We gather around our fire pit often in the evenings. As warm flames are wont to do, they inspire us to speculative conversation. My kids are no more insightful than anyone else’s kids, but their frankness reminds me that even though I’ve wised in maturity, much of my dazed adulthood was spent trying to forget or deny the simple truths I knew as a child. My daughters’ questions are like conduits back to days of innocent clarity.
One wanted to know what happened to the babies we lost in miscarriage, and I explained how we pray for their salvation and never, ever lose hope in God’s infinite mercy. Another asked about the eternal destiny of our late hound dog Rufus, the family pet for all their lives until he died a few years ago. Then a baby toad hopped into the fire and evaded our shoo’s until he lost his pitiful battle to nebulous hot coals. Another asked about the worm, Debbie, corralled in yonder red bucket.
To varying degrees, whether for the sake of upstage-ment or sincerity, the girls expressed angst over losing these creatures forever. “How can we be happy in Heaven without Rufus, Debbie, and frogs to catch?” Then they thought of friends and family. “What about people we love? What if they don’t go to Heaven?” We talked about the Sacraments, venial and mortal sin, free will and grace. I’m comfortable discussing that, even speculatively.
Not long ago I avoided such topics too deeply because I thought if I ended a conversation by invoking mystery, I’d stifle their inquisitiveness or, someday when they are older, harm their faith. I’ve heard atheists complain their parents always resorted to, “Well, it’s a mystery.” I wanted to give these kids firm answers. But then I realized the fullness of truth does lie in the mystery. It’s good to guide kids as far as we can, and then allow them to ponder beyond for themselves.
“Girls, I don’t know if our lost babies, our Rufus, your Debbie, or that frog will go to Heaven, but I don’t worry about it. Christians are people of prayer. We are people of faith, hope, and love.”
Not surprisingly, weeks later my ten-year-old asked, “Mom, then is it possible to love someone into Heaven?”
It occurs to me still as I write these words, we simply do not know. We pray for grace. When we pray for someone else, I think of such prayers as inviting that person to our spiritual campfire, as asking Christ to surround that person with grace so that in the glow of communion, we see that person more luminously, as God sees him or her, so we then can know and love that person more perfectly, and so ultimately that person comes to see God with us. I think my daughter’s conclusion was wiser than anything I could have said though, “We’ll only know if it’s possible if we never stop trying, right?” Yes, that’s it.
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