We had just left Great Grandma Bev’s lake house, driving into the setting sun, when we heard from the backseat, “How did Jesus die?” The only reason I wasn’t totally floored was because Sarah had shared with me another time this happened. At the exact same point in the road, a week or two earlier, Keana had asked that exact question. At that time, Sarah wasn’t sure how much to say and worried about getting in a little over her head, so she punted, telling Keana she should ask me since I probably knew more about that. Lucky me. The conversation that Keana and I had after that first time was pretty brief; she was ready to move on to something else by the time she got home.
It would all be easier if Sarah and I didn’t question religion ourselves and went to church every Sunday, and if I just spouted off the classic, generally acceptable answers and stories within the Christian faith. I’ve spent so much time in church or church-related activities that I’m practically ordainable, but it’s only recently, after many years away from it all, that I’m beginning to come back to my childhood faith. Sarah and I have always wanted to provide our kids with a broad understanding of many forms of religion and ideas of God, hoping that when they were really curious and ready, our kids could embark on their own process with a good foundation—a process that wasn’t biased or misinformed. What we’ve come to realize lately though, is that in an attempt to be open, we may actually have been depriving our kids of the opportunity to develop any sort of faith.
So, back to the car. I thought for moment and chose the most direct answer. I explained he was crucified and the basics of what that entailed. I opted to leave out the public ridicule, beatings, crown of thorns, and stabbing—crucifixion seemed like enough. Keana (of course) asked why that was done to him, and I explained that some people don’t like to hear things that are contrary to their own beliefs or way of thinking, and unfortunately, it can and has resulted in some pretty sad and horrible outcomes. That seemed to go over relatively smoothly with the kids—and Maia was actually already drifting off to sleep, being exhausted from the day—which was probably good because Keana’s next question was, “How come you go to a bad place when you kill yourself?”
Yeah. Wasn’t ready for that one.
I think it’s safe to say that Christianity, and going to church regularly, is a pretty big thing in our current town of Fresno. It’s common enough that I’ve been asked on many occasions if I knew so-and-so through [the kids’] school or church. The church option never came up in the Bay Area. Also, a big population of Keana’s school are Mexican/Latino, so Catholicism is pretty prevalent I think, too. This is all to say that after the suicide question, I was pretty sure she was getting all her info from her friends at school.
Holy shit. Suicide? Hell? For first graders? Really people? These are the foundations of faith you’re sharing with your kids? On behalf of parents that are trying not to scar their kids and raise them in fear, I thank you. I calmly went on to tell Keana that there are different flavors of Christianity and in some of those, they believe bad things happen to you when you do certain things. I quickly followed it with the fact that Christianity is really based on love and that is the core principal to pay attention to. Sarah stepped in (thankfully) adding that it’s okay for everyone to believe whatever they want, but it’s important for each of us to make our own choices and respect others’.
The conversation continued for the full 40-minute-ride home and in the end I was a little worn out, but thankful that we could have a talk like that, in that way, as a family. Although there are many things that point to Keana’s maturity and growth, it’s conversations like that that remind me how much she (and all kids in general) pick up on, and how important it is for them to not only be able to talk to their parents or other adults about it, but to be met with an openness that encourages their own thinking and questions, and allows them to explore safely. At least I hope that’s what we did. Damn. That was weeks ago and I’m still processing it; great practice for what’s to come.