way. It spreads and sucks the life out of people. Like poison. Do you know how many people have been not just hurt, but actually damaged, from people in their church? It's quite a lot. A shameful amount. And, like it or not, Christians have some very dark parts of their 'family line' that we can't wish away, no matter how hard we try.

But I will tell her this:

I believe that goodness must come from somewhere. Because the opposite is unthinkable to me. How could it be accidental? How could any of it just happen by chance? Think of those golden moments in life: the crazy, heady, butterfly, this-might-be-IT feeling of falling in love ... 

Or the moment they put the child you have carried for months into your arms and you just don't know what to do with yourself, because there is so much of that little person you want to take in, their tiny fingers and the shape of their nose and the colour of their hair, those beautiful, insane seconds between not-quite-being-a-mother and then suddenly you're a parent. And there's your kid curling up on your chest, looking kind of slimy and gross but beautiful all the same ... that parent-child love that is new and at the same time ancient, awakening in you ...

Or even just that beautiful feeling of being somewhere stunning, somewhere with the kind of view that people pay a lot of money to see in person, and you cannot wrap your head around the awesome spectacle of it, and so you stare and stare, not even wanting to blink because it would mean not seeing it for a split second ...

Or that feeling of being with friends. Wherever you happen to be. By the sea, late at night, talking. Or having an impromptu Nerf gun fight in a little apartment that starts organically and turns into A Thing. You know what I mean? Those golden moments that are unique to friends. Where you enjoy being with each other so much that you all know you'll remember it forever even if you don't say it out loud.

I don't believe it's accidental. No way could the enormous, complex, beautiful scope of human relationships be a weird mistake of nature. A happenstance that could have been different if the fates decided it.

My God is with me in suffering. Like I said before, I don't have all the answers. There are so many mysteries about the way the world works. Some things you learn over time. Other things, you will remain permanently baffled by, and part of having faith is learning to accept the things you don't know and choose to believe the good purpose of it.

But honestly? In the darkest, most desperate moments of my life, those are the moments that I have felt God nearest to me. There is something about the nature of God that understands suffering and is with you in it. He never leaves me to suffer by myself. He might not give me the magic cure I want or the answers I think I need, but He'll sit there with me as I cry and He'll understand when I can't put words to how I feel.

God is bigger than our bad behaviour. One of the most challenging things about being a Christian is the impossible-without-divine-assistance task of loving other people. My weakness - in terms of not liking people - is Christians that hurt non-Christians. That treat people like enemies they have to conquer. And yet, I know I've done silly things in the past, and no-one is perfect, and that you don't ever know what's going on with people under the surface. I'm not supposed to hate people. That is how you have to be: forgiving of people. Patient. Even when they push you right to the edge of despair. I don't think I have really considered how radical Jesus was in that respect. Hatred, and jealousy, and begrudging others, it's all kind of wrapped up in our brains. And sometimes, it's okay to feel those things - but not to cultivate them, or hang onto them, like your negative feelings towards someone else are something to be proud of.

The character of God is not the sum of Christian behaviour. We represent Him, but we are no-where near Him in terms of perfectness. That includes me. So THANK GOD FOR THAT.

***

Jellybean has to work out what she wants to believe herself. And I will support her in all of it, because I love her. I would never, ever put pressure on her, or make her feel ashamed, or afraid to talk to me, if she chooses a different path. I reserve the right to pray for her, because you know, I pushed her out with the bare minimum of pain relief, so she owes me that at least ;)

I can't control her life. I can just trust God with her. And hopefully show her - honestly - what it looks like to believe in God.

And try and make the world in which she lives a little bit better.

3 comments:

  1. How did I not read this blog before now? Love it meg. You have a gift for writing xxx

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    Replies
    1. Ahh thank you. I'd forgotten about this post! x

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  2. How did I not read this blog before now? Love it meg. You have a gift for writing xxx

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