She asks her hardest questions at bedtime, when we flop open the pages of Scripture atop her flowered quilt.
We flip through pages of her Bible, rustling like onion skins between our fingers. We land on the story of David and Goliath, and I read aloud the story of a heroic boy who felled a giant with one smooth stone.
In the bluish light of her bedside lamp, I can see on her face what’s coming next. She wears the hard questions in her knitted brow and tilted head.
“Mom?” she asks. “Why would God think it’s OK to kill Goliath? Isn’t all murder wrong?”
Instead of groping for a theologically sound answer to a reasonable question, I look straight into her eyes and give her my usual response,
“That is a really good question, Lydia. What do you think?”
Some parents might consider this a cop-out – answering a nine-year-old girl’s question with a question. But the way I figure, the most important part of this bedtime ritual isn’t the answer, but the freedom to ask the questions. I pray, even, that she and I might find joy in the questions.
Under the quilt most nights, my daughter and I trade theories and exchange hypotheses, which produce even more questions. I watch how our detective work lights up her hazel eyes — eyes that look like mine. People say this daughter is my “mini-me,” but here’s the big difference between us. She has the courage to ask the questions that I never dared ask at her age. Questions like:
How do we know that Jesus is real?
Are people just robots, and is God pushing the buttons, or do we decide how to live?
Why did God let Adam and Eve eat that apple?
If God loves us, why would he let bad things happen?
Even when I don’t have answers, I can give her the gift of a safe place to wonder. I pull her in closer to me, cradling her in the crook of my arm.
On this night, I tell her again how I found Jesus right in the middle of my questions, when I finally got around to admitting that I had them. I tell her about the five words highlighted in the study notes of my own Bible, right beside the story of the world’s most famous doubter, Thomas. The words are these: “Silent doubts rarely find answers.”
And I tell her how when I quit running from my questions, I found some of the answers in the most unlikely places: the tarnished stories of our faith heroes.
“That’s how we know the stories are real, Lydia,” I said, “These aren’t fairy tales. The characters in the Bible are real and weak and broken. They made mistakes, just like we do.”
I lean across her side of the bed to switch off the lamp. We say our night prayers, and somewhere in the darkness of the room, the unanswered question about Goliath still hangs in the air.
But tonight, neither of us is haunted by the question mark.
Because we both know there’s one thing worse than the question that can’t be answered. It’s the question that was never asked.