A few years ago, I was driving one of my daughters home from the dance studio. She was in the back of the vehicle, sitting in just the right place so that I could see her in my rear-view mirror. It is a relatively short commute from the studio to our home, but in that short time, fantastic conversations take place. I cherish those drives.
During one of these commutes, out of the blue, my daughter asks me, “Dad…”.
“Yes?” I responded.
“What does ‘doing it’ mean?”
At that moment, every book on ‘How To Talk To Your Kids About The Birds and the Bees’ flooded my mind, as I searched for an answer on how to respond to that dreaded question…especially while driving.
“Well…um…it means…uhhh…sex,” I said– not all that confidently.
“Oh,” my daughter responded, clearly pondering my answer. A few minutes passed, then a few more– it felt like an eternity.
“Dad,” my daughter broke the silence.
“Yes?” I asked nervously.
“What is sex?” she asked, inquisitively.
Oh Crap, I thought. Now I have to address it. There is no escape.
“Well…umm…well…it is how mommies and daddies make babies,” I said trying to cover-up all self-doubt with a facade of manufactured confidence.
An eternity passed.
“Oh,” my daughter replied, still clearly pondering.
That was it. That was all she had to say. No more questions. The conversation, for the time being, was over.
I will remember that short conversation as long as I shall live, both as a nervous moment of parenting, but also as a lesson and a reminder of what it means to be human, sharing this experience of life with others.
However, it strikes me that as difficult, scary, nerve-racking and uncomfortable the conversation about sex might be, we as a culture encourage this kind of dialogue, as well as conversations about drugs and other behaviors, with far more vigor and urgency than we do about the one thing that all of us, all of humanity with absolutely no exception, shares in common.
That other topic that we seem to refuse to talk about? Mortality. Death. Our death. The death of others. The afterlife. We simply do not talk about it. Do you?
I have no idea why we don’t. Maybe it is because some people’s confidence and “know it all” experience of faith and the afterlife makes the rest of us feel inadequate on the topic. Therefore, we don’t talk about it at all. Maybe it is because the differences of opinion on the subject are more contentious than a conversation on modern American politics. Or maybe it is because we simply don’t know what happens after we die, and it worries or scares us. It even scares people of deep faith.
As a pastor, I see families struggle with the big questions of the afterlife, faith, God and death at the time when it is the most difficult to do so…after a loved one has passed, causing all kinds of doubt, questions, uncertainty and fear.
As my first column here, I do not intend to drive home a specific spiritual or theological doctrine, nor do I intend to convert anyone to any particular spiritual ideology. I admit that my perspective is grounded in Lutheran Christian theological training, but it is not the only perspective.
My point in this installment is to encourage everyone to talk about matters of faith, life, death and the afterlife with the same vigor and urgency as we encourage other conversations.
Don’t try to come to conclusions, but embrace the bigger questions. Embrace the questions and the conversation not because of what some of us may or may not believe happens after death (a conversation for another time perhaps), but rather to begin to prepare each of us for the inevitable. Only then can we begin to embrace the possibility of faith and spirituality in our lives…and in our deaths.