Saturday, November 03, 2007

discussing theology with a four-year-old

Disclaimer: This is probably one of those cases where it would have been better just to provide a straight transcript of the talk. Alas, I didn't have a recording device rolling, and my memory just isn't that good.

Lately Ian's been thinking a lot about monsters. I have to make a confession here: I might have played some small part in this by leading him on in thinking that monsters inhabit the woods behind our house. I didn't plant the idea--just watered it, I suppose, by not quickly denying it, and by playing dumb when he felt me touch the hair on the back of his head. What can I say? I'm by no means anxious to stamp out any sense he might have that this world is a mysterious place, even if that mystery has its spooky elements. (What fairy tale doesn't have its evil forces as well as good?) Besides, I figure he's probably going to believe in stuff like this whether I go along with it or not. What's more likely to help a four-year-old who's got it in his head that there might be monsters in his room? Explaining them away, or teaching him about the God who is sovereign over anything this world can cook up? (And wouldn't I feel bad if there really were monsters, and I'd just told him to get over it?)

So, in the past couple of days we've been having this struggle over the position of the light switch. He keeps wanting to leave the hall light on--not when he's in his room (he seems to have no real issues with thinking something might be in there while he's sleeping)--but when we're all in the living room, and he just sees that dark open doorway down at the end of the hall. I've tried the logical approach--have you seen a monster in the house? have you heard a monster in the house? (even tried smell, taste, and touch, just to make sure) so what makes you think there would be a monster in your room? See, I'm fine with him thinking there might be monsters, until it starts costing me money on utilities. The answers were all "no," but he still wouldn't be swayed--there might be monsters, just because.

Today, I tried another angle. I told him prayer would be a good way to deal with monsters. I explained that God could protect him. Ian said that God's not here--he's really far away. (OK, he's got the transcendence part--now we just need the immanence.) I tried to explain that God is everywhere, but we just can't see him. He reminded me of what I'd told him before--that even though we can't see God in person, we can see pictures of him, when he was a baby and then when he was bigger. (He does remember some of what I say.) We talked for a while about Jesus, how he was born as a baby and grew up like any other kid, and eventually became an adult. I explained that once he became an adult some people who didn't like him killed him. Ian wanted specific details about that part--how exactly did they do it? I then explained that he came back to life. Why? Hmm--good question. Because he's God, and you can't really kill God. (Not very good, I know, but I'm trying to tailor this for a four-year-old, remember.) So then he went back to heaven, but he said that he'd still be with us, that he would live in our hearts if we believed in him.

At this point, I think it was getting to be a bit much for him. I tried a fairly lame comparison. You can talk to someone on the phone, even though they're not in the room and you can't see them. Something like that, God can hear our prayers, when we talk to him, even though we can't see him. Then there was something about God coming on a plane, and I said God doesn't ride on planes, and he said it's the other god that rides on planes (remember?), and I said I wasn't familiar with that god. Then I backtracked and said there's only one God. I explained that God has angels (it's a lot easier to explain that God can send angels wherever we're in need of help, than to explain how he's everywhere all the time)--you know what angels are? Yeah, they have wings, and they're shiny. Right--so God sends them to help us and protect us from bad things, including monsters. Yeah, they can kill it with a sword. I have a sword too (a rather sturdy cardboard tube--probably from a roll of wrapping paper or something)--I can kill the monsters with it. Yeah, but you're small--the monsters wouldn't be afraid of you like they would of an angel. Maybe a small monster.

Anyway, in the end, he seemed to like the idea of adding a prayer at bedtime for good dreams and that no monsters would get him. I found one in my prayer book that seemed about right, and we used it tonight. It's not as cool as the prayer Fr. Stephen's son came up with when he was four, but it should suffice.


Jim N. said...

I picked up a tip from Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon: Pray each night to St. Archangel Michael to come 'with the armies of God' and clear the house of all 'monsters'. Perhaps an icon of him with his sword branded over the bed?

I've actually added that to my regimen of before-bed-prayers and I've been sleeping quite a bit better since [insert recent history].

(How rude... to speak in code on somebody's blog. Oh well. )

Trevor said...

Yeah, I've been thinking a bit about getting Ian an icon or three for his room. Right now, I'm trying to be considerate of Julie's feelings by keeping the icons around the house to a minimum. I have the Pantokrator in my closet, where I pray, along with an icon of St. Peter the Aleut that some kind person bought me :-) Beyond that, I have a little diptych that I keep set up in our bedroom, where I pray when I can come "out of the closet." Now that Jenna's sleeping in our room, that's rare enough. I bring the diptych into Ian's room for prayers, but nothing's in there permanently.

I've thought it would be nice for him to have an icon of his patron (too many Johns to choose from, but I think I've settled on Damascene), St. Michael (for the very reason you suggest), and Christ. (All icons are icons of Christ, but I think Julie's a little more comfortable with prayer in front of Christ specifically than others. Plus, it may be a bit much to expect a kid his age to grasp how the image of Christ resides in his saints.) One problem, though--I've seen a lot of icons of St. Michael, but few that I really liked.