This opportunity to work closely, directly and intentionally with your child may not come again, with all of these wonderful possibilities for your child’s psychological and spiritual formation. Let me pour some meaning into what I think might be a once in lifetime opportunity.
I was driving my thirteen-year-old son home from his hockey practice late one winter evening. After some minutes of silence, he asked me, ‘Dad, what’s the point of life?’ Now what kind of question is that from a thirteen-year-old? Ask me again where do babies come from? We had had ‘the talk’ some time ago. I guess he did not want to hear that story again. His questions had obviously graduated from ‘what do ducks think’ and ‘how does water stay together’ to the ‘big league’ of questions-why is there something as opposed to nothing (he has asked me that one too), if God is love why is there pain and suffering in the world, and now, that evening from the back seat of my car, onto questions of the meaning of life. This was no trivial pursuit type of question. Louis B. Mayer of Metro Goldwyn Mayer fame used to start his meetings by saying ‘Let me ask you some questions so I can give you some information.’ My son was giving me some important information that night - your children’s questions, the questions we are asked by the young people we teach and care about, will do that too. Their questions will give us important information about them, particularly now in these strange times of pandemic and isolation.
For my son, his lived experiences then may have had him feeling like life is way too much of a mystery, a strange puzzle, maybe a series of bad outcomes, a double bind that felt unsolvable (e.g. is there something wrong with him? Or, is there something wrong with life? Or, something wrong with God, if there is one). Maybe life was beginning to look like a big cosmic joke to my son.
That evening, I recall much from my son’s question, ‘What is the point of life?’ First, I remember that I didn’t know how to respond. Adequately enough anyway? I recall pulling up some ‘God talk’ script into the work room of my mind. Love God. Believe in Jesus. Do good. I had the Christian propositions, all there in a file folder of my mind marked ‘what a Christian father’ is supposed to say in situations like this. I had my answers ready to let fly. I remember thinking then that at least delivering my Christian scripts to him would buy me some time. He had asked me an important question, a real question, an authentic question. He had given me some information in asking the question. I would need to step up with an answer, eventually. But what was that information he was giving me, really, in his question?
The question hung in the air. I am a teacher, and we teachers are question askers. The thought also crossed my mind to use that tactic we teachers often use. Why not ask him! So, I did. ‘What do you think is the meaning of life?’ Putting it to him would by me some time and provide some much-needed relief. He simply said, ‘I don’t know.’ Again, I was not sure enough of the information he was giving me.
This I did know that evening and know thankfully to this day. That given my relationship with my son, developed by doing things together, he felt free and trusted me enough to ask a very deep, personal question. I also know some academic things too about questions and questioning. The research about eye contact between counselor and young kinds who have endured trauma, is that kids will open-up with answers in conversations, in stage- bits and pieces of information-when they feel safety and trust. That the best counselors and teachers get to the bottom of things, the truth of the matter, over time and built on safety and trust, not on slick questions or even important ones. Safety and trust are developed on hikes together, colouring pictures side by side, doing the dishes together. Best to have these conversations side by side, in activities shared together.
Relationships matter more than anything. I also knew that not every question is asking to be answered right away, then and there. Like every hill is not a hill to die on. I knew that telling him that night that ‘Jesus is the answer,’ while 100% true, was going to be taken up by my son then as a ‘there Dad goes again.’ The best I could expect would have my son responding like the boy in the catechism class who was looking at a picture of a steam engine and asked, ‘What is that you are colouring?” He replies, ‘It looks like a steam engine, but it must be Jesus.’
I knew then and know today that Jesus spent three years hanging out with a bunch of slow to understand men, most cowards (at least to start with) and asked them questions, lots and lots of questions. He did so to give them information. Why did you doubt? Who do people say I am? Are you going to leave me too? A larger group of men and women observed him asking lots of different kinds of people piercing questions, each question asked getting to the heart of the matter with different questions. He poked them right at their loaded up cultural and religious assumptions, beliefs, theories and values. Whose picture is on this coin? Do you want to be healed?
Let’s bring it down to earth here. Do projects with your child, particular on the flex day we have introduced into our program of studies. Build a square foot garden box outside; plant seedlings in egg cartons, do household chores together, get your yard ready for the upcoming summer (we will get summer I think), design a prototype together for some ‘solution’ to a problem your child would like solved; bake cookies together…above all, listen to your child, their questions and answers. And bless you as you work with us to continue on with designing creative learning experiences for your children.
Bernie Potvin, MSCS Principal