When John Dyben’s young daughter got scared one night, he struggled to find the words that would allay her fears. In his efforts to comfort her, Dyben realized that simply holding his child was as valuable as having the perfect answers to her questions.
Like all little children, my seven-and-a-half-year-old daughter gets scared sometimes when she is trying to go to sleep. If the wind is howling just right or she happened to see something scary on TV, her imagination can begin working overtime and she may see a figure in the shadows or hear the sound of a sinister laugh in the wind.
This past Monday was one such night. Shortly after putting her to bed, she came into my room crying that she was scared. She said she was sure she heard the sound of a bad guy laughing and she was petrified that someone was going to get all of us. Her tears cut my heart, as they always do, and I held my daughter tight and assured her that I would not let anything happen to her. I walked her back into her room and lay down beside her to continue to assure her that all was well and I would keep her safe.
“Yes I know you will always protect me, Daddy, but what about when you go to sleep?” she asked.
I think I may have begun to get a little nervous myself at this point.
“Sweetheart,” I replied, “there are great big angels all around this house, and they never sleep. They are here just to protect us. They can stop any bad guy from getting in here, so you can sleep well knowing they’re around.”
A brilliant and irrefutable answer, if I do say so myself!
“But, Daddy, what about when the angels miss? I mean like when kids are kidnapped or robbers do break into people’s houses or like that great big tsunami that killed all of those people—what about those times? I mean, at least some of those people had to have had angels too, right?”
Ya know, sometimes kids have a really sneaky way of interrupting perfectly comfortable theology.
“How do I get out of this one?” I wondered. And then it struck me—when did I start avoiding these questions? When did I begin to put blinders on my beliefs so as not to consider the most obvious questions and problems of our existence? I mean, I deal with problems and traumas and tragedies every day—and I am taken aback by this simple question.
Ironically, I think I may have started ignoring these questions a bit more when my daughter and I began talking a few years ago—when she started to ask questions. And this question brought light to a simple trap that I have fallen into in my own thinking: the belief that I must have answers that will make her feel good. I don’t really know where it comes from, but there it is.
And so I considered her question and realized there is no perfect answer. I realized that making my daughter feel good was not my highest call. And so I drew my breath and simply stated, “I don’t know, sweetheart.”
And so I lay there a little longer, I held her a little tighter, and I went back to my original answer, “I am with you.”
D. John Dyben is a therapist, educator, and pastor. He currently serves as the clinical director of a treatment center and teaches at a state college. He is an avid writer and musician who loves being a father more than anything in the world. Mr. Dyben lives with his wife and two children in South Florida.
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