I was wiping tears out of my eyes after reading this interview with homeschooling mom Mary Breda, whose daughter Monica died of a rare brain tumor just before she turned three. Mary says of her daughter:
When I look back, I see what a wise little soul she was, establishing her own little relationship with our Lord. We hadn’t talked to her about death; how do you tell a two year old about it?! But she said, “If I die, I’ll go see Jesus and all the angels and all the saints. But we are going to pray to all the saints that I get better.” I didn’t have to say it; she just knew.
One of the many things that stood out to me in this touching interview was that her daughter obviously had an intimate understanding of her faith, even at such a young age. I’ve been thinking about this subject all day, and realized that I have a lot to learn from families like this.
One of the things that’s difficult for me as an adult convert to Christianity is that I have no idea what it looks like to talk to children, especially very young children, about belief.
First of all, I have no idea what it’s like to have a “childlike” faith in God. I was an atheist as a child and that worldview seemed pretty obvious to me, so I naturally assume that all children start their lives from a position of nonbelief. Coming to faith was an epic struggle for me that involved reading shelves and shelves of books, so I tend to fall into assuming that that’s what it takes for everyone to have faith. I’ve heard that’s not true — people tell me that kids usually have a natural understanding of God, that belief is the default for most people — but it’s not something I can imagine based on personal experience.
To be honest, I feel awkward when I talk to my toddlers about our beliefs. Here’s how it usually goes:
WHAT I SAY: “Let’s pray to Jesus.”
WHAT I FEEL LIKE SAYING: “Let’s pray to Jesus. Now, you may have noticed that I just referred to someone named ‘Jesus, ‘ whom you have never seen. It might strike you as odd that we frequently refer to ‘Jesus’ and ‘God’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ just like we refer to Grammy and Yaya and Granddad and other people who you can touch and have a conversation with. Well, you can have a relationship with the trinitarian God (who is one in the three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, although that’s another subject), but it’s different in some ways than having a relationship with a human. Now, at this point you’re probably wondering what proof I have to offer for God’s existence since, again, you have never actually seen him. Let’s look first at Aquinas’ five proofs…”
So, yeah. I am going to guess that that’s not the best way to teach two-year-olds about God. Yet most of the time when I try to vocalize my own faith to show my children how I incorporate it into my own life, I feel like I’m on the defensive as if I were talking about it in front of my atheist friends or family members, that my four-year-old is thinking while playing with his Etch-A-Sketch, “Let’s go back to the part about Jesus answering Mommy’s prayer: what empirical evidence can she really offer that that was anything more than a pure coincidence since even in an impersonal universe driven by blind forces it is a statistical certainty that some prayers would appear to be answered some of the time?”
I know how to talk about this sort of thing with adults. But with toddlers? Not so much.
I think I’m getting better as the years go by, and I’m learning every day. Yet when I hear stories like the Breda family’s, it makes me worried that if a major crisis were to hit my family, my children would not have as much of a natural connection to our faith as I’d like for them to have.
I don’t have a take here, I just thought I’d throw this out in case anyone can relate or has any thoughts to share. Since this is a blog about conversion, it seemed appropriate to share this very relevant part of my journey.
UPDATE: Julie has a prayer request up for one of Mary Breda’s other daughters, Marie, who is in a coma after a choking accident and not doing well. Please pray fervently for this family who faces losing a second child.
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