Easter is once again upon us. I feel kind of lost when it comes to this subject with kids. On the one hand, there is the joy of the Easter Bunny. They get so excited talking about what the fluffy-tailed night visitor might leave them. They always ask to leave carrots for him, to help him recharge for the rest of his night's journey. They love the egg hunt we do in the morning - this year it will probably happen as I am coming in the house from my night shift at the hospital. They work as a team to find eggs and divide the spoils up evenly.
And I love giving them these things. I try not to be too materialistic with my children. While it is undeniably fun to receive gifts, I don't want them to focus all of their energies on having and receiving these things. Spending time with your family, having new and interesting experiences, exploring your beliefs and thoughts about God and the Universe, and sharing close relationships with loved ones and friends is what I want my children to value. Not things. Things pass away. Things get broken, outgrown and old. Things often create stress, whether the stress is related to acquiring them, keeping them or sharing them, things always create stress.
During the year, my husband and I do not buy a whole lot for our children. Rarely do they receive new toys or clothes throughout the year. They have what they need, but they do not get everything that they want. That is on purpose. I think it is important to teach children that life is not about getting things. It's about what you give. But as I said, I love giving them things that make them happy. They're kids. Kids are simple. They are easy to please. How many times have you heard about the baby or toddler that plays for hours with the box the gift has come in? Many times all it takes to make my daughter happy is a few kind words, or to know that you have really listened to her ideas.
My daughter is adorable. She wants to do a presentation to her class about mythical creatures and how they really do exist. She has her evidence of Santa, provided last Christmas by Santa's failure to take his glasses with him and the fact that he accidentally dropped a glove and his sleigh license. She has the money left by the tooth fairy. She wrote a note to the Easter Bunny this year asking for him to leave some evidence of his existence. She told me that she intends to scientifically prove that these creatures exist.
She has begun to ask me if Santa and the Easter Bunny exist. I didn't say no. I told her today that I believe in their spirit. The idea that someone is out there who is unselfish to the point of trying to give so much to others is moving to me. Whether Santa was actually a person long ago or not, I want to promote that spirit of giving. Is it wrong of me to want to promote that spirit? Is it wrong to do it in this way? My daughter responded to my comment about believing in the Spirit of Santa by saying, "Well, I believe in him AND the Easter Bunny as solid, ACTUAL beings. I mean, how could they leave such wonderful gifts if they weren't solid?"
The other issue that troubles me is that we are currently struggling with the subject of lying with my boys. I have had to on several occassions punish Christopher for lying to me. The latest situation involved, as I said in a prior post, him telling our pediatrician's nurse that I was not home when she called. I was indeed home, and I was very angry at Christopher for telling the caller that I was not there. Am I being a hypocrite? I don't want my boys to think that lying is okay...and perhaps they will if they feel these myths of Santa and the Easter Bunny are being supported by me and Steve. This feeling is closest to the surface when I am tucking my boys in at night. Tonight Christopher asked me if the Easter Bunny was like Santa. "In what way honey?" I asked. Christopher responded,"Can he see you when you are sleeping?" To which I replied with an emphatic, "Oh, yes he can, so you better go to sleep." As I leaned over to kiss Daniel on the cheek he asked me, "God can see you when you are sleeping too, right Mommy?" I of course told him that yes, God can indeed see you when you are sleeping. "God doesn't lie, right Mommy?" was Daniel's next question. "No, God does not lie. God tells the truth all the time," was my careful response. Meanwhile I was thinking, "what are they going to think about me as they get older and learn about Santa and the Easter Bunny?"
And finally, we arrive at one of the biggest, thorniest (if you pardon the complicated pun) issues. The crucifixion, death and ressurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Easter is REALLY about, right folks? The fact that our Lord and Savior was willing to humble himself to come to earth in the form of a human baby, be born in all the blood, sweat and tears that that involves, and live a human life for what we think to be 33 years. That Jesus developed and grew within his family and accepted his earthly parents' authority until he was old enough to fulfill prophesy. The very idea that Jesus spent his days in human form teaching, helping and loving others is amazing. That he put his own human needs last and helped the very lowest of the low is a tough act to follow. That he was willing to give of himself to beyond the point of death is humbling to think about. That he could have wiped out the Pharissees, the Sadduccees and Pilate with a single look if he so chose is powerful. That he instead accepted the cross he was offered, didn't run and knew that in order for humanity to live he must die is stunning. All this is incredible, and we haven't even touched the topic of the resurrection yet.
How do I communicate how important a step this was for humanity to my young children? My children, at this point in time have difficulty thinking past the concrete concepts of the here and now. They understand hunger. They know what thirst is. They are well acquainted with desire and temptation, but they couldn't explain what they are. The need for redemption is not something that is so simple to communicate to a three year old. Even a five year old is not quite ready to grasp the concept. My nine year old is probably ready, but I struggle with some of the images that the crucifixion, death and resurrection present. I can't sanitize it for her, but it is a very violent story. The idea that human beings could nail another person (even though they are really God incarnate) to a tree is horrifying. That they would leave them on this tree, unable to move, in deep suffering is horrendous. That he was forced to wear a crown of thorns is cruel. To explain that he was stabbed with a spear to make sure he was dead is the stuff of nightmares for a three year old.
These things only describe the beginnings of what to a young child is the scariest kind of ghost story they could hear. To hear that the body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linens (like a mummy) and hidden in a tomb is way too much fodder for a young imagination such as my Daniel. I would feel abusive as a parent to then proceed to tell him about the resurrection as described in the Bible. He would be terrified.
So do I hold off sharing the truth of the Easter story until he and my other children are older? Or is this a great disservice? Is substituting the Easter Bunny story, while fun, robbing them of the true meaning, or allowing them a grace period? I hope that I am allowing some room for grace. I am holding a place for Christ with the Easter Bunny. I am stretching my children's minds with fanciful tales of this rabbit who delights in leaving gifts in preparation for learning about the true gift the human race was given on this weekend. I am giving my children time to develop their hearts and minds. Time to develop the capacity to absorb the importance of the Passion. To see it as more than a horror story that will give them nightmares.