Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Question.

Emma, my seven-year-old, delayed bedtime the other night with a question.

"Dad," she said, "I have a question."

I wanted to be the dutiful dad, but I was a little perturbed that she'd rolled out of bed--she was supposed to be asleep. Nevertheless: "Shoot."

"Well, I don't know exactly? What the question is?" She talks like that sometimes, turning her words up at the ends of phrases, so it sounds like a bunch of questions. I'm sincerely hoping she grows out of it.

"You don't know what the question is?" I said. "Like, you don't know how to ask it?"

"Right. Like my mind? Can't think of the right words?"

"Why don't you just use whatever words come to mind," I said, "and we'll figure it out from there."

No go. She literally did not have the words to express her question. All she could say was, "It's about mankind." Oh, and this: "It's like my heart? Is asking the question? And my mind? Can't figure it out." She brushed her hair out of her face. "It does have to do with God, though."

I decided to offer a suggestion. "Is it, like, about the meaning of life?"

She moved her hand like she was waving off the suggestion. "Well, kinda. But..." and here she trailed off, and I wished her forehead was transparent, because I could tell her brain was working overtime to express whatever feelings she was feeling. "I just... my mind? Can't get any rest."

I sent her back to bed, and she continued to ruminate on the question for the rest of the night. Dutifully, I went upstairs to tuck her in, and this is when things got a little crazy.

"Maybe you'll figure out your question while you're sleeping," I offered.

She smiled. "I hope. It's like my heart is asking the question and my brain isn't following. Like I've been digging in the dirt, and I hit, like, a hard thing? Like cement or something? And I've been digging with a shovel? So I need to, you know, change tools."

Now it was my turn to smile. "What does that mean?"

"I just have to go back to the beginning and figure out what pieces of the puzzle I do know, then use those to figure out the question."

Did I mention she's seven?

Boy, I felt hopeless, as a father. I desperately wanted her to be able to articulate this question, but I couldn't figure out how. Fortunately, I didn't try to force anything--at least I had that much going for me. I just let her know that God was giving her that question, and that he would help her figure out what it was in due time.

I left the room to check on her brother, then came back for a little more spiritual discussion. "Dad," she said, "I figured out something. The puzzle pieces? Those are, like, memory verses, and other parts of God's word. And the cement? That's, like, the devil? And sin? So that's how I can figure out the question."

You know what I said? "Emma, someday very soon, you're going to be teaching me."

She had two other things, though: "Dad, when I do figure out the question?" And here she smiled so big--I wish you could've seen it--"I'm going to tell everyone around me."

The other thing: "I know why God's doing this. Because I'm going to be a missionary..." (A quick aside: Emma has known, since the age of five, that she's going to be a missionary. We trust her.) "... and so God is teaching me how to, you know, follow him when it's hard? Because that's what missionaries have to do."

I have no doubt that Emma and God are pretty tight. It will serve her well in her missions efforts.

And in that moment, I also had no doubt about God's love for me. Because I had such a swell of boundless love in my heart for my daughter, and the thought struck me: I love my daughter this much, and it's impossible for me to love her more than God, so he must love her even more, though I can't even comprehend that amount of love. And if he loves her that way, he must love me that way.

The thing about our spiritual conversation that really struck me was the way Emma was able to share The Question, to participate in The Question--that same Question we all have, in one way or another. The Question of God, and the way our hearts, whether we know it or not, are always on the lookout for Him. And sometimes we find Him with our hearts but mislabel Him with our brains, calling Him "knowledge" or "the delicacy of a feather" or "a crimson sunset" or "a '67 Mustang."

So let's bring this whole story home: What is your Question? Do you even know you're asking?

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