I do not talk about my God questions with my children. I do not talk about my God questions in front of my children. We read them books of all kinds, they went to Vacation bible school and go to Sunday school every week and each Christmas we read them the Christmas story. I do not try to bias my kids against God.
So I was surprised a few months back when my oldest came up to me with her children’s illustrated bible and told me to give it away to someone else. I asked her why she wanted to give it away, and she told me that she “didn’t like that book because of the sad story where Jesus was killed by the mean people who gave him pokey owies” and she flipped to the story of the crucifixion to show me what she meant. This is a typical child’s bible we are talking about, so it has cartoon drawings. But the sight of Jesus bleeding on the cross was still too disturbing for her. So I reassured her that she did not have to look at that picture if she didn’t want too, and we put the bible up on a shelf.
The kids talked about it some, I could hear them pretending that a stuffed animal was Jesus dying on the cross, and sometimes I heard them talk about how Jesus came back to life. But I thought that was it.
A few weeks ago, Ms Action started crying every single night before bed. She insisted that she had “a bad dream stuck in her head”. I hugged her and tried to get her to talk about what the bad dream was. She told me she was afraid of those bad men that had killed Jesus on the cross. I told her that people don’t die on crosses anymore, and that Jesus had died on the cross a long time ago, and in a very far away place. This did not reassure her. She told me that Jesus could go anywhere, and if he came to Canada, those bad men might come too. And then the bad men might come into our house and kill her.
We talked about how dreams are not real, and how her parents are here to keep her safe. We talked about how the door is locked at night, and how there are policemen nearby if there ever was a problem. We talked about how when we are feeling sad or afraid, we can remember the people that love us, and the things that make us feel happy and safe and that will help us not think about scary things. It helped a little. But every night, she cried again, saying she was afraid of God, and we would talk about the same things all over again. Finally one night after over a week of terrified bedtimes, I asked her if she was afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? She said no, because he was only in stories, and he can’t come out of a story to hurt her. Then I told her that God was a story too, and he wasn’t going to come out of the story and hurt her. That made sense to her, and the nighttime terrors stopped.
Every night as it gets dark outside, she asks me if the front door is locked and she tell me to draw the blinds because she is afraid someone might be outside our window. But then she feels better, and can go to sleep happy.
This process has frustrated me so much. What could they possibly be teaching her at Sunday school? Because she didn’t learn these details of the crucifixion from me. I know that she never wants to go to Sunday school, but I kind of assumed that was because it was boring. This church is not a hellfire and brimstone type of place, the people teaching the classes are generally nice sweet people, maybe it’s just the stories themselves are just too much for her. I was angry with myself for making her go to Sunday school (even though she didn’t want to go) because she is the Pastor’s daughter and that is the expectation. Maybe I should have been talking about the stories with her, but I still can’t figure out how I could have headed off this fear, the story of the crucifixion IS scary and gruesome.
I found myself grateful that we will be leaving ministry here before this church moves into their Easter time lessons, and that expectation of Sunday school attendance will be gone. I don’t want her to have to hear about the crucifixion again and again leading up to Good Friday, and be told that the reason Jesus died in such a terrible way was because of how bad she is.
Two weeks ago, I went to my ladies bible study and the kids went to their bible storytime. When we all got out, Ms Action came to me with tears in her eyes and told me she was scared. I asked why and she handed me her coloring page. She had learned about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. What kind of child’s curriculum teaches that story? How is a child supposed to understand a story about God telling a father to kill his own child when I as an adult can’t understand it? What am I even supposed to say to my sensitive 5 year old about this? I don’t know how to explain the Christian theory of salvation to a young child without God being terrifying. My daughter may be barely 5 years old, but she is not dumb. She has already drawn the connection between God’s anger and Jesus having to die a terrible death.
My instinctive reaction to her fears given my upbringing was to perhaps pray with her, or tell her that God is watching over her and keeping her safe. But that wasn’t exactly logical since God is what she is afraid of. I’m starting to feel that much of religious education is really an adult topic, or at least for older children. Reading through the bible stories I heard again and again as a child, I wonder how parents justify the blatant violence and discrimination that is rampant throughout these stories to their children. Is a child really ready to hear and understand the bible?