“Mom, what’s an atheist?”

The 30-minute drive home from our homeschool co-op is prime conversation time in our family, specifically with Jeremy. It’s in this contained space that he’s asked about mammograms and his birth family, the war overseas and what exactly are our family rules about dating. Jeremy is never short on tough questions, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that before we even pulled out of the parking lot, he asked, “Mom, what’s an atheist?”

This question turned into questions about Islam and Buddhism, the difference between creationism and evolution, and why Jewish people don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah. I explained how the Bible reflects various literary devices, like allegory, allusion, metaphor, and paradox, to convey deeper messages, that a literal meaning isn’t always the intended meaning. We talked about intelligent design and how evolution can still be a companion belief to intelligent design.

When I told him that Jesus is mentioned a couple dozen times in the Quran, he was dumbfounded.

Bless his little curious heart. 

best buds

We are headed down a rough road with this one, not because he’s trouble or difficult or turned in a way that scares me. No, the rough road will be paved by all of his hard questions, the ones I can’t answer, the ones I didn’t see coming. Jeremy is the one who will keep us on our intellectual toes.  

To be honest, I don’t mind it. His questions keep me questioning, and I think that’s a good thing. Yesterday I told him, “We need to live in the tension between faith and doubt. The scary part is when we stop caring.”

That remark seemed to calm him, particularly since he had just asked a classic: “How can we say that we’re right and everyone else is wrong?”

My answer: “Your goal should not be to tell people they are wrong. Your goal should be to treat others as Jesus instructed us to. With love.”

When Jeremy asks hard questions about God, my first instinct is to connect with him clergy, to put the pastor on speed dial and hand Jeremy the phone. One day, that might be what I do. Right now, it’s not what I do because I don’t want to break the habit of him coming to me first. I never want to close the door to his questions, no matter how hard they are, because the time will come when his instinct is to go to someone else instead of me. I want to delay that day as long as possible. 

When we lived in Amarillo, when the boys went to traditional school and I worked at the magazine, Jeremy and I had a nightly routine of laying in my bed and talking. We called it “Talk Time.” My little extrovert had so many words to get out and we weren’t together all day, every day like we are now, or like we were before living in Amarillo. Talk Time was an open floor. Topics varied from mundane to pivotal, and like usual I always answered with as much honesty and clarity as possible.

Come to think of it, I wrote a blog post about Talk Time six years ago when he asked about his adoption. Before you read it, grab a tissue.

I’ll close with this: I’m under no illusion that this is the hardest phase of parenting. I know we’re standing at the base of a mountain here. But I take each level seriously. How we parent now affects our children later, just as the things we did in the beginning brought us to where we are today. Our control and influence will wane, so I’m indulging the captive audience and running with it because one day he won’t come to me. Things will happen in Jeremy’s life that I know nothing about. He will make decisions and go places and do things and none of it will circle back my direction.

So yeah, I’m not turning away the questions. I’m sitting here, listening, and waiting for more. 

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