Making Space for Our Doubts
"Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”
—Howard Thurman, in Meditations of the Heart
The Christmas Eve pageant had been beautiful and sweet, but as a stressed out director of religious education, I will admit that the best part about it was that it was over. I sat myself down at the community potluck with my hot cocoa and relaxed for what felt like the first time in a month. That’s when seven-year-old Gabe (not his real name) appeared with a solemn expression.
“Ms. Becky, If I ask you a question, do you promise to tell me the truth?"
For future reference, if a child under ten asks you this question at Christmas time, EVADE. The question I had so naively walked right into was "Do you believe there's a Santa Claus?"
I am certain that all the color drained immediately from my face. Despite being close with Gabe’s family, I had absolutely no idea what his parents or siblings had told him, what hard-won magic I might unravel with my answer.
I stalled, sipping my cocoa casually, hoping I looked thoughtful and not panicked. I dodged the question: ”I don't know. What do you think?"
He paused and sighed, and then said sadly, "I don't think he exists.”
Gabe explained that he was skeptical about the physics of Santa Claus being everywhere around the world simultaneously. I assured him that was a reasonable doubt to have. "I wonder, though," I said, "What if Santa can be everywhere at once because he's magic?"
Gabe considered that. He wasn't sure he believed in magic. But he also wasn't sure he didn't believe in magic.
If there was no Santa, I asked, then who brings the presents? Gabe suspected his parents did. At this point I felt sure all was lost. I was watching a rockslide along the edge of his childhood as reason and logic stormed through his mind. But then Gabe had a new thought: What if Santa is real, but his work happens through parents? So parents, he said, are like helpers who make sure all the presents get put out because Santa can't be everywhere at once. "Like God,” he said.
His words hung there between us, a sparkling guiding star. We talked about Santa and God and magic and the meaning of truth for almost thirty minutes. He left our conversation with as much doubt and as much belief as he had entered it with. I left with a treasured glimpse of grace. This was our gift to each other: companionship through a moment of sacred struggle, where the holy imagination built us a way.
Fellow beings in the struggle of understanding our purpose, may we remember and make space for our doubts. In molding the clay of our lives, may our toolboxes be filled with everything we need, from skepticism to magic to vulnerable questing and questioning. May our wonderings be a gift to each other.