“Until and unless Christ is experienced as a living relationship between people, the Gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until Christ is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through concrete bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on by words, sermons, institutions, or ideas.”
I don’t talk to my kids about the Bible or religion or spirituality. You may think that makes me a horrible parent and an even worse Christian. Stay with me.
The truth is, I don’t want to taint my young children with their Daddy’s wobbly theology or weak-kneed faith. But when they ask - I’ll tell them what I think might be possible.
Last Sunday was different. We were sitting at Dairy Queen, treating the kids to some ice cream because they (mostly) behaved during our Spring photoshoot. (Click here to see the pictures.)
Out of the blue, Ben (my seven-year-old) asked, “Daddy, when is Easter?”
“Next week,” I told him.
I paused for a minute, considering the implications this Holy Day has had in my life for the past thirty-something years. Usually, I would only respond to the question asked, but for some reason, I decided to dig a little. I’m thrilled I did.
“What’s Easter about, Ben?”
His sky blue eyes grew wide on that skinny little face, and he leaned toward me with his fingers outstretched like my Nanny does when she’s telling a great story, and said, “Dad! It’s when the Easter Bunny sneaks up to your house in the middle of the night and leaves you a HUGE basket FULL of candy!”
Lindsey and I grinned at each other across the table, and I said, “Okay. Awesome. You’re right. Anything else?” (This was the exact moment when I knew I wouldn’t get into Evangelical Heaven.)
Cara, who attends an Evangelical Christian preschool came to my rescue. She threw her hand up, and her mouth fell open at the same time. This sassy little one, who has no whisper, yelled, “Jesus!”
We laughed again, and I asked, “Okay, what about Jesus?”
“It’s when he died, Daddy! Duhhhhhh.” And she rolled her eyes, sassy as can be.
I paused for a moment.
Should I go on? Do I press the issue?
She’s only five and already scared to death of the Easter narrative: the nails, the whips, the blood, the screaming.
I wouldn’t let her watch Game of Thrones with me, so why would I talk to her about this equally gory story?
I took a deep breath and engaged once more, “Well, according to the story, Jesus actually died on Friday. Easter is when he was resurrected.”
The two blue-eyed babies tilted their heads in unison and shared a confusing glance at one another when Ben said, “He what?”
“Resurrected. Jesus came back to life again.”
And without skipping a beat, Ben said, “Oh! Like a zombie!”
As I was hanging my head in shame, my always funny daughter threw her arms straight out in front of her - in Frankenstein fashion - and said, “Jesus woke up and said GIVE ME BRAAAAAINS!”
Well, I died.
I hope you’re not offended, because it was the funniest thing I’d heard in a while. Kids really do say the darndest things.
Once we regained our composure, I agreed with Ben’s assessment of the story. I mean - the kid has a point.
“So what happened next, Daddy?” My littlest one asked, her dimples the size of dimes on each cheek.
“Well, he cooked his best friends breakfast, hung out for a few days, and then he ascended to Heaven.”
“It means he went up into Heaven to live with God.”
“So how did he get there?”
And my little zombie boy, with the certainty of a Southern Baptist Seminarian, said, “In a helicopter. Duhhhhhh.”
I’ve been devouring the Bible for the past few weeks. Spending two and three hours at a time, pouring through the yellowed, coffee-stained pages of my granddad’s old Companion Study Bible. The stories are familiar, but it somehow feels like I’m reading it for the first time...again.
This seems fitting. After all, Easter is all about death and resurrection.
The faith of my childhood flat-lined in March of 2017. This is when I publicly asked the hardest question I never wanted to ask, and lost my last church job.
Since that time, I’ve processed who I believe God to be. And who She isn’t. I’ve labeled myself a Christian Agnostic (a phrase that still fits). And I’ve worked through some fear, anger, and apathy. There was a two-year period where my mountain-sized doubts seemed to overshadow my mustard seed faith.
And yet, the mustard seed remained.
I keep choking back tears, writing this one. Why? To be honest, there’s a little fear that some of my friends who’ve come around in the past couple of years may run away, fearing that I’ve started drinking the Evangelical-Biblical-Literalist-Everything-is-Black-and-White-Just-Take-a-Magic-Jesus-Pill Kool-Aid again. But that’s not true. I’m just not angry anymore. I’ve grieved the death of my childhood faith, and I’ve learned that I had resurrection wrong the whole time.
About a month ago, I drove myself to the emergency room, unsure if I was having a heart event or a panic attack. Long story short: it was panic.
Nothing is wrong with my heart, but my brain was exhausted. I’d been doing all the things I regularly preach against. My blood pressure was through the roof, and I was scared I might actually die.
The panic attack lasted four days. It’s the first time I’d been in the hospital since I nearly died by suicide seven years ago. Both times, being released from the hospital felt like a resurrection of sorts. A new chapter. A fresh start.
The man who got out of that bed was not the same guy who went in.
Now that I’ve returned to reading the Bible, I’m reminded that I’m not alone. One account of the Garden of Gethsemane says an angel came to comfort Jesus, who sweating drops of blood. As soon as the angel left, Jesus went right back to his same, anxious state, being pressed like an olive into oil.
But I didn’t die.
Easter makes more sense to me now than it ever did, because I understand the journey from death to life. Seven years ago, I laid in an intensive care unit, unable to see how God or my family could possibly love me in all of my weakness and illness and failure and lack. But in the middle of my darkest hour, as I laid my head down in hell, Emmanuel met Easter and Jesus whispered, “I’m not finished with you yet.”
I guess he meant what he said.
For me, resurrection feels like moving from fear to love. Easter is less about the pyrotechnics of the modern church service, and more about the death of certainty and the resurrection of hope-filled possibility.
I thought my fears and doubts and questions would prevent God from drawing near to me. But Scripture doesn’t say, “Perfect Love will cast you out.” Instead, a more full understanding of this scripture is that God embraces the whole person. Divine Love pulls us close - fears and wounds and all - and loves us as we are.
The fear stuff will come and go. But Love remains.
The resurrection of my faith, much like the resurrection of Jesus, is an invitation into wholeness. It’s about individuals, not institutions. Resurrection is about a journey, not a destination. I hate to disappoint my son, but resurrection isn’t about a zombie-like return of what used to be. It’s the birth of something brand-new.
JESUS WAS A ZOMBIE: THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF MY FAITH via @iamsteveaustin
For 2 years, my mountain-sized doubts seemed to overshadow my mustard seed faith. And yet, the mustard seed remained. via @iamsteveaustin
Easter is less about the pyrotechnics of the modern church service, and more about the death of certainty and the resurrection of hope-filled possibility. via @iamsteveaustin
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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How a Simple Hug Changed My Life
Why I’m Trying Out Church Again for the First Time
Peace, Be Still: Finding Hope in the Midst of Anxiety
This was Supposed to be the Last Day of My Life
Catching Your Breath: Chapter 1
45 Pieces of the Best Marriage Advice Ever
Why I Still Trust God When Shame Feels Heavy