“Do you believe in God, Mama?”
A hard lump of something rose up from deep in my chest and got lodged in my throat.
This was the kind of question that pierced right to the heart of things, the kind that forced you to take sides, make a decision, woman up. The kind of question my 4-year-old daughter excels at.
“Well, that’s a tough one. Lots of people believe in different things. Some people believe that God is just another name for good energy or love. Some people believe…..”
“What do YOU believe?”
Her arms were akimbo now, eyebrows arched in a fighter stance. She was on the attack and I’d better be prepared. Or else.
“I… I’m just not sure. I…”
“Of course there is a God, silly! How else would we have gotten here?” My middle son popped up out of nowhere, salvation in ripped jeans and a Star Wars T-shirt. He grabbed her arm and they ran outside together, giggling at Mom and her funny jokes.
God! Of course there is a God! Duh! If there was no God, why would we bother lighting Shabbat candles or sitting through hours of holiday services or whispering the Shema into the darkness each night? Wouldn’t it all just be a bunch of nonsense then? Meaningless words and rituals that fill up space that could be used for much more useful things like algebra or gardening?
I grew up hearing stories about how faith in God had saved my aunts in labor camps, had kept my uncles safe in war, had cured baby cousins of their illnesses. As a little girl I listened to these stories with hungry ears and a full heart. God made sense then.
But, then, I grew older and I learned that my aunts lost babies in those camps, that not all the uncles came home, that many of those cousins never made it to their first birthday.
Faith! Faith! Faith! It was a like a chant in my house growing up, the solution to every problem, the answer to every argument.
I remember coming to my mom with worries about tests or illnesses or raging storms that were threatening to pummel us. Her answer was always the same. “Have faith!”
She told me faith was woven into my genes like freckles and crackly knees. All I had to do was look deep enough inside of myself and it would be there, a nest of warmth and safety with a steely skin that nothing could penetrate.
I spent a lot of years looking for that faith. It would come to me sometimes, in the flicker of candle light, a prophetic dream, an answered prayer.
But there were other times. Times when, no matter how hard I looked, I just could not find that safe place. Times when I wasn’t even sure there were any safe places.
The words that were supposed to be soft and comforting would grow edges then. They’d become sharp and accusatory. During those moments, my mother’s voice would resonate in my head. “Have faith! Don’t you have faith?”
Do I? The truth is, I’m not sure. And I’m OK with that. Because not being sure is just par for the course at almost 40. By this age I’ve learned that nothing is for sure. Health, safety, unbreakable bonds. Turns out they’re all up for grabs.
I’m at peace with this world of “no one really knows” and “maybe, maybe nots.” But my daughter, with her fear of night creatures and thunderstorms, is not. My daughter needs the world in black and white. She needs answers. She needs faith.
I hope I can help her find it.