Monday, September 23, 2013

The skeptical child: Why won't he just take my word for it?

My younger son questions and second guesses us way more than our older son did. Really, he does this to everyone. He wants to check things out on his own, make sure that people won't let him down, etc. It took me a long time to figure out what about his questioning and micro-managing bothered me so much. It dawned on me yesterday with glaring clarity. He questions his parents for the same way we question God (1st commandment stuff). He worries that we haven't thought of everything. He wonders whether we will be sufficient. When I realized so suddenly why I get so irritated with his questioning and reminding and second-guessing, I simultaneously had two thoughts. First, I felt utterly convicted of doing the exact same thing to my Heavenly Father. Second, I wondered "well, what about Christ's exhortation to have faith like a little child?" Maybe 8 yrs old (really, not even that because my son has done this since he could talk, really) is beyond the pale of this "child-like" phase.
question marks photo: question marks question-mark.jpgSo, I was wondering if you had ever written about this conundrum.
-- Haleigh Morgan

The questioning and second-guessing… is this really sin (when it comes to God?)  I think the answer is both yes and no.
I think some children are simply less trusting than others. I have a daughter with an incredibly open, trusting heart. If I tell her I love her, she believes it. If I tell her some person she’s never met loves her, she’d embrace them like a sister, immediately. Then, there’s my son: he wants evidence to back up every claim. He does not simply take my word for it, does not ever trust what I say simply because I am his mother.
Is this sin, or a character flaw, or neither? I think it depends on the spirit behind the questioning.
(See the stories of Zechariah and Mary in the beginning of Luke. Two questions- two very different reactions from the angel.)
Is it a request for evidence?
Healthy skepticism is a good thing.  With this, we are not carried away by every wind of doctrine. We test, question, compare, investigate.  And, we serve a God who provides evidence. We must always remember this! We are not called to have blind faith, to trust our feelings, or to take someone else’s words.  God gives us evidence of His goodness, over and over and over again, throughout Scripture, and most importantly in Jesus on the cross, and risen from the dead. 
Are the questions an excuse for disobedience?
As in, “You must answer every one of my objections to my satisfaction or I refuse to obey (or trust, or move from this spot.)” This is the kind of questioning we also do with God, as it seems to provide us with an excuse for continued sin. We do not understand His ways in a certain situation, therefore He cannot be trusted, therefore we can do whatever we want.  This is sin, of course.  God’s ways are not our ways, and we will not understand all of them.  Yet, because of what He has given us—evidence of His love in Jesus—we can trust, even with some questions unanswered.
So with my son, I have tried to bend myself to his personality somewhat, giving more details and explanations to him than I would with the other children, when it is possible and/or convenient. However, he also is expected to submit, even with questions unanswered, in situations when he does not fully understand “why.” He does not have the right to demand answers, and withhold respect or obedience until he gets them, but he can request them.
And I will say, he tends to give his daddy more trust on most things- probably because his father has proven himself to this guy time and again- proven that HE does not just take things on authority but researches them, figures them out for himself!  These two people are simply built this way: analytical, skeptical.  And this very easily can appear to be arrogance and pride (sometimes it actually is, to be sure.) But I am not convinced that this is always the case.
Life is more complicated, and child-like faith more difficult, for the analytical person, in my opinion.  They will not stop questioning. I don’t think they can. Yet God made them this way, and these become His historians and systematicians and apologists! And God bends Himself to them, by providing evidence and proving Himself. . . and forgiving their arrogance.

It really *is* such a nuanced situation. It often calls for great discernment and almost a seeing into the heart. That is such a difficult task. It leaves me to wonder how often I have assumed he was demonstrating a lack of trust and was really just expressing his God-given desire for precision and evidence. See, this right here, is why I am so glad that the Cross and absolution is at the center of everything. If I misjudge his intentions, it is not unforgivable, just as it is not unforgivable if he truly is being sinfully obstinate.
I think I like the idea that perhaps he is just one to want evidence. I think that if that is so, it will serve him well in the future, especially if he can learn to rein it in when the situation dictates and tolerate ambiguity when it is required.

God, grant us wisdom and grace with our skeptical children! Wrap us both in your forgiving love, and stoop down to meet our needs of heart, soul, and mind.  In Jesus, Amen.

What do you think?

Have you been challenged by a skeptical child?

What advice would you share with other mothers?

photo credit photobucket

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