Parenthood brings many joys and many challenges. The former outweighs the latter in such measure that the challenges themselves become a privilege.
One such challenge is questioning - the persistent type you would expect from a reasonably bright 3-yr old. I am not referring to the litany of 'whys' that pour down like so many raindrops during the course of day - no, this is serious stuff, life changing stuff - and I am not referring only to them and their lives!
Some time ago, in a period that now numbers in months, a much loved parishioner lost her much adored dog. The kids were scared of the dog, as seems to be their wont. It was a big labrador, old and doddery - though nonetheless a wonderful hound to have around. Sadly, the dog died but at the end of a long and apparently happy life.
Without prompt some weeks after that event, one of my daughters asked me if Charlie was 'coming back alive'. I wasn't even aware that she knew that Charlie had died. I told her no, that when we die, we go somewhere else very special. 'Where has Charlie gone, daddy?'; 'doggy heaven darling'. Then the 'why' and the 'how'. Then the matter went quiet.
A month later, completely out of the blue: 'Is Charlie in heaven daddy?' 'Yes, baby, why?', I replied? 'Will he be on his own?' 'No, love, his friends will be there and he will probably be playing there now'. I explained that old and poorly dogs are more like young bouncy puppies when they go to heaven. 'Why did Charlie die?', she asked as she coloured in a penguin on her book. 'Charlie died because he was old and very tired, and so he needed to have a long rest'.
The subject dropped again, as quickly as it arose - until this weekend. The same questions, without any sense of upset, though large measures of genuine concern, poured forth as I drove us around Yorkshire. 'Is Charlie sad, daddy?' she asked completely out of the blue. 'Why do ask that, love?' I followed. 'He will miss Mavis, won't he?' 'Yes, I think so, but he was very tired and old and his legs were poorly and he needed his rest, so he is feeling much better now'.
This round ended simply: 'Charlie has a big juicy bone in heaven doesn't he?' 'The biggest bone he has ever seen', I replied.
Once again, a three-year-old hit my theology 'reset button'.