Originally published on Practicing Families
As we approach the third Sunday of Advent – the season of expectancy for the newborn Christ – we are encouraged to remember the prophesy of Micah 5: “And they shall dwell securely, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth: he shall be peace.”
This prophecy, as well as its fulfillment through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is anathema to the world in which live. Yet, while the Kingdom of God is hidden from adults, it is evident in the innocence of a newborn – fully reliant on those they know not. As parents we want to protect that innocence. We know just how vicious and unforgiving the human condition truly is. Deep down, we hold out hope for the Kingdom of God that lives within us to suddenly burst onto the collective scene – an end to suffering – but the daily data we gather as adults leans heavy against that hope.
So, how do we talk about God and faith with our kids?
In addition to the obvious challenge of age-appropriateness in introducing theological concepts is the weight of their questions and observations that prompt the need to get ahead of the game: “Where is God right now?”
Recently, I introduced to my three-year-old son that the sun is at the center of our solar system and that the earth revolves around it, as well as how we get light and warmth from the sun especially when we are facing it. While he did not grasp the astronomical concepts he understood the deeper message I was intimating, namely that he is like the sun and can be light and warmth to all things that surround him. Physics may take schooling, but love is as observable and repeatable as any constant in our universe.
The purpose of this lesson was because our son keeps reporting that he is getting hit at school. I’ve told the administrators and encouraged him to defend himself. Little has changed. To complicate matters, the kid that is hitting him is his best friend and he doesn’t want to hit back. To be honest, I am at a loss for a response to this. As I encourage my son to be light and warmth to those around him, I’m concerned that he’s not standing up for himself when he should be. The school’s administration had assured me it’s just a phase and a version of how certain kids interact.
As a parent, however – especially as a father – I am at a crossroads with how I want my son to deal with the darkness in his world as he comes to understand the human condition. Does he respond to violence (which may very well be just kids being kids) with physical defense or does he extol the virtue of a son that lights and warms those that surround it? Shall he be peace?
My better angels encourage me to encourage him to find the warm and lit path toward peaceful friendships. My real angels – the ones who know how friendship and the world actually work – push me to say “hit back and hit back harder…put that kid in his place.”
In the end, it’s a balance, right? Our kids need to know that darkness doesn’t drive out darkness; only light does that – yet at the same time they need to know that we are not yet at a place in this world where the lion and lamb are simpatico. Our kids need to know when to defend themselves and other innocents while also understanding that in order to usher in the Kingdom and the end of suffering, warmth and light are requisite.
A proper theology of father/son relations requires strength, patience, and vision. We can build a future of men (and women) who know how and when to defend themselves and the innocent while also laying down their lives and interests when needed. Sometimes your best friend is the one who hits you most. Sometimes you can take it. Sometimes you can’t. So, encourage your kids to do the best they can while knowing that being anything less than light and warmth to the world is anathema to God’s vision for our lives – the life Christ led so that we might also.
I’m just waiting for his follow up question to this analogy: “But, dad, can’t the warmth and light get too hot and bright, and burn and blind you?”