The rain, the rain, the rain on the roof. Her seven-year-old questions, large and painful as my 35-year-old ones. My quavering replies – it’s okay to not know . . . I don’t know for sure if we’ll live again . . . there’s so much that no one really understands . . .
I talk about Jesus. I say that we have stories from people who knew him that after he died he lived again, that he said we can too. She asks, what if they were lying? How do we know the stories are true?
She asks, what if I never see you again? What if after one of us dies we never see each other again? She is crying. What if? she insists. I attempt no more words. I am crying too, and we face one another in love through tears. The rain, the rain, the rain in the room.
I tell her that I do know for sure that I love her. I do know there is much goodness and beauty in the world, that life itself is mysterious in ways that comfort me, that I am trying my best to believe and hope that all will turn out well.
But what if it’s all a lie? she persists. And then she thinks some more. She talks about the trees, the kitty (who has climbed up the bunkbed ladder and nuzzled in next to her), the planets, the sun. Nobody could make that stuff up, she notes. That makes me think there must be a God, she says.
I agree, and I tell her there are people throughout history who have spoken of their experiences with God. I tell her I think God did bring forth life and does care about us.
It’s the best I can do. Into the silence creeps the echo of the words she prayed a few minutes ago, entreating God to help our friends feel better, our friends who last week held their newborn baby girls as they died in their arms. I wonder if she hears it too.
She asks if she can tell Jesus she’s sorry for all the bad things she’s done and then go to Heaven when she dies. I say she can always tell Jesus she is sorry for doing bad things. I have more to say about my hope in neverending life bigger than the Sunday School notions of Heaven she’s heard. But she speaks again.
Why would people just invent Heaven if it’s not really true? she asks. If I find out it’s not true, I’m going to be so mad, she rages, and she cries some more.
I was seven once. I had questions like these. But I didn’t ask them; at least, not for long. My parents and my Sunday School teachers had a ready answer for everything, in the form of a Bible verse or a doctrinal statement, and I went to sleep knowing I was saved and on my way to Heaven.
Tonight I failed to give my daughter the same thing. She handed me her painful questions and I didn’t make them go away like my parents did – at least for the short term. My questions never did go away; they just burrowed deeper and lay dormant, only to blossom forth in a withering sort of spring in my thirties.
Maybe I’m doing alright by my seven-year-old, letting her keep her questions closer to the surface, closer to the nourishing light of the everyday. She was crying tears of pain, even darkness and fear. But I hope they are cleansing tears, and I believe it is better to openly express the pain and darkness and fear than to feel ashamed of it, to believe it is incorrect, a sign of disobedience, and let it fester in a deep hole where it can do serious internal damage.
David the psalmist wasn’t afraid to express these things. He said, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up and do not know who will gather.
“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool. I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.
“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” (Psalm 39)
Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again! Ironically, when I had no more words for Luthien, I sang her the “Barocha” blessing – “the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace forever . . . the Lord be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face towards you, and give you peace forever.”
But she did lie down in peace, soft kitty cuddled close, soft raindrops on the roof.