Raising a child is hard. Raising children is even harder. Raising children well is near impossible. But Catalina and I are trying. In fact, Catalina says I am very trying.
One of the things we are trying to do well - which we'll likely find out in twenty years was the exact opposite of what we should have done - is being upfront about the human anatomy. From the moment we began talking about all the sundry body parts, we have called a spade a spade. I suppose now isn't the time to bring in euphemisms, so for those who aren't following, we called a penis a penis and a vagina a vagina. I'm sure some out there will disagree with what we're doing, but we do have some good reasons for our decision. First and foremost we believe it is a safety issue. With all of the information that is coming out as to the staggering numbers of individuals - especially children - who are sexually assaulted, we think it is vital that our kids don't have to beat around the bush or tread in ambiguity if they ever have to talk about someone touching them where they shouldn't have. We have heard so many stories of children who allow molestation to continue without saying anything because they either don't feel they can talk about it, or they don't know how to express what is going on. The safety of my children is more important to me than the discomfort of saying awkward words.
When we teach Elin to not let strangers into the house or to not take candy from them or go with them to pet their dogs, she asks "why?" She doesn't understand that not all in the world is good. She can't comprehend the depths of evil that exist in our world. Why would someone want to hurt her? And if someone did want to hurt her, how could something as wonderful as a puppy or candy be a part of such an event? When my grandmother won't open her eyes at a precious grandchild lavishing love on her, Elin likewise can't understand. Elin, a child who is absolutely full of vitality, can't understand how her grandmother can be so devoid of life. Elin and Atticus are naive. Children just don't understand reality. But today I finally began to understand that I am also naive. See, children innately know ultimate reality. While their naivete diverges from what the world really is now, it is far more closely aligned with the ultimate reality of how the world should be, and what it will one day be again. They understand that the world is supposed to be suffused with life, love, and goodness, so they can't comprehend when the world shows them anything to the contrary. While children are certainly born with a huge chunk of self-centeredness and sin, they know enough to understand the way that things ought to be. They understand the way the world was created to be - good.
All this time my strategy has been trying to rid my children of their naivete. I think that is a good thing in order to protect them, to be honest with them, and to facilitate future openness in dialogue. But I realized today that the pitfall to this is that I may end up imposing my alternate naivete onto my kids. Yes, the world is cruel. Death exists. But that's not the way it should be. Regardless of how much death I see on the news and how little hope I see in this world, death is not ultimate reality. Life is the reality. Life is what we were created for. But to be more specific, relationship is the true reality. Relationship is what we were created for. If you could have seen my grandmother as I debated about allowing Elin to see her, you would likely have told me not to allow Elin to see. All of the physical features and noises were something that would likely scare a three year old. But what struck me about the whole encounter is that while Elin could certainly tell immediately that there was something not physically right with grandma, she wasn't taken aback by my grandmother's physical features. Her question wasn't directed at my grandmother's physical state. Rather, she was taken aback at my grandmother's unresponsiveness to her granddaughter's love. This is the true nature of death, sin, and evil. It is separation. And while I spent my time with grandma reeling at the thought of her physical pain and her appearance, my daughter reeled at the thought of a grandmother who didn't take notice of her granddaughter's love, and love her in return.
The bent of my parents' generation was to miss the mark of reverence by avoiding the reality of our fallen world. By avoiding the discussion of sex we missed out on understanding the beauty and joy of a sexual relationship. And by hiding the hard truths of death through avoiding the discussion or placing it's image behind nursing home walls, my generation missed out on facing the reminder that we live in a world that isn't right. We rarely had to look death in the face. Hiding what is reverent didn't instill reverence in us, it made us naive and timid - and the fallen world was all too eager to accost our naivete when we parted company from our parents. We never truly looked upon that which was reverent - the beauty of sex and life - and we averted our eyes dogmatically. But when we looked away from that which is reverent, our eyes fell elsewhere, and the world was happy to show us what to revere - pleasure and youth.
Unfortunately my bent is to miss the mark of reverence as well, only I do it through vulgarity. By making reverent subjects like death and sex/human anatomy common, I may unintentionally be teaching the next generation that there is nothing special about either - that they are both just natural functions to be expected and embraced. But that isn't so. We live in a world where beautiful sexuality is a rare occurrence and where immortality is ubiquitous. I rarely remember that I am always speaking with an immortal, as C.S. Lewis says, and I rarely find a marital relationship mostly composed of selflessness and intimacy. I would do well to look upon sex, but to look in awe of such intimacy and joy, that two people could be mingled in an unimaginably close connection of body and soul. I would do well to look upon death, but to look upon it with the bewilderment of Elin - wondering how we could ever actually part with an immortal.
As a Christian, I have a fantastic hope in the resurrection of my body - a body made new. That's exciting. But what is really exciting is the prospect of living in a world where all relationships are made right. One day, nature will no longer be against me, nor I against it. Humanity will no longer seek to harm each other, but we will all seek the good of everyone. God will no longer be opposed to us in his justice, as we will have been made right with him. The death of death and the death of in-intimacy - the death of all our relational separations - was accomplished in the death of Christ. His sacrifice was made in order to bring us into right relationship. He is reconciling the groaning world to himself. That's what Christianity is all about. It began with the trinitarian relationship before the foundation of the world was laid, before anything but God himself existed - and it ends with us in right relationship with our God and all of his creation. Today, Elin understood that truth and it made me thankful for her naiveté, or rather, for her clarity. Catalina and I are ensuring that our children are learning how the world is, but we are thankful that they haven't yet forgot what it's supposed to be, and what it one day will be again. As I keep trying to raise my children in a fallen world and show them how things really are for now, I pray that they will never forget how unnatural and abhorrent a truth like death is - and also how temporary it is. I want them always to know that which is our ultimate hope and reality.
While I wrote all of the above back in the summer, I figured that now would be a good time to share. As we approach the New Year, we are met with the reminder that though there are so many injustices and broken relationships in the world, all things will one day be made new - but not just symbolically or temporarily, as is our implementation of newness in January. No, one day everything will truly be restored, not just for a year, but forever. While we cannot be naive and ignore the truth of the fallenness of this world, we must also be cognizant of our tendency to suppress the hope that is in us - the hope and love for true life that we must help others to see. We serve a crucified savior who succumbed to the harshest realities and injustices this world has to offer. He does not want us to be naive about what evils lie ahead. He wants us to know that we will be bearing a cross and that the road we travel is filled with suffering. But we also serve a risen savior who conquered death and evil so that we could be resurrected and restored as well. He does not want us to be reserved isolationists in a world that needs hopeful warriors to embrace the good and push back the curse.It is imperative that we meet the evils of this world head on, without naivete, but that we do so with a resolve that is grounded in our hope of ultimate reality, as we seek to be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who is renewing the world and making his enemies his footstool. So at this time of symbolic renewal, as we look to enter the new year, I challenge you to reflectively consider how our savior has called you to live now in light of the hope and renewal he brings.