Closing down a beautiful Sunday. We spent the majority of the day out front watching our children play make believe in our thawing front yard. Baker's post-nap self had him wearing nothing but a diaper and some heart sunglasses, delivering invisible mail out of his one-door cozy coupe. Harper wore her pink bathrobe as "lion fur" and climbed the tree in our neighbor's front yard, which is really a glorified bush, but we won't tell her that. Having a son and a daughter I've often prayed for common ground on which they could play together. I've wondered if my twirling, whirling, fairy-winged little girl and my muddy waters, mischief-making, bulldozing boy would ever meet when it comes to play. Lately, and particularly after days like today, I'm beginning to think that make believe will be their common ground. Don't get me wrong, they are really good at being together. Sure, they scream at and hit each other once or twice a day, but it's mostly as a result of them trying to being in other's space and just not knowing how to go about it. So my question has not been whether they like each other. My quesiton is whether they would ever be able to waste away a Summer afternoon building a bridge to Terabithia. The verdict is still out, but I'm hopeful that they will because they both love to make believe.
It's a funny phrase, isn't it? To make believe. To create belief. To conjure up a setting, a character, a plot, and to believe it to be so. We mostly associate this activity with children, and rightfully so. Kids are great it. Their little minds wander freely from jungle treetop to princess castle as sticks become swords and kitchen towels become wedding veils. They are brimming with the promise of what could be. Adults do their fair share of make believe as well, perhaps just with a different motive. More often, they are wishing for a life different than the one they are living. We enter sweepstakes, try our darndest to come up with the next great invention, or plan our exodus to New York City because someone, somewhere convinced the better part of the world that that's where dreams come true. But at the heart of their make believe, for both the daydreaming child and the disillusioned adult, is HOPE. Hope that there is something more. Their hearts cry out for adventure and belonging and HOPE is what keeps them searching. It's what gives them the courage to MAKE believe.
Harper's imagination is running at full-speed within about 30 minutes of her waking up. She snuggles for a bit, drinks her morning cup of chocolate milk, and then starts a sentence with "Let's pretend that you're_______, and I'm ___________." And off we go! I've got to be honest, it's exasperating. I've been a cheetah, a fairy godmother, an Indian chief, and a pet store owner before most people finish their egg whites. I'm sure I give in to her imaginary whims a bit too often and I'm sure I'm a total pushover, but what I'm more sure of is that I want to do whatever it takes to have my daughter's heart. I want to be an expert at entering her world and at this particular juncture in her little life, one does not enter her world without a costume. I'm banking on the fact that if I speak her language now, albeit an imaginary language called Abasidia, that I will be able to speak her language when she's speaking angry teenager who just got her heart broken when the boy she liked teased her for having legs like pipe cleaners.
A few years ago a professor of mine told me something that has been incredibly freeing for me as a parent. He talked about the often-quoted verse that says, "Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it," Proverbs 22:6. Lots and lots and lots of pastors, authors, and parents talk about this verse. And I get it, I really do. Our children need training. They do not come out knowing how to behave or how to treat others, much less knowing how to honor The Lord. But it's more than that. The professor went on to explain that this verse may have been better translated as "train up a child according to their bent." God has created them to go a certain way, and while this has to do on one level with morality, on a deeper level it has to do with becoming. Our children are becoming who God created them to be and it is our privilege as parents to encourage that process all the more. And we do this by entering in, and honoring whatever it is that we find that also honors Jesus. When we go against their natural bent, putting a bookworn in a pageant dress for example, we run the risk of breaking them.
This notion has freed me up to let my children be themselves unapologetically. It has also freed me up as a parent who wants their kids to know Jesus. We have told our children the incredible story of the Gospel. And we will continue to do so. We couldn't not. But I don't think I'm supposed to give them the Gospel in some generic, one-size fits all approach. That feels a bit like playing pin the Jesus on the kid, where we say the right things and hope it sticks. We may end up with obedient kids who can yes ma'am you to death, but their hearts remain unaffected. What if, instead, we get to offer them the Gospel in their context, according to their bent. Even more, as a mother, I get to to share the Gospel with them according to my own bent! God allows me to teach my children about Jesus in a way that fits my personality and suits their needs all at the same time. Most days I have no idea what that looks like but it's a trajectory I feel good about, so that's something! So while my two little ones are masters at make believe, I cannot MAKE them believe. I present them with the setting, the characters, and the plot of the most incredible story that ever was, but what happens next is not up to me. What I can do is pray, and pray hard, that I would know how to give them the Gospel with their bent in mind. Oh that I would know them well enough to love them in a way that is tailor-made to their bent, so that when they come under the sound of the Gospel it would resonate deeply in their hearts. So play on darling children of mine. Build your forts and slay your dragons. Continue to make believe until one day you find the One your heart has been longing for all along. Because once upon a time....