It's those bedtime questions that can require the very most we have to give.
I remember hearing Chuck Swindoll say one time that for parents, it's those moments we're tucking them in when kids are the most talkative. Don't rush through bedtime with your kids, he encouraged. They'll do anything to delay switching off the light. Talk to them. Listen to them. Take advantage of their open hearts and listening ears no matter how tired you are and no matter how ready you are to be done with parenting for the day.
Austin, my 11-year-old, asked this one as I was giving him a final kiss at the end of a trying day, to put it mildly. Our 8-year-old had been through two meltdowns, our high schooler had been home sick from school and then had gotten his braces tightened. We'd been to music lessons which meant a late dinner. The boys had been squabbling. Fishing poles and line were spider-webbed around our family room in an effort to de-tangle. And Austin and I had just finished studying for a surprise test. It was time for bed.
"Mom, if Jesus asked God a question on the cross--'My God, why have you forsaken me?'--then how could Jesus and God be just one God?"
The Trinity. Who really understands it? And how do I talk about it, and Jesus' most difficult moment here on this earth, to a tired pre-teen when I am feeling on the edge of sanity myself? Many times we've talked about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as 3 persons in one God, like an apple or an egg or a pumpkin--all different parts of one whole. That's the best way for our human brains to grasp what we can't really get. And this is what I pulled from down deep on this night. "Because the Bible tells us that Jesus cried out to God, we know he was talking to his Father. But the Bible also tells us that Jesus is God, and that the Lord our God is One. So, even though our minds have a hard time really understanding it, it's true. Someday we'll understand it much better."
Now that I'm rested and the fishing poles are put away, I'm thinking a little more coherently. Not about my words to Austin, but about this place of mystery in our lives. The way we all deal with the unknowing that is an undeniable part of our Christian faith. As parents, and as people in relationship with God, we want to nail down the answers. We want to figure it out and learn it so we can defend it, and more, so we can live in an inner place of comfort.
I'm reading a book that pokes at this tendency of ours to want neat and tidy answers. To beneat and tidy people. It's titled Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron and is the fictional story of a pastor who has a breakdown of sorts and travels to Italy to encounter Francis of Assisi in his millenia-old surroundings.
In talking with a few priests who are hosting him, the pastor begins to see his own unknowing, his own brokenness, with new eyes.
"You'll never be able to speak into their souls unless you speak the truth about your own wounds," one of the priest says. "They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses."
And then the priest says, "Do you know how Simon Tugwell described Franciscanism? He called it 'the radically unprotected life,' a life that's cruciform in shape. ... Maybe living the unprotected life is what it means to be a Christian."
That night with Austin and a house full of tangle--it was the right night for a question without a good answer. It was the right night to remember Jesus' agony in relationship with his Father. And, perhaps my weary attempt was what it needed to be. The mystery of God, the cries of our suffering Servant, and the untidiness of me--they're things my kids need to see. And that image of the cross, I hope it comes to mind every time I'm spent and need to share just a little more of myself.
*The TAU cross shape in the photo above is the one that Francis of Assisi used in all his writings, minus the head. He painted it on the walls and doors of places he stayed and used it as his only signature. The TAU is a letter in both the Hebrew and Greek alphabets and has long been used as a sign of the cross. This stained glass is found in the St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Sacramento, CA.