Parenting with a Pastor: Talking Vegetables Can Only Do so Much
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Confession time: I find it difficult to teach my children about God. Yes, I’m a Pastor who specializes in ministry focused on children and families. Yes, I’m a mom with two kids. No, I don’t always know use the first set of skills to help with the second.
It was easy when Isaac was little, or easier at least. I’d throw some Veggie Tales on the T.V., we’d sing Silly Songs with Larry (which are always awesome, because Water Buffalo). I’d have a quick chat with Isaac about what the message of the story was, we’d pray the “Now I lay me, down to sleep” prayer, and the day would end pleasantly. Sometimes a pesky voice in the back of my mind would ask me how I felt about a human woman being equated to a rubber ducky, but mostly I was okay with it. Then seminary happened, Isaac got older, and it got harder to feel good about Noah’s Ark or the Exodus being a stories told by vegetables. How do you explain the deaths of everyone not on the ark? Or the plague that struck down the first born son of every Egyptian house? How good did I feel about the “be good and everything will be alright” message? Obvious answer at this point was that it didn’t sit well. I mean, Where’s God When I’m Scared will always be a classic, but the overall theology in Veggie Tales and I no longer agreed.
The more I learned about the intersection of privilege, and the depth of the racism in our country, and the ways the Bible has been brandished as a weapon against those on the margins, the less I found easy ways to talk to my kids about God. We pray, sometimes. I try to talk about my sermons and the things I’m trying to teach kids at church. I talk about how God shows up in our lives, and in the stories we enjoy all the time. I even worked alongside my dad to create a Bible class weekend based on Marvel and the way stories of superheroes act as metaphors for God and Jesus. The class was to get kids ready for baptism, and it went well overall. Unfortunately, Isaac didn’t seem to internalize much of it, and at times it’s like all we’ve discussed goes straight through his ears and out into the ether. How do I help my own kid find God?
This week, God showed up. Sometimes I forget that we don’t always have to chase God down. Sometimes God shows up in my living room and reminds me who shaped the universe. Isaac was having a bit of a meltdown. Okay, it was a giant meltdown. I lost all patience and had no clue how to calm things down. We were on the phone with my parents, because when in doubt I call my parents, and things shifted. Ike and I had gone through some of the standard approaches to panic attacks. We’d counted, and matched counting and breathing to physical activity. My mom was trying to help, Kelsea and I were chanting “ you can do it” at him like the weirdos we are, and we were doing all we knew, but nothing was getting through. Then my mom took the phone to my dad, and my dad started sharing an incredibly important scripture with Isaac (at which point I had a “duh Shaye, God”, kind of moment). He began to paraphrase Isaiah 40:30-31. He told Isaac to repeat to himself, “ I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I can run and not grow weary. I can walk and not grow faint. I can rise up on wings like eagles and soar”. I saw a glimmer. We hung up and I made Isaac repeat it over and over. I tell you parents, when things get hard, don’t be afraid to lean heavy into the weird. I yelled it at him, in an encouraging, cheering kind of way. Over and over I yelled each phrase and insisted he repeat back to me. He was quiet at first, and there was a ridiculous amount of eye rolling. I’m honestly a bit shocked that they didn’t roll out of his head. He was still really upset, gripped in the anxiety of feeling inadequate at school. He resisted, and I grabbed him and held on and made him chant it over and over with me.
In one of her books, Anne Lamont tells a story about her adolescent son who kept bumping into her around her house. She finally grabbed him and hugged him and held on for awhile. It’s stories like this that help me even approach adequate parenting, because she reminded her readers that we all need physical reassurance, even, and maybe especially, adolescents and teenagers. So, I held on even when Isaac seemed embarrassed, even when he pushed away, because he was still crying and the pushing was half hearted. I made him repeat after me over and over. I wouldn’t let go of his physical body, or his downward spiraling spirit. I would not let him descend into that pit of self hatred and doubt that is so easy to get trapped in. I wasn’t doing this alone. God would not let him to descend into that pit.
So, this weekend we made gingerbread houses with graham crackers, because really people, and I asked the table how God is like a gingerbread house. I got a bunch of blank stares and I had no response to the question either. They aren’t all going to be gems, I guess. Then, as Isaac and I struggled to construct a few stories of sugar and more sugar, I asked if he remembered that scripture Papa had shared with him. He thought for a second, shoved more sugar in his mouth, and then said “I can do all things through God who strengthens me?”. We went through it together. I hope he knows I wasn’t referring to the construction project we were undertaking when I brought it up, but I guess in the end it doesn’t matter. We learn as we go. Talking vegetables can get us started, but they can't take us all the way.