What is it about kids and bedtime?
What is it about that moment just before you tuck them in, when they decide now would be a good time to discuss and ponder things they've been holding in for, I don't know, years?
Every night Ethan reads a story with Dan and then I tuck him in. About a week ago, just after I gave him a goodnight peck on the cheek and started to walk away, Ethan pleaded, "Mamma, give me a hug, so then I won't die."
Oh God, I pleaded myself. It's the whole Easter story thing again. The poor kid is so confused.
I hugged him tight and whispered into his sweaty little head: "Ethan, you're not going to die."
And then, because I always have to be so darned honest, I added, "You're not going to die for a long time. And when you do die, you'll go to heaven to be with Jesus."
"I don't WANT to go to heaven," Ethan said stubbornly. "Where is heaven?"
Oh no. I'm not ready for this. I thought fleetingly of my own science fiction-like view, that heaven is not so much a different place "up there beyond the clouds" as in a different dimension.
Thankfully, or maybe not so, Ethan moved on. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die for real." His brown eyes were so big.
"Eth, everyone dies." I hated that I had to tell him this. "But most people don't die until they are very old."
"I don't want to get old," was his reply.
I know buddy. I don't want to get old either.
About three nights later, we were in the same stage of our goodnight routine, saying prayers and talking about some of the things that had gone wrong that day. I don't even remember what now, but I know it was one of those days when, let's just say "Ethan did not make good choices," as we would say in mommy or teacher-speak.
Ethan lay staring at the wall.
"I don't like when I do bad things," he said.
I wondered: did he mean he felt remorse, or that he didn't like getting in trouble?
"Ethan, it's okay. I still love you. I forgive you. And God forgives you."
"Where IS God?" he asked. Outside, the wind was whipping the new leaves around on the trees. Anna had ventured into the room to say goodnight.
"God is everywhere," she told her brother matter-of-factly.
"I can't SEE him," Ethan protested, almost frustrated.
I know, I know, hon, I wanted to say. How do I choose the right words?
"It's like the wind," I said. "You see the wind moving the leaves? You can't see it, but you know it's there because you see what it's doing."
"Mom," Anna piped up in a confiding tone. "This is going to be REALLY hard to explain to him." She turned to her brother as if she'd been schooled in deep theological matters for eons. "Ethan, God is everywhere and can be in a million places at once."
"He sees you," I said. "God sees you even when mom or dad isn't there."
"I don't WANT Him to see me. I don't WANT God."
I knew part of my little boy's words came from his tendency to grow negative and contrary about everything once he's grumpy about anything. But, there was something else.
That part of him down deep, that self, that Will that is becoming more defined, was asserting itself, protesting that it just isn't ready yet. It knows it does bad things and doesn't like doing bad things, but doesn't want to stop doing bad things.
I don't want Him to see me...Something about the words cracked my heart open.
"Eth, God's not here to push you. You have a choice. God doesn't make you do anything." I'm not sure how much he understood, but I felt I had to say it, to this four-year-old nestled under dinosaur blankets who suddenly was full of the universe's biggest questions.
He fell asleep within minutes, I'm sure, but I was left thinking: thinking of the way so often we all want to run and hide. We cower in supposed tight and perfect hiding spaces that in God's reality are oceans wide, thinking that turning our hearts over and our lives over to something greater than ourselves would be one great loss.
All of this, after the goodnight kiss but before I closed his door behind me.
All of this.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
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