My preschooler and I awake to a soft pitter-patter.
We watch as God wrings cotton ball clouds over thirsty garden bed. Droplets trickle down pane and sink into blackened earth, turning cracked soil play dough and wilting stems rulers, and right before our eyes, the silky water transforms the landscape.
“Read a story.” My son chooses our rainy day activity.
“Jesus died cross.”
I search his face. He’s sprouting another inch and growing a vocabulary. When did my firstborn become a real boy? A running, tickling, squealing, ball-kicking, bug-finding, inquisitive boy? Wasn’t he just my baby? Like the six-month-old I hold in my arms? Before I can blink, the scene’s changing like my cilantro plant flowering white.
Did he just ask for the crucifixion story?
I’m surprised. But should I be?
Almost every night my husband and I plant seeds in our son’s mind. His tiny heart. Under soft light of lamps and twinkling stars, we read stories from the Bible. Tales whispered and retold for generations: The fall of Adam and Eve, Abraham’s faith, Joseph’s dreams, David’s victory, Jonah’s reluctant obedience, Daniel’s escape from ferocious lions — the collective stories that tell of God’s grand pursuit and love for humanity, and ultimately point to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
And this past Lenten season, we spent forty days nourishing our body with brown rice and Scripture passages on Christ’s journey to the cross. We watched snippets of the Savior’s life in the Jesus film. And when Easter arrived, we celebrated the empty grave— — he resurrection — with roasted chicken and vegetables.
Could it be tiny shoots are now sprouting in our son’s inner chambers like perennial chives pushing out of frozen ground? For on this drizzly day, it amazes me that our son chooses the crucifixion story over all his picture books. Is it possible our son’s ready to accept Jesus as his Savior?
I pull out the Bible our son received on his dedication, and we flip to the familiar pages. I read. He listens. He points to Jesus’ hands and feet, the cross, dark clouds. He repeats the word “angel” when I read of the empty grave.
“Turn the page.” He urges me to read more. “Again.”
I read the pages like a song on repeat, and he’s curled up on my lap, engrossed in the illustrations. His chubby finger points to the pictures as the rain streaks down the bedroom window.
“We all do naughty things — it’s called sin.” I seize the opportunity to expound the story, stumbling over words. “This sin separates us from God … uh … because God’s holy. But the good news is Jesus took your punishment. He died on the cross for you.”
Argh. The gospel’s sounding like algebra. How is my three-year-old supposed to understand my Christian jargon? Only I can turn something so simple into the quadratic equation. I may as well throw in the theological terms of atonement, propitiation, and redemption. How do I tell my son that Jesus died for his sin? Took his place? How do I explain the gift of salvation? My heart wrings like the clouds outside, as I will for him to grasp, know, and understand the good news.
I take a deep breath to try explaining again, but my son’s high-pitched voice interrupts my thoughts.
“Jesus got owies.” My son points to the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet.
My heart quickens. Of course. Owies. It’s the perfect word. “Yes, Jesus took owies in his hands and feet for you and me.”
The next few minutes, I manage to find simple words. And this time, I’m positive it all makes sense. I’m sure he comprehends. But just when I think he’s ready to receive, he jumps up to play with his toy car. Did anything sink into his heart? Did my words fail? Could I have explained it even better? Will he ever understand his need for a Savior?
The rest of the morning is a flurry of activity: play, quiet, snack, and lunch time. Yet, in the midst of the bustle, I see a tiny shoot.
“Jesus loves you.” I remind him during one of our activities.
“Yes.” My son surprises me, and I marvel at his belief.
Is this what it means to have child-like faith? To say “yes” even when you don’t fully understand? Though my son doesn’t understand the entire gospel, he knows he’s loved. God is at work in his heart. It’s a process. A journey. Why do I worry?
At naptime, I watch my son drift to the land of nod, witness the steady rise and fall of another morning past, and notice the rain has stopped. Outside, the sun’s rays push the clouds away. The foliage is damp with precipitation. The ground nourished wet. The plants in my garden drink deep to the roots. Is it me? Or are my basil plants an inch taller right under my nose?
For, every spring, after sowing tiny seeds into blackened earth, I ask the same question. Will my garden grow? And every summer, God transforms the tiny seeds into full grown plants, complete with fruit and flowers. I plant. The Creator transforms. It’s an annual miracle.
It occurs to me that the same miracle in nature can happen in my son’s heart. I don’t need the right set of words, or fancy explanations. I must continue to read the stories and pray, trusting the living water — the Son — will sprout life in my son’s heart.
The sky clears, and my heart’s as light as the drifting clouds. I smooth back my son’s hair, planting a kiss on his forehead. “Jesus loves you.” I bury truth deep in his inner lobe. And as he sleeps, I watch my garden grow seeds of faith.