My husband and I aren’t particularly religious. We don’t go to church and we rarely refer to God in our home. If anything, we practice and teach kindness and acceptance, maybe on the heels of Buddhism. That’s not to say we don’t believe in a higher power, a God, but we aren’t associated with a religion and we aren’t concerned about organized religious beliefs. We stand firm that a person should find their own path to God and that their relationship with a higher power should be personal.
It was always important to me to let my son discover God, his faith, and spirituality in his own right and time, so that he would have little to no question about the importance and validity of that relationship. I promised him as a little baby to guide him in whichever direction he chose and to foster his desires for more knowledge if that should be the case.
You can imagine my surprise when he came to me one day, in tears, screaming about a little red boat on the ocean with God. He was barely three years old and he had been looking at a photo of me and my husband and he asked ‘where was I?’ when the photo was taken. I explained to him that he wasn’t born yet. This sent him into a meltdown of confusion and sadness as he continued with his story about the ocean, the red boat, and God. According to him, that’s where he was before he was in my tummy. And he was calling to me from this boat until, finally, I heard his call. He spoke of God as very kind and comforting and said that God never once left him alone on the boat. Months later, when he anxiously asked me what Heaven is like, I told him that I would guess it was much like the boat and that he would simply be returning to where he came from. He looked right at me and said ‘Oh, okay then.’ Clearly God and this boat had left him feeling secure with life/death/heaven.
My son has always been more hyper-aware of the underlying themes in conversations, movies, and music for a child his age. He wasn’t the Frozen fanatic because the parents got lost at sea, and even at three years old, that bothered him deeply. Cinderella had the same impact. He asked me very early on about God and Heaven and death. He seemed already have an idea or two about these concepts and we would joke that he had ‘one foot in the ether’. We did the best we could with his age at the time, but he developed a strong desire to know more. His answers came to him in his sleep.
He began waking up in the morning and telling me about his dreams. According to him, God would visit him during the night. He explained that God was a man, God was old, and God could break dance. I thought that the last notion was a bit iffy until my son also started break dancing. I offered to take him to a Hip Hop class but he refused. He would just learn it in his sleep, he said.
I wrote most of this off as little kid silliness, until he had a medical emergency that shook our entire family. For almost a month, he had to sleep in my bed with me so I could watch him for bleeding. He would wake in the night, sweaty and anxious. Then one night he told me that he wasn’t afraid of the hospital anymore because God told him that the body that he talks with wouldn’t go to Heaven, but his ghost body would. Intrigued, I asked him why God would tell him something like that and he explained that God just wanted him to not be afraid anymore.
Was this true?
Was God showing up for my kid when he was working through some way-too-heavy-for-a-toddler issues? Was God actually visiting this little child in his sleep and pacifying his fears? Where was this coming from? From his pre-birth story to his dreams and odd knack for all things Holy, we were actually starting to believe that at the ripe old age of four, our son was developing a genuine relationship with God. A positive relationship–one that was bringing him courage and peace. One that was teaching him to break dance in his sleep.
Not long ago, while lying in bed one morning, staring at my little sleeping miracle, he awoke to tell me that his wishes I was his age, not older than him; he wishes I wouldn’t have to go to Heaven before he does, and that he doesn’t want me to go without him. As tears well in my eyes, I feel lost for words. Instead, I hold him tight and tell him I love him and remind myself quietly that perhaps this is yet another way my child is going to teach me how this life thing works. If God brought him to me on a boat, and will continue helping me parent him through life’s journey (even in some of the toughest arenas), then I respectfully accept the invitation.