Friday, May 26, 2017

The (Bad) Language of Free Will

My 7-year-old daughter came into my bedroom the other night about an hour after I’d put her to bed.  I knew she was upset because she was sucking her fingers, a habit that she has mostly kicked but sometimes creeps up when she is worried or sad. I put my arm around her little nightgown clad body and asked her what was wrong. “Sometimes I say bad words in my head,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks, “and I am afraid that God will be mad at me since he knows what I am thinking.” I hugged her close and dried her tears and asked her if she would ever say those bad words out loud. “No way,” she exclaimed, half-laughing/half-crying. I asked her why. She answered, “because I know they’re bad and I can’t choose what I think but I can choose what I do.”

These kids, right?  Sometimes they can take the most difficult topic, in this case free-will, and make us see it in an entirely new dimension. My daughter’s dilemma is all of ours. All day long we have thoughts that drift in and out of our consciousness, some good, some bad and we have to constantly make decisions about which ones to act upon. As a Christian family, I try to make sure we are rooting our decision making in the teachings of our religion. This does not make life easy.

I often consider myself fortunate that I don’t struggle with the concept of religion. If I believe that there really is a God (I do) who imbued humans with an immortal soul (I do) it only makes sense that God might give us a primer on how to protect that gift. But without our immortal soul  – what are we? We are animals with instincts and desires and an inclination to do whatever it is that we want. Our bodies and our minds are these amazingly complicated tools with great capacities for good and evil. God, with his ultimate understanding of the nature of humanity, gave us the owner’s manual for our bodies and for our soul. That means having to sometimes choose the way that is difficult, but as our parish priest once said, “We should not confuse what is easy with what is true.”

Back in my bedroom, I confessed to my daughter that sometimes I say bad words in my head too. She giggled and used her spitty fingers to wipe away her tears. “What?!” she asked, incredulous. “You think bad things too?” I said I did. “Well, I can imagine that you think bad thoughts, but does Daddy?” I told her that, yes, even her beloved Daddy says bad words in his head sometimes. It’s normal. She hugged me and thanked me for talking to her, but if I’m honest she taught me just as much as I have ever taught her.

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