A few nights ago Nicky casually mentioned to us that he hopes he doesn't go to hell.
My heart sank and I felt a bit like picking up the phone and yelling at whoever felt entitled to make this word a part of my five year old son's vocabulary. How dare you.
But we just looked at each other, and looked at Nicky, and started asking questions. What is hell? What is heaven? And he gave us his answers; bits of information gathered from here and there; his best making sense of it. And I felt relieved to hear that he doesn't really fear hell, not in the way that I fear he will.
As a child, I was pre-occupied with the supernatural in an unhealthy way, because I was exposed to things that truly terrified me. Books about demon possession. Casting out of demons at church. My movie and music intake was carefully restricted to the most innocent content out there, but I read, and saw things that were far more terrifying because I couldn't dismiss them as fairy tales and scary stories. I had a child's partial understanding and way too much information to process. I would pull blankets over my head even in the middle of summer, lulling myself into a feeling of safety so I could sleep. And being the highly sensitive and introverted child that I was, I didn't mention much of this to my parents. No amount of checking under the bed for monsters was going to help.
I've managed to leave this weird obsession (and some other childhood cripples) behind, but they will always be a part of my story. And now I see my son's story unfolding. I see God's love in his heart in the most pure and beautiful ways, and I am terrified of what other people will tell him, and show him, about God. And also what I will tell him, and show him, about God.
We talked about how God is love, the one who invented love. A little bit about heaven and death. This is the age, I suppose, where you start tiptoe-ing around the hard subjects, carefully introducing and praying for wisdom with a new kind of desperation.
I do not know what to tell my son about hell. I don't know what I believe about it. What I do know is that in all my letting go of my crippling fears, my us and them mentality, my Christian outsider identity, my unacknowledged sense of superiority.....that I feel God's love in a more profound way than I ever did when I was younger and Knew It All.
I was that girl--the one who ran through her house, looking in rooms and under beds and outside because she woke up to a strangely quiet house and was terrified that she might have missed the Rapture. I've laughed with friends who had this same experience, but it's dark humor. God came for your parents, and your siblings, and left you behind. You are not good enough.
Does Jesus live in your heart? Did you sin since the last time you prayed? If you were in a car accident tonight, would you meet Jesus or Satan when you woke up? Heaven's gates or hell's flames? (Cue smoke and red lights, you know what I'm talking about.....)
What if?......I would ask my parents over and over, inventing different scenarios. What if this? Would I go to heaven then?
I stand watch over my son's heart. He is growing up in a different kind of Christian culture, thank God. But well-meaning people will still plant seeds of fear in his heart. We all fear losing control of our children's intake. In Christian circles, usually people talk about fearing exposure to sex and drugs and foul language. (I hope for my kids to have a healthy sexuality that's not peppered with guilt and shame, to not ever be enslaved to any substance, and to know the beauty of a well-timed cuss word but to have a whole vocabulary of other words to use as well, but that's not really what this post is about.)
What I fear more than anything is what he will need to un-learn. I will surely teach him things and later slap my forehead and wonder what I was thinking. Because culture changes and we do flow with it, whether we like to admit it or not. I keep thinking about this part though-how the Bible says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In my own life, I have always been captivated by him. Most people are, in some way or another. It's the whole I'd be a Christian if it wasn't for the Christians thing. I was given so much good in my childhood, and I was given some confusion. Jesus has always been the constant, and so I know he will be for my children as well.
Knowing him, and his love, really is what keeps me trying. I've wanted to throw in the towel so many times, because of culture. But he remains in all his simplicity, preaching his revolutionary message over and over to the walking wounded. And in all my learning and un-learning, he has been there with me. He redeems whatever needs to be redeemed.
Help, help, help.