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I Taught You to be Afraid: A Letter to My Children

The last time I felt the I-did-this-wrong guilt this heavy was the day your big sister died. That day and for weeks (months?) after, I agonized over every minute of her last day, wondering what if she died because of my mistake?

Today, I fight back tears and the urge to rend my clothes and don sackcloth and ashes over something I know I did. This guilt has no what-if escape hatch.

I taught you to be afraid of God. And you learned well.


Last night, you sobbed into my arms as you confessed that you don’t always believe. You are afraid that you will go to hell if you don’t believe, but it doesn’t make sense and what if hell and heaven aren’t real anyway? Worse, you seem terribly ashamed of the thoughts you think and the questions you have.

I am so very sorry. I’m sorry for telling you fearful things and exposing you to others who told you these things too.

When you talked about your doubts, I heard you speak my own words back to me. You heard us talk about God being sovereign, controlling all things. And you asked the next question, the one I can’t answer either: why did God make Satan? Why would a good and holy God make and ordain evil? How can you say that God is sovereign and in control and also say God is good and is not the author of evil?

I don’t believe that way about God anymore. But I guess I never told you that. I should have.

Now, I cling to Jesus, the gentle kind merciful man I see in the gospels. When nothing else makes sense, I believe in Jesus.

But when I said, “Jesus loves you,” you whispered so quietly, “I didn’t think Jesus would love me until I believe.” And my heart shattered.

In my mind’s ear, I hear angry preachers yelling “God hates you” and “babies are vipers in diapers” the way you heard them. I’m instantly haunted by all those arrogant churchy words I absorbed for so many years about the depravity of humans, our spiritual deadness, and God’s wrath and hatred of sin and sinners.

I taught you about a wrathful God who hates the human beings God made and condemns them to eternal judgment unless they submit to him. No wonder you fear making the wrong choice. No wonder you don’t believe that Jesus loves you.

I have been so caught up in untangling the lies I have believed about myself and God that I didn’t see how you were tangled up in them too. I am so sorry.

I want to remind you of some things that you never have to doubt.

I love you. I will always love you, even if you decide some other answers to your questions make more sense.

I have thought all the same things. I have asked all the same questions. Do not be afraid of asking or thinking or learning. You are using the brain you were given and I am so proud of you for not just accepting what someone says without question.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Frederick Buechner

Will you please forgive me for teaching you fear instead of love?

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