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Asking Ourselves Our Children’s Questions

“Dad, why do some people disobey God?” My five year-old son genuinely wanted to know. He and I had been talking about loving God, and expressing that love through obedience.

My mind raced. Why do some people disobey God? What would he think if I told him his own father was one of those very people? Should I tell him some people live in constant rebellion against their personal, loving Father? How could I explain the crazy mixture of selfishness and insecurity that produces harmful choices? I knew I must choose my words carefully.

“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain,” I began.

“That’s OK,” he interrupted. “If you don’t know the answer, it’s alright.”

It was nice of him to let me off the hook, even if it came at the expense of my adult pride. And he was right--I didn’t know the answer. For the next few weeks I turned his question toward my own Father: “God, why do I disobey you?” In that season, my gentle Father began to reveal some of the roots of my own rebellious heart.

How do you answer a child? You may discover (as I did) that you really don’t know the answers as well as you thought you did. It’s both embarrassing and liberating: embarrassing because it bursts the bubble of presumption and exposes us for the posers we are; liberating because we become as children again before our Father, and ask of him these very same questions.

To ask yourself innocent, child-like questions is a kind of conversion. We abandon the false comfort of having an organized, consistent world view. We remind ourselves again an omniscient God is not impressed with the size of our intellect, but he is impressed with the size of our heart. We gain--perhaps for the first time--the realization that we can worship God with both wonder, innocence--and ignorance, all mixed together. We begin to discover the lesson my son gave me: if you don’t know the answer, it’s alright.

It’s not that the Heavenly Father is in favor of ignorance. Like any good parent, he delights in the discoveries we make. He rejoices as his children grow in knowledge and understanding. Yet he has also told us time and again the deepest understanding flows first from relationship: knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Instinctively we know this is true. When we call the smartest guy in the room a know-it-all we do not mean it as a compliment.

Lately my nine year-old daughter has been exploring the depths of listening for God’s voice. She wants to know--exactly--how that works. She’s heard her Mom and Dad use phrases like “God spoke to me,” or “I think God wants us to . . . “  We’ve talked about reading the Bible, but she knows there’s more.

She wants specifics:
Have you ever heard God speak out loud? Why not?
What’s the difference between your thoughts and God’s voice inside your head?
How can you be sure it’s God speaking and not someone else?
What do you mean when you say you feel his presence? What does God feel like?

I’ve taken up her child-like challenge and together we are exploring these questions. In the process I’ve discovered that talking to your children can be dangerous. There’s even more danger in asking ourselves our children’s questions.

Reader Comments (7)

I love how you write about the simplicity of our questions and the ways God can use the simple, even if we do, in a sense, need to work on the complex stuff too. If I'm ever struggling spiritually, it's usually because I've either made things too complex or have failed to do even the simple things.

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEd Cyzewski

Thanks, Ed: I actually thought of you and your (brand new) son as I was writing this piece. You have a great ride ahead! Simplicity turns out to be a lot harder than it looks--but simple, clear questions are definitely a path forward.

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Great stuff, Ray. (But please don't ever let your kids quiz me!)

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason B. Hood

No worries, Jason. At our house I made an adjustment: all questions must now be submitted in writing, three weeks in advance :-)

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

You're looking to where all our questions can be answered in truth and love. When you are ready they will be made clear. Strange thing to me was how much more ready my children were than I. I think it has to do with my experience in the world clouds my vision more than those more child like.

Peter was basically illiterate to world knowledge and Paul was full of world knowledge. God answered each of their questions as they were ready. It was difficult for both men to transcend out of the ritual of their birth and be born again to teach "The Good News", each to their own audiences.

The miracles in my own mind and life are the answers I didn't ask but shared the next day with someone who had.

Blessings to your children who you have given the freedom to teach you so much more.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Hi Herm: I think you raise an important point, namely, the effect of our own hearts on how we hear God's answers. And thanks for speaking blessings on my children: blessings to you and yours!

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

WWMMS? (What Would Miss Manners Say?) I don't normally consider Miss Manners a go-to person in spiritual matters, but I admire her firm grasp of human behavior. There is an element of that in children's questions. Specifically, how much anyone's questions reveal an agenda...not that agendas are bad things. I would love to think that if asked a question like "Why do some people disobey God?" my Miss Manner's inspired answer would be "Why do you ask?" Hopefully a discussion would follow about why it worried the little guy, instead of so painfully revealing my own ignorance. Which reminds me...While walking into Willow Creek with my 14 year-old granddaughter she looked at me and asked "Why do people come here?" I gave an answer that sounded much more how to build a watch when the question was only what time is it. I went on to explain about people's deepest needs and questions about life, etc...before she interrupted me and said, I know that. I want to know why they come to Willow? D'oh!

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEd

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