“Father God, thank you for this food. you for Mommy and Daddy. Thank you for this food.” More eager to eat than any child since Oliver Twist, my daughter spits out her Grace as if speed counted for sincerity. Perhaps it does. “I’m soooo thankful for my dinner,” she says, “that I prayed for it twice!” Her bum wiggles side to side as she plunges a fork into her plate of cheesy spinach. “Yes. Aren’t we lucky that God gives us such yummy food,” I say.
Between mouthfuls of perogies, my daughter asks, “Mommy, what if God didn’t give us food? What if God forgot about us, and we didn’t get anything?”
“Oh, Sweet Pea, that would never happen,” I say, “God would never do that.” The words crash off my tongue and splatter on the kitchen table. I just lied to my child. Why did that seem like the most “natural” and “appropriate” response for a Christian mother to give her four-year-old? I hate regurgitating.
“Then why, Mommy, do some people not have food?” she asks, “Why do some kids starve?” It’s my fault. I’m the one who thought it was important to educate her about poverty, hunger, and social injustice. I’m the one who wanted her to grow up knowing that she belongs to a privileged minority, and that with great blessing comes great responsibility.
“Well, maybe some people don’t know to pray to God and ask for food.” I say. My intellectual honesty flies out the window, vomits in the alley, and returns to thwack me over the back of the head. “No … that’s not true.” I say. “There are plenty of people who pray to God and still starve to death.” My daughter stares at me blankly and wipes a smear of garlic Alfredo sauce off her nose. “It’s a very good question, Sweet Pea, and I don’t know the answer,” I say. We keep eating. The next words spoken are: “what’s for dessert?”
Faith is more than the sum of all that we know, either communally or individually. And for that, I am glad. Why then, did I feel so compelled to answer my daughter in a way that was “simple” — in a way that reinforced the stark absoluteness of her Sunday School lessons and the simplicity of the dogma permeating evangelical Christian children’s literature?
“Faith like a child.” We may wish we had it, but is it possible we have skewed the meaning — allowed it to conform to our own (false) ideas concerning children’s limited capacity to wonder and to cope with challenging unknowns? Were First Century Israeli children unaware of suffering in the world, and of the potential that they too might suffer, regardless of their faith?
To believe despite having unanswered questions and to have a faith unchallenged by the acknowledgement of mysteries is an awesomely divine gift. To seek shelter from the questions themselves, however, or, worse yet, to kid ourselves into believing intellectually dishonest answers is an odd thing to strive for at any age.
I want my daughter to grow-up knowing that the world is a complex, beautiful, and often inexplicably scary place, whether you’re a Christian or not. Am I depriving her of an education in “simple” child-like faith?