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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Jesus Wants to Go to Outer Space – A Child’s Game Becomes a Teachable Moment

First appeared on Blogcritics.

There are always those times that parents want to remember what their kids say because it is so poetical, beautiful, or mysterious, and then there are those times when we would like to forget they ever said certain things. One time when my daughter was little she talked about dreaming “of a princess dancing on moonbeams.”  That dream inspired me to write a poem for her, and in that way I never forgot her 4-year-old voice and the exciting wonder of her little mind. Flash forward ten years later, and my son (now 5) was going through some of the things left by my father (who passed away last year). He had a deep connection with my Dad, and now after all this time he constantly talks about “Papa” and has interest in all things about him.

Jesus 2In the box there were old papers, a letter opener, a magnifying glass, a small screw driver, and other things. One item my son discovered was a small statue of the Holy Child Jesus that my father used to keep on his desk. He immediately took possession of it, and soon after (as I was going through the papers) he began playing with the small figure as if it were a toy. I saw him bringing Jesus into the game that included knights in a castle, a farmer and his animals, and Donald Duck – a veritable potpourri of unlikely characters.

I went over, knelt next to him, and said, “Jesus is not a toy. Papa kept Him on his desk to honor it.”

“Dad,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I made Jesus king of the castle. He is wearing a crown, right?”

“No, Jesus is not a toy. Don’t play with him. Put him on your desk.” My son then put Jesus on his desk, turned around, and got back to playing. I went about going through the papers again and doing other work. A short time later I heard him counting down as if preparing for lift-off. “10, 9, 8, 7…” I glanced over and now Jesus was inside a spaceship (to be specific, my old Lost in Space space pod that my son has also commandeered) ready for blast-off.

I said, “What did I tell you about Jesus?” 

My son responded, “But Dad, Jesus wants to go to outer space.”

Intrigued by his creativity and thinking that he doesn’t understand fully about Jesus yet, I sat down with him and figured that this was a teachable moment. Yes, we overuse that word “teachable” sometimes, but I felt that if ever there was a time for it to be used this was it. I started asking him questions.

“Do you know who Jesus is?”

“Yes,” he said. “His first name is Jesus and His last name is Christ.” We went on like this for a few more minutes. The he got to what I thought was the fascinating part. “His father is God and He lives in heaven, and Jesus is small and is missing Him. So that’s why He wants to go to outer space.”

“To see his Dad?” I asked.

“Yes, exactly!” my son’s eyes lit up the way my daughter’s did when she spoke of her princess on the moonbeams.

Convinced that it would be best to leave more theological discussions to when he got older, I told him that it was okay for Jesus to go on this trip to see God. “That’s good because he has a gift for Him,” my son said. When I asked what that was he pointed to the statue and said, “See, He is carrying the world.”

Jesus 1Not to confuse his childhood enthusiasm with profundity, I still felt there was something he knew innately that he may not realize for a long time to come. Jesus was returned to the space pod, countdown began again, and then there was a blast-off that included a trip around the basement playroom.

When the game was over, Jesus suddenly appeared on his desk next to pencils and crayons. I inquired as to why and my son said, “He’s not a toy. I think I’m going to keep Jesus just like Papa used to do.”

I rubbed his head affectionately and said, “What a great idea.”

There was a teachable moment in my house that day, but I think it was more for me than for my son. My initial instinct was to crush his creativity because I felt he was denigrating something sacred, but in truth this was just a small statue and my son’s motivation in his game had something good to it. He understood that a child wants to be with his parents because that was what he felt as well. If I had stopped his game I would have been ruining what turned out to be a lesson for us both. 

Now as I write this the statue of young Jesus remains in its special place on my son’s desk. There will be more trips into space for Donald, the knights, and the farmer without him. I am sure that my Dad is smiling somewhere, happy to know that this small statue invokes his memory, and it will be with my son forevermore.  

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