Every parent worries about how they will handle the big three conversations with their kids: God, death and sex. My boy just turned two so I felt pretty comfortable that all of those conversations were a ways off.

But life has a way of surprising us. My son loves to sing, dance, draw and do puzzles. While he has an obsession these days with pirates and dinosaurs, his new favorite song is the old Peter, Paul & Mary version of “Kumbaya.” We mostly sing the first stanza:

peter, paul & maryKumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya
Oh Lord, kumbaya

When we were sketching the other day, he told me, “Draw kumbaya.” Drawing with my son is a pretty ephemeral process; we use one of those erasable, magnetic sketch boards. No matter how beautiful his drawing might be, he erases it with the pull of the handle about five seconds later. If I want to save anything for posterity I need to have a camera handy or be ready to pull the sketch board from his hands.

How do you draw “the eternal” for someone who has an attention span measured in minutes? I proceeded to write out the lyrics. But he wasn’t satisfied at all – which isn’t surprising, since he doesn’t read yet.

He kept insisting that I draw “kumbaya.”

I was a little slow at first, but eventually I realized he didn’t simply want a picture, he wanted to understand what he was singing. My son asking me to draw it was his way of communicating that. Other songs he likes to sing, like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Itsy, Bitsy Spider,” he more or less understands.

Though he didn’t know it, he was asking a very profound question. I started into an explanation of how there are some things we can see and some things that we can’t. This was pretty unsatisfactory–most of the vocabulary I had to use was new to him.

I had been thinking for a while what role God would play in our family life. I had just finished reading The Blessing of the Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, which talks about the importance of religion in community and creating a strong family, so it wasn’t as if I was unprepared for this. I had just always imagined that my wife and I would be leading the conversation, not our son.

In the end, I didn’t draw “kumbaya” for him. Our conversation returned to knights and dragons. I hope I’ll be better at explaining things the next time we revisit the subject of God. At least I have some insight now into why God is frequently pictured as an old man with a long beard. That’s something we all can draw.

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