In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
~1 Timothy 6:19 NIV~
My Easter weekend was strangely exhausting and tinged with sadness and anxiety. One would think that after spending time in God’s word and having dinner with family and all, that the end result would be at least some level of joy. But instead of feeling victorious; I emerged from this weekend feeling much like I’d been stood in the courtyard and stoned. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and today, after considering all that was said and done, I think I may have actually learned something.
My apprehension was the most human of self-defense mechanisms brought about in part by watching hours of television programming about how much pain Jesus had gone through on our behalf. My feelings of anxiety were brought on by hearing about all that He suffered because He dared step out and attempt to teach people how to love one another. His only crime was that He had endeavored to show people how to live a life that was built on loving and encouraging others rather than abusing, manipulating or taking advantage of them. When the weight of all of this settled on me, my initial reaction was to be angry. Angry that there are still so many people who would rather crucify Jesus than to take the time to understand what He was saying. Angry that there are those who don’t believe that He was the Messiah and that He took all of that pain on for us. Angry that even among those who claim to believe in Him there are those who place more value on the quality of their Easter ham than on the life of the Man who made our continued existence possible. And with anger comes anxiety. And with anxiety comes frustration. And with frustration comes doubt.
So for all of the struggle, it all came full circle for me until I had to ask myself why it is that I believe at all. And as God always does in my life, He provided the answer in the strangest of ways. While I was pondering all of these things and trying to figure out why it is so important for me to believe and to help others believe, my daughter came to me with a very direct concern. Generally, she goes along with my efforts to stage the appearance of such characters as the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, but today she wasn’t having it. She came to me in tears and said, “Mom, is it really you that does all of this?”
“Does all of what?” I said.
“All of this stuff with the toys and the candy. I know it’s you. It’s your handwriting,” she says, “Tell me the truth.”
I didn’t know what to say. On one hand, I know that my daughter is smart enough to understand that Easter and Christmas are very real events and that what we are supposed to be celebrating at these times is very different from what our society tends to promote. On the other, she’s still my baby and I don’t want her to grow up too fast because I had to spoil the fun by telling her the truth.
“What do you mean, tell you the truth?” I said, “About the Easter Bunny?”
“Yes, I know it’s you,” she said, “Please tell me.”
At this point, she’s in tears and I’m weighing the possibilities. Will I somehow scar her for life if I let her in on the fact that I am the mastermind behind the big Easter Bunny thing? Since she knows already that Easter is about Jesus and not about chocolate bunnies and colored eggs, will it really be such a bad thing if I just tell her the whole truth? How in the world can I answer this question without causing her to doubt her faith in all things she cannot see?
I chose my next sentence carefully, “You know that Easter is all about Jesus and the resurrection, right?”
“And you understand that the basket and the eggs and all of that has little to do with Him, right?” I said.
“Yeah, mom, I know all of that,” she said.
“But you know that what makes Easter fun for kids is the bunnies and the candy and stuff,” I went on…stalling.
“Mom, you’re not answering the question,” she said.
She is truly my daughter.
“I’m trying to,” I said, “I just don’t know how to answer it.”
There was no reason not to be honest at least about that part of it. I didn’t know how to answer her. I was terrified that if I handled this wrong, she would lose hope. What if I inadvertently switched off a light in her by telling her that these fictional characters were just that; fictional? Isn’t my responsibility to help her believe more in Christ than in those icons anyhow?
“You see, the thing is that I want you to believe with all your heart in Jesus and in God,” I said.
“I do,” she said.
“And I want you to understand the difference between them and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and all of those characters,” I said.
“I know they aren’t real, Mom,” she said.
“Just to clarify, you know who isn’t real?” I asked.
She let out a big sigh and said, “The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus! I know that you are the one who hides the presents and writes the notes and does all of that stuff.” And the tears just spilled out of her little eyes as she came to terms with the whole thing. The things she had wanted to believe in wholeheartedly for so long were starting to look unreal to her and in part, I worried that this was yet another bi-product of the divorce. My biggest worry has been that the loss of that foundation in her life would translate into a shaky foundation for everything else she held dear.
“Honey, I don’t know what you want me to say here,” I said, “I know that you are a very smart girl and I know that you understand how things happen.”
She nodded again, not giving me much to go on.
“I wonder though if you would have wanted to learn about Easter and what it was really about if some part of it hadn’t been fun and just a little bit magical for you,” I said, “Do you think you would have wanted to understand Jesus and all He did for us if you hadn’t been receiving these gifts every year just for being the wonderful little girl you are?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“What about Christmas?” I said, “Would you have been interested in knowing why Christmas is important if there hadn’t been something fun associated with it?”
Lord, this was getting deep. As a parent, I’m not sure I’m equipped to handle to big questions like this just yet. I was just praying that God would give me the words I needed to say to bring this discussion to a fruitful end.
“I guess not,” she said.
“So, instead of just talking to you about how much people wanted Jesus to stop teaching about love, I chose to show you how much He celebrates you,” I said, “The gifts are just another way of saying that you are loved and that this is what Jesus stood for.” And I’m thinking to myself that I truly wasn’t just trying to bribe her into believing in things that don’t exist. God help me if she ever thinks that.
As if she is reading my mind, she says, “But you don’t have to get gifts to be loved.” Wow, I really hadn’t thought any of the stuff I’d been telling her up to now was really sinking in, but evidently she understands the important stuff.
“No, you don’t,” I said. “Gifts are just a way to show love and an even better way to see happiness in someone we love; by giving you something and seeing that it makes you happy, I am also getting a gift.”
She looked really confused at that and I wondered when I had started talking like Mike Brady.
“What I mean is that your happiness is a gift to me,” I said. “As someone who loves you very much, your happiness makes me happy, especially when I have something to do with making you happy.”
“It does?” she said.
“Very much so,” I said.
She smiled and I thought for a moment that I had finally been able to successfully avoid the question.
“So, you’re the Easter Bunny?” she said.
I had to laugh at this. “Well, I guess if you’re going to keep asking me the question, then the answer is ‘yes’, I’m the Easter Bunny.”
She took a moment and then said, “Okay.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said.
“And you know that I am not Jesus, I am not God, right? They are very real and they are very much with us,” I said.
She looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world and said, “Um, yeah, do you know that you’re not God?”
“Well, that’s always the question isn’t it?” I said.
With that, she had answered my big question. Why did I believe in what I had not been able to see? Why was I so upset that others didn’t get what Jesus had been trying to teach? Why did I let myself get so frustrated over things that God was clearly working on in everyone and not just in me? Well, because I forgot that I wasn’t Him. These aren’t questions that I can answer for myself; but questions that I must allow Him to answer for me through all that He does in my life. I know that I am not God or even close to understanding the things God does. I am not able, as a human being, to know why He didn’t just give up on all of us when Jesus was treated so terribly all those years ago. But it wasn’t my plan. His plan for me is completely different than His plan for any other person on this earth, including the one He had for His own Son. So if my nine year-old daughter can accept that there is no Santa Claus and no Easter Bunny without it completely destroying her world, then surely I can put on my big girl pants and accept that God is God and that no matter how smart I think I am, I’ll never be able to understand Him the way He understands me.
By perpetuating the whole idea of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, I had unwittingly been developing a foundation of faith in my child. Now that I look back on it, it all makes sense. It wasn’t that I wanted my little girl to believe in fake bunnies and fat men in red suits inasmuch as I just wanted her to believe and not be afraid to believe. So that when it all comes down and she has the opportunity to stand up for Christ, that she will not be afraid to do so. Sometimes we fight so hard to protect the things that don’t matter that we forget the most basic principle at work is learning how to love each other. Not necessarily why, but how. God doesn’t want us to sit around questioning why we love Him. He wants us to figure out how to love Him. And that can only be done when we let go of our need to justify loving Him. He loves us because we are His. That is all. And with that, it is finished.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
~1 John 4:10 NIV~