If you follow my Twitter feed, you know I retweet whatever Addie Zierman has just posted on her blog just about every day. I can’t help it. I’m a fan-girl. Also, I’m her friend. Our lives in the Church have mirrored each other’s in so many important ways. And every time I come to her story, I’m learning something new about myself. And really, what better praise can you give a writer?
By the time I was my son’s age, I knew about Moses and the Red Sea, and I knew about David and Goliath and that infamous sling shot. At four, I knew that Father Abraham had many sons – many sons had Father Abraham.
It was the late eighties, and the Christian culture was becoming its own new thing, exploding with a thousand new products to help teach your kids about God: Music. Books. Coloring books. A television channel with its own set of Bible-based animations. Cassette tapes that played Bible lessons as I fell asleep.
Outside, the world was unstable and quaking with tragedy and violence, but suddenly, there was an “inside,” and it glowed soft with the light of God, and this is where I lived my preschool years.
I had Dane (my oldest son) at age 25. He was born after I’d spent a lifetime in evangelical culture – after years and years of “on fire for God,” after I’d burned out. I had plunged into my own Depression and brokenness; I’d been lost, for a time, in my own deep dark.
I gave birth to Dane at the edge of my own recovery, at the sharp corner of cynicism and hope…and this is where I’ve been living much of his young life. I am finding myself and my faith. I’m softening, but, if we’re being honest, I am still a little suspicious of any product that labels itself “Christian.”
And I’m not entirely sure how to raise faith-filled kids from this ummoored place.
I want them to know the God I am rediscovering. I want them to understand grace and to make their home in the Wild Love of Jesus. I want brave lives for them. I hope they’ll have eyes to see others the way that God does and to love freely.
But I don’t want to watch the Christian channel, really. At our house, it’s more Wild Kratts than Veggie Tales, more “Party Rock” kitchen dance parties than Scripture-based songs. Our Children’s Bible reading is spotty at best. I rarely listen to Christian radio.
A few years ago, I came upon this book for small groups that focused on four “life-giving” practices. One of them is called Life-giving Truth and is described as “the practice of telling ourselves God’s truth over and over again so that it sinks into our hearts and changes us from the inside out.”
The authors go on to say, “As we read the Bible, we learn to ask one very important question, ‘What is this passage calling me to believe?’ We practice taking the focus off the instructions of God and put it onto the truth of God.”
The example they gave was, God is here – the Truth found in Psalm 139:7-10 (Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?…).
The simplicity and power of this has stuck with me ever since I read it. Because, in the end, I don’t need my kids to have vast stores of biblical knowledge. And I don’t want them to perform for others or for God – to do the “right” things on the outside while remaining unchanged on the inside.
I want my kids to know the truth to the bottom of their hearts. I want it to set them free.
At night, his bedroom is dark, and his bunk-bed casts shadows on the walls, and he worries that giant spiders are coming.
He is my first-born, fearful and tentative – things he absorbed, I’m sure, from us, his first-time parents. I lie next to him in his bed and tell him that no big spiders are coming.
And I don’t know how to give him a faith footing except tell him the truth over and over again. God is here.
I say it every night, and every night we, both of us, struggle to work it out in our minds.
“In the pond?”
Yeah, I guess so.
“At Axel’s house?”
Yes. At Axel’s house. I begin to name off his friends one by one. At Afton’s house. At Lexi’s house and Jaden’s house and Sage’s house. And right here with us too. God is here.
He pauses, “And he can kill the giant spiders?”
God is here. I say. He is bigger than giant spiders. He is taking care of you.
It goes on like this for long bedtime minutes. I am tired, and he is stretching the whole thing out, wringing every last bit of Mama time out before I finally put my foot down and say enough.
Some nights, I hear him begin to cry, and when I go up he is tear-streaked, saying, “I can’t see God!”
And his earnestness could make me cry, because the frustrating truth of it doesn’t change. How much of my own struggle has stemmed from this reality: I can’t see God here. I can’t feel him. I can’t hear him. How I fight, these days, to believe that He’s here even still.
So in his room at night, I say it for me and for him.
I say it because one day, Dane will be lonely too. Because there will be pain and tragedy and all kinds of terrible, unexplainable things. But I want this rooted there at the place of his earliest memory, of his deepest knowledge: God is here.
I want him to know that even when it feels like this changes nothing, it really changes everything.
“God is here?” he asks, making sure, his eyes darting around.
God is here, I say, and we don’t understand it. But we keep saying it over and over again until he is finally ready to sleep.
Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is a writer, mom, and Diet Coke enthusiast. She blogs at How to Talk Evangelical, where she’s working to redefine faith one cliché at a time. Follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Her first book will be published with Convergent Books this October.