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If God Is At the Neighbors’ House, How Can He Be Here Too?

“Mommy, will you come with me to the bathroom? You haven’t done it in awhile,” he wheedles, an expert in emotional manipulation at just four years of age. He’s right – I’d just returned from 8 days in Bolivia and hadn’t been available to keep him company in that most fearful of rooms in our home.

I’m not an expert in child development, so I have no idea if this is true, but I cling to hope that his current fear of being alone and especially of sleeping alone in the dark is just another stage of growing up and thus will pass, hopefully soon. When I’m feeling especially pressed for time or exasperated and frayed by the volume and intensity of children at the end of summer, I would rather rip my hair out than stand in the hallway outside the bathroom while the boy pees.

'Child Imagination' photo (c) 2010, Cesar Mascarenhas - license:

Bedtime, always challenging time of day for me because I’m so over being the responsible adult by then, has become another dreaded drama. Every night we cover the same ground. Every night.

Yes, you have to go to sleep – everybody sleeps. No, you can’t stay up later. It’s your brother’s turn for the top bunk – you have to sleep on the bottom bunk right now. No, you can’t trade beds. No, you can’t sleep with your brother. Stay in YOUR bed. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Monsters are just stories – they aren’t real.

Desperate to close the door and clock out of mommy-duty for the night, I pull out the big guns. You can pray, honey, because God is always with you – you don’t need to be afraid.

But even the big guns of God’s omnipresence and protection don’t convince this boy.  He protests, “But he isn’t here, Mommy. God is at the neighbors’ house.” I can smile at that one. I don’t smile when he says, “God isn’t here – I can’t see him.”

How do you explain a spirit? How do you describe the indescribable? What if you yourself struggle to understand and believe that God is Divine omnipresence and really is always with us?

After closing their bedroom door last night, I found myself cloaked in uncertainty at the words I’d used to comfort my son. Once again I’m a child like him, confronting one of my personal weaknesses – believing what I cannot see. I ask questions, I test things, I touch and taste and smell so that I can understand. But I can’t do that with God. That’s why we call it faith, after all – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

I look around and find no reasonable explanation for the beauty, variety, intelligence, and complexity of life outside of a supreme being. I believe this. But a personal God? A God who was born into a newborn body and grew up like we did, peeing and pooping and vomiting and maybe even eating his own boogers? Sometimes the particulars of what we believe blow me away with their craziness.

How is it that parenting can so easily uproot and expose uncertainties I’ve long kept buried? I suppose it’s the constant needing to explain how we see the world and why we do the things we do in simple child-friendly terms. It exposes how complicated we’ve made things one so many levels. Maybe we make things complicated because we struggle so much with the basics.

When it all seems ridiculous, I have to remember what I’ve experienced myself. This is what the people of Israel were told to do — when the going gets tough, remember what God has done in the past and trust God to do it again.

While I may be unable to explain and prove doctrines and theology, I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by peace that passes understanding in the worst moments of my life.

I have seen Jesus change me, his teachings transforming the way I see myself and others and enabling me to forgive and give second chances.

I know how Jesus’s promises for the future have empowered me to see the ugliness of life here and instead of disintegrating in grief and despair, rise up and work in confidence that together we can repair the brokenness, at least a little, and show people little glimpses of the ultimate healing to come.

Maybe these are the things I need to tell my children — not vague statements with big words but concrete stories about the God I trust. These are the stories that speak to the little girl in me.

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