“What? What are you talking about?”
“I mean, is it true that on Easter, it’s not the Easter Bunny that brings us our candy baskets, but you and mommy?”
I wish that I had a picture of my face through my 8-year-old’s eyes when she directed this question at us recently before bedtime. She probably saw a sheepish grin spread over our faces combined with looks of vague disappointment. She would also have noted that her father stalled out on his question. It took a few seconds for me to respond.
The reason I hesitated to answer is that I had been dreading this question for years. And my dread is NOT just because the question represents the end of an era of parenting for my wife and me.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once said that meaning is established across a lifetime in four distinct phases. First, as a child, the dominate path to meaning comes by wonder: the gleam in a child’s eye on Christmas Eve night as she dares to peek out of her window to steal a glimpse of Santa and his sleigh. Second, as a young person, meaning looks much like a quest for truth: questions are asked; logic is sought; coherence is deeply valued. Third, as one grows older, meaning takes on the appearance of a desire for love: the search for community and understanding, the deep desire for someone to commit themselves to us. Finally, as old age creeps along, meaning morphs into a desire for security: what happens to me when I die; what can I really count on in life.
If Zacharias is right, then my daughter’s question represents a departure marker. And I’m sure that the look on our faces reflected some sense of lament at the loss of wonder. I expect that, even though it may be necessary, my daughter’s quest for truth has just begun.
There is something more to our disappointment, however, than parental nostalgia. Truth is, I hate that question. I hate that question because of what it says about the manner in which my children come to “know.” What I wonder is this: why do I have to choose between something that is “make believe” and something that is “real?” When did those two things get pitted against one another?
I’m sure there is some brilliant psycho-socio-philosophical answer to that question, though, I’m not able to offer it here. I simply know that something profound is lost in my child’s life when she ceases to see the world as infused with magic and mystery and trades it for a world that is scientific and logical. I’m not suggesting that she doesn’t gain something in the exchange—science, after all, has given us all kinds of neat-o things like iPhones and the like. But I hate the thought that she suddenly has to choose between the two. Just because the Easter Bunny exists primarily in my child’s imagination doesn’t mean that there is no “truth” to its existence.
I also hate that I have to qualify this last statement. Of course, I have not intention of suggesting that the Easter Bunny replace the joy of our risen Lord in our celebration of that holiday. Nor do I think that we ought to welcome any pagan notion into our collective Christian consciences without serious critical evaluation. I simply want for my child’s pursuit of Christ to include, not preclude, an ability to access him in her imagination, in the place where dreams come true.
I’m sure that other childhood characters are soon to follow. I expect that the Tooth Fairy will be the next to fall, followed by the loss of Santa Claus. And I will lament them each in their turn. In the meantime, I’ll just try to keep her guessing with the response I gave her on that fateful night, “Sweetheart, just because something is make-believe doesn’t mean that it’s not real.”