Some conversations of theological import with a four-year-old
So we’re sitting down for lunch one day and, over grilled cheese and noodle soup, Julie looks at me quizzically and asks,
“Daddy, where does God live? I know he doesn’t live in Hepburn because I’ve never seen him. I think he lives at the beach with Noah.”
(When Julie was little we used to read a book that depicted Noah and the flood and she’s always wondered if God doesn’t live at the beach with Noah.)
So does God live in Hepburn? Here, where we happen to live?
Well, yes he does. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, not God out there somewhere watching from a distance. Not God remote, detached, uninterested, uncaring, but God with us, God for us, God come down to share in our lives.
So we’re getting ready to do a puzzle when Julie fixates on her index finger. She stares at it for a while and starts to pick away at it, before finally confessing she has an “owie.” Owies are a big deal for a kid. In this case the owie in question is a sliver.
I start trying to dislodge it from her hand.
“Daddy,” she says, “I think we should get a band-aid for my finger.”
Yes, we probably should. In the mind of a four-year-old, there aren’t many problems a band-aid can’t fix. And then, as we get rid of the sliver and put the band-aid on, she looks at me and says, “Daddy, I wish no one ever got any owies.”
I stop. And I think about myself, and my friends and family, and the people I work with, and all the people whose lives I know only from a distance. I think about all the owies we carry – some physical, some emotional, some small, some big. Some we share with others, many we keep to ourselves.
And I say, “Yes Julie, I wish that too. I wish no one ever got any owies.”
And I remember that the story of Immanuel doesn’t end with a baby in a manger but with a man on a cross and then an empty tomb. It ends with God taking all the owies of a hurting and a broken world onto himself and somehow beginning to make them better.
So I’m getting ready to go back to work for the afternoon (most days I come home for lunch) and Julie says to me, “Daddy, I like second work best.”
“Second work? What’s second work?”
“Second work comes after first work.”
“Thank you, Julie. Can you be more specific?”
“Second work is the work that comes after lunch. I like second work best because I know that after second work you’re staying home for the rest of the day.”
Ahh, I see. Second work is better than first work because second work holds the promise of an evening full of watching Robin Hood and eating popcorn with dad. Somehow, in this four-year-old brain, the afternoon feels different than the morning because it’s lived with the expectation that Daddy’s coming home to stay.
And it reminds me that God-come-to-earth in Jesus was “lunchtime,” a break in the schedule, an all-too-brief visit. And now Jesus is gone and we live in the afternoon. Mostly we do the same things we did in the morning. We fight with our siblings over who gets to play with the toys. We watch movies and try not to make our parents mad. We get owies and hope that band-aids make them go away. We play house and we play games, we make friends and we make enemies, we get degrees and we get jobs.
But as people who take the Christian story seriously, the afternoon feels different than the morning. The afternoon is full of expectation that the things we do will soon be shared with God himself.