We have been spending some time at the Tadpole Playground in the Boston Common. Each time we go downtown to serve people, we treat the kids to some time at the playground to run out the wiggles. The kids love to run wild, climb up the slide (which we have put a stop to, that is too disorderly), go down the slide face first on their stomachs, jump off high structures, and generally do crazy things. On Friday, Eva was climbing up a ladder that was pretty tough for a 2-year old, and she doesn't just climb up the ladder, she attacks the ladder in typical "Eva-style".
I usually watch the kids from afar just in case things get a little too crazy, or probably more accurate, they begin to annoy observing parents. Other parents were helping their 3 and 4 year old children up the same ladder with a hand beneath their butts, one parent actually began to climb the ladder with her kid with a worried look on her face, just in case she fell to her death I guess. Seriously, if the fear of danger or injury sinks into your brain that deep, why don't you just stay home and put your kid in a gigantic padded hamster ball. Anyway, as Eva was attacking the ladder, I happened to see a guy standing next to the ladder watching her, with the same pained look on his face as the climbing mother. I began only watching him. He would make slight gestures towards her like he was going to catch her, his face contorted, probably wondering where her parents were. This was one of the funniest things I have seen in a while. This went on for 30 seconds or so and then when she finally reached the top, his eyebrows went up and he shook his head as he let out the breath he must have been holding the entire time. I was actually reaching for the camera, but I wasn't there in time.
I know that this guy just didn't want to see my kid fall and break her neck, and his worry and fear is just a manifestation of his love for safety, his desire for order, but I can't help but think what this attitude does for our kids' belief in God. It reminds me of a story Erwin McManus told in his book "The Barbarian Way." (which is excellent by the way, contrary to what my wife says :) Bare with me, it is a long quote, but a great story:
For several years we rented a two-story house in Los Angeles. Both my kids have spent a good part of their childhood enjoying that home. A unique feature of the house was that a small window from the second-story bathroom opened a path to the roof. I always figured there would be a day when one of my kids would climb up on the sink and work his or her way out on the ledge. It just seemed to be one of those things that I or my brother, Alex, would have done when we were kids.
Early one evening Kim and I were in the front yard when all of a sudden, we hear a little voice calling for us from the roof. As soon as Kim saw him, her nurturing instinct kicked in, and she started commanding him to get back inside. I have to admit I was kind of proud of him right then, but what he did next totally surprised me.
Looking past his mom he asked me if he could jump. When Aaron shouted, "Dad, can I jump?" Kim answered on my behalf, "No, you can't jump. Get back inside." As if he hadn't heard anything at all, he asked me again, "Dad, can I jump?"
Now, I know what I was supposed to do. A dad is never supposed to override the mom (I'm working on it). I'm just telling you what really happened. After all, he did ask me. I answered, "Yeah, go ahead."
He said, "Really?"
I said, "Yeah, sure. Go ahead and jump."
Kim looked at me as if I was out of my mind and asked, "What do you think you're doing?"
In a sort of explanation I asked Aaron, "Aaron, are you going to jump sometime?"
He said, "Yeah, I think so."
I said, "Okay, I'd rather have you jump now so if you jump and break your legs, we can take you to the hospital." It made perfect sense to me.
He responded, "Dad, do you think I'll make it?"
I said, "Oh, yeah, you'll make it." If I knew one thing for certain, it was that he would reach the ground. I just wasn't sure in what condition.
He said, "Okay, I'm going to jump."
I had one suggestion before he took off. I said, "Hey, buddy, try to clear the concrete and land on the grass. It's softer."
He thought that was a good idea, stepped as far back as he could on the roof, and began running to jump. Just before his first step he yelled, "Dad, catch me," and I said "I'll try."
And he jumped.
I almost caught him. It was so close. He just slipped right through my hands. I think I did slow his fall a little bit. In either case, he's recovered well since then. I'm just kidding. He was fine. (Don't try this at home).
I think a lot of atheists don't believe in God simply because they don't understand why people are the way they are, the death, the destruction, the greed, the ugliness. Why? And it is a legitimate question, if you picture God as the parent who holds his hand beneath the collective butt of His people, then you would be angry, but God isn't that god. Look at what He allowed to happen to His only son. God allows for disorder, He allows for wrong decisions, He has given us the opportunity to decide, and more importantly, even if we choose correctly, He doesn't guarantee safety. Following Jesus doesn't equal a removal of danger, it equals a removal of fear. That is what Paul was saying when he wrote, quoting the prophet Isaiah: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where O Death, is your victory? Where O Death, is your sting?"
The victory wasn't an earthly victory, if it was, Jesus, being King of the Jews, would have called upon a grand army and defeated the Romans, ended this world and brought His people to the true promised land. But He didn't, because the battle wasn't being waged in our earthly view, it is on a much bigger scale. Peace to our God is not the same peace we recognize. Peace to us should be being in the presence of our Lord and Creator. Paul was in this place when he wrote:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 24-27)Jesus lets his children fall off of the ladder and hit every rung on the way down. Why, because death has lost it's sting. Our victory isn't on this spinning globe, it is in a hidden kingdom, one that is far more difficult to understand.
I want my children to have a spirit that is so close to that kingdom that they can understand it better than most. I pray against a spirit of fear for my children so that they can understand what kingdom truly matters, so that they can be in prison, can be in danger, can be cold and naked, and still believe that they are loved by their Abba Father. Don't get me wrong, if my kids are in danger, I want to be there for them, I want to "save" them, and I'm not going to ask the schizophrenic guy we just gave a sandwich, to look after them for a few minutes while I run off to get something. But by allowing them to witness an unsterilized world, we can hopefully burn away the belief that following Jesus is monotonous and boring. I pray that, as McManus says, we don't "raise our children in the cocoon of a domesticated faith and wonder why they run as far as they can to find adventure."