The conversation after prayers went something like this;
Mum I’ve just prayed for children who live in one room & have nothing, and straight after I prayed for my eczema to get better which is hardly there … but I’ve asked him to make it better – and he will, he is, he loves you – so why doesn’t he just make it better for children like the one we saw in the DVD this morning at church? I am angry with Him, he doesn’t, but he could. Why does He just let them die?? – He let’s us make choices, sometimes our choices mean that other people suffer – why doesn’t God just get rid of the bad people who make the bad choices, then things would be okay – if he got rid of people who make bad choices wouldn’t he have to get rid of all of us? – um I suppose, but … the really bad people, who do terrible horrible things, doesn’t it make God angry? – I think it does (pause) its okay to talk to Him about how it makes you angry – I don’t want to make Him angry with me – it won’t, He wants you to talk to Him, He wants you to get to know Him better & better – pause – why should I be angry with God for not doing anything if I am here doing nothing about it? – we are doing something, we try to think about how we live and the way it affects other people – I know, but its not a lot… – all we can do is do what we can, and try to do it well… whenever we pray God changes us, makes our love bigger, makes us braver, we can ask Him to make us wise so we know what else we can do…
I love conversations like this, but why, why, why do they always happen at the last minute at bed time when you still have other children to get to bed on time & visitors you really want to spend time with downstairs??! ‘Why?’, its always a favourite question once the word is learnt (so with our oldest since she was about 10 or 11 months!). There have been many ‘whys’ about God since we became parents, and as they get older – especially now we are into tween & teens with our oldest two – the ‘whys’ are getting tougher. I sometimes feel as though I am the only panelist at a ‘grill a christian’ evening, and that’s enough to give me (shy, introvert, likes to be prepared) nightmares!
As usual I sit here, after the big conversation, analysing my responses, wondering if I should have said this or that, if what I said was misleading or unhelpful, and feeling a little uncomfortable that one of my children feels disappointed with God. Why is it that I feel I need to justify God, or give a better explanation of His actions (or in this case His seeming in-action)? It is very difficult to resist that urge to pin it all down, make clear sense of it all, have a water tight argument to counter every question or doubt – all the more when I see just how uncomfortable it can be for my girls when the things of faith, or the character of God is not ‘neat’ in that way. We talk with them about God being a safe place to be, a safe person to be with – to be trusted and relied on and I wholeheartedly believe it… but what I cannot promise is that He is always predictable, or that He will always do things the way we think is the best way – which of course, if I’m honest, makes for some discomfort, the kind that makes me grow!
“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (Isaiah 55:8,9 The Message)
It takes time to build trust with anyone, time to weigh up their character, time to experience their loyalty and faithfulness and to begin to dare to trust their way of doing things, and their way of seeing the world. To have faith is to commit ourselves to the process of learning to trust God. It takes time, because it is something that grows, like any relationship. Sometimes to try to justify, and to answer on God’s behalf cuts through that I think. I love this phrase that Andrew came back with from a clergy study day with Rowan Williams:
“Prayer is not something we get better at, but an environment we get used to.”
I wonder if that’s a helpful way of thinking with our children about our understanding of God when these tough questions inevitably (hopefully!) come our way. It’s true that no amount of logical thinking, or categorizing can help us to know God in a way that lets us ‘tame’ Him – make Him comfortable for us, and take away these painful, awkward wonderings of ours. He is different from us, He is Other, mystery yet revealed to us in Jesus Christ (in itself mystery). I wonder if ‘sitting with’ (acknowledging it, and allowing space for ourselves to feel it) the discomfort, and sometimes the pain of that mystery is a way forward for us… an environment we need to get used to, a leap of trust into the love and compassion we see in the person of Jesus and the Father He reveals to us.
After my Dad died very suddenly I remember the endless ‘why’s’ from my children (not to mention in my own thoughts), and one day just feeling incredibly tired – weighed down by the enormity of the ‘why?’ – I put some worship music on and just held the kids hands as we enjoyed the music, joining in the bits we knew. We came to a song simply about being loved by the Father – we were quiet, calmed even as we listened. It took us to the only answer that we really needed in the midst of all those ‘why’s’ – an answer I didn’t even recognise I was searching for in my questions. I had a similar experience learning a new song this summer called ‘Good Good Father’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd-fxhp90pw) – moments like this give me space to ‘sit with’ those questions and they nurture trust in me again.Trust in the character of God, and the steadfastness of His loving mercy – a trust I can carry into the questions that come as I read the headlines and feel helpless, that I can hold for others as I pray for them and try to do what I can to help them in their desperation or suffering. A trust I hope I am modelling for my children, by not always (okay, not very often) having the answers, but by knowing who it is I want to sit with, and holding my children’s hands to bring them with me as I put myself there again.
What is so important is that not only are they asking “why” which shows how deeply they are thinking about things, but that they turn to you for the answers. Precious times in parenting, no matter how inconveniently timed and challenging they may be!
You write beautifully Cathy, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Thanks for reading Alison. Yes I love that they are asking!