Practicing Parents

Muddling Through Mystery

elizabeth dilley

~by Elizabeth Dilley

A year ago on Maundy Thursday, our little family attended a worship service that used the music from Jesus Christ Superstar to tell the Passion narrative. The soundtrack to this musical characterizes many of our days in the latter part of Lent, and certainly throughout Holy Week. What a perfect integration with worship! We were unreasonably excited for Maundy Thursday worship. We knew our kid would be squirrely, but such is our love for this musical (notwithstanding the anti-Judaistic sentiment that unfortunately characterizes most interpretations of these events) that we thought it would be okay.

It was Not Okay. She squirmed. She danced. She needed to go to the bathroom. She decided she did not need to go to the bathroom after all, and resented being made to sit on the toilet. She was not at all appreciative of the music to which we just wanted to sing along. She did not understand the deeper meaning of the story. She was having so much fun on this sad and solemn night. At one point, following Communion, I was found to be hissing rather loudly at Bacon Baby in response to her joy and playfulness, “Now is not a time to play! Jesus has just died!”

Well, that put a damper on things rather quickly.

A part of me felt terrible when I saw her reaction: Jesus Died! We’d never hidden the reality of death from her, even though at this point she was just shy of three. But Jesus – the man she learned about at church and sang about at least every week – he was dead? Dead like Great-Granddaddy dead? Oh, what sadness.

A part of me felt relieved that she understood the gravity and the mystery of this. But then she wanted to know if it would all be okay. If you think that talking about death is hard, choosing to not talk about resurrection to a crying kid is even harder.

It is my natural inclination to try to make things all better all the time, but Maundy Thursday is a formidable challenge to that. In fact, the bald truth of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is that things in the world are Not Okay. A lifetime in the church lets me know, even during the Triduum, that it will be okay soon – but my sweet child is just a little one! She doesn’t know it’s going to be okay! Is it my job to tell her things will be okay? Is it my job to just sit with her in the sorrow and lamentation, even as people are walking out of the worship service smiling and shaking their heads in solidarity with me?

This is the hardest thing for me about being a parent. I hate sitting with the sorrow and the lamentation, even when I know it’s both real and true and also not the end. My sweet child has a lifetime of sorrow and lamentation ahead of her (don’t we all?) and isn’t it my duty to provide respite from all that grief? Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s my job to be a safe harbor for my child, but no, it is not my job to try to bear away every sadness she experiences. It is my job to equip her for the handling of these big emotions, to live in the midst of her pain and sorrow and to keep her eyes open for grace and mercy.

In the end, I hedged. I told her she had to wait until Easter, but one of the things that is true in our faith is that Jesus being dead is NOT the end of the story. So, maybe she could just be patient for a couple of days until Easter.

She did not like that answer very much at first, but at last she let us bear her back to the car and to home, where we could talk about these mysteries some more. You better believe we cranked up Jesus Christ Superstar for the drive.

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