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Nicole Johnson contemplates the gift of child-like faith, and the difficulty of watching children struggle when prayers go unanswered.

He was old enough that losing his teeth had entirely lost its novelty. It was more of a minor annoyance, a slight interruption in the day’s activity. This particular dental dilemma happened in the presence of my younger nephew; which only posed a problem when my son stopped mid-step, reached into his mouth to grab the tooth and marched right over to the garbage to throw it away.

My sister’s reaction was impressively swift and quickly reminded us we were in the presence of “believers” when she fished the tooth back out from the trash and loudly proclaimed, “You will need this to put under your pillow”! Not missing a beat, my son laughed at his momentary lapse in all things fantastical and placed it right in his pocket for safekeeping until he could get home ... and put it in his own trash can. 

It’s what we do as parents; this dance along the line of what is real and what is not. We go to great lengths to create the magic of the tooth fairy and Santa Claus and invest much time and thought into how to keep that magic alive. I can still remember the feel of excited anticipation on Christmas Eve as a child. The thought of this kind, jolly man arriving at my house with presents made just for me. And he must have been a forgiving man at that, 'cause I’m certain I danced my way between the nice and naughty list throughout the year. The gift of child-like faith. 

And then, quite uninvited, it sneaks in. The questions, the doubt. Is there really a tooth fairy? And if she is as small as I envision, how on earth does she carry all those teeth around? Funny how I heard mom and dad sneak up to the attic that Christmas Eve after we were tucked in. What could they have needed up there? And how ironic that mom and Santa had the same wrapping paper? Huh. 

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As our kids grew older and the logic of it all took over, I have to admit, there was an element of true satisfaction in being able to openly claim the role of Santa. I shifted from wanting the magic to live on, to quite simply, wanting the credit. I wanted my kids to know that it was me and dad who put all the thought into what they wanted and needed and worked hard to give them that perfect Christmas morning. “It’s me and Dad! Us! We are the ones making your wishes come true!” I just wanted them to get it. “We love you that much.” 

When I think about my boys being young believers, I realize that Jesus fell nicely into that same category of “super nice guy who loves me.” Why question His validity, especially if everything about him worked in their favor? And then, unexpectedly, with age comes questions. Much like the year Santa doesn’t magically come through with the number one wish list item of a pony or inground swimming pool, our children’s eyes and ears are opened to the more unfortunate workings of our world and suddenly Santa isn’t the only one in question. 

And so the journey begins. For most of us, long and winding, with hills of trust and valleys of questions and doubt; Christmas mornings when we get every last thing on our list and those that feel as though our letter never made it to the North Pole.

It’s what we do as parents; this dance along the line of what is real and what is not. #catholicmom

I do wonder. How difficult is it for Jesus to watch our lives unfold without the ability to narrate along the way? I imagine the weight of carrying the explanation behind all of our unanswered prayers is crushing; unbearable when coupled with our resulting anger and doubt. Does He ever want the credit? When things go as planned in our life and we are happily making our way along without a care in the world, does He feel even the slightest pang of resentment when we ignore the real gift-giver?

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All those prayers we think are ignored when the answer comes in a different package than expected. Will He explain it all to us the day we finally come face-to-face? Will He have to? Or is that the whole point of faith - the whole foundation of trust - not questioning the master plan, or the architect. Just knowing He’s there through the highs, the lows and the in-betweens. Always. Faithfully. Beside us. Gently turning our gaze to the cross if only to remind us; He loves us that much.

Copyright 2021 Nicole Johnson
Image: Maare Liiv, FreeImages.com; Canva Pro