Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and faith in God

I'm not sure why I started thinking about Santa Claus while walking home yesterday. It was 75 degrees and sunny, late July, halfway between Easter and Christmas, and I started thinking about Santa Claus. More specifically, about what on earth Matt and I will choose to do about Mr. Claus once Sam gets a little bit older. I grew up in a Santa family, Matt didn't. Up until now, I've thought about how putting on the Santa charade is a harmless bit of fun, imagination, and charm, and there's no compelling reason for me not to want to take Sam through that.

Yesterday, I admit, I did start thinking about what would happen if we didn't force the Santa issue, or the Easter Bunny issue, for that matter. Mostly because I started thinking about the effort that it takes, as parents and society, to instill belief in these characters...and I can be a little lazy, especially when life gets busy, and Christmas and Easter are, to me, like the month of April to accountants. Busy busy busy.

And then my brain had one of those little lightning flashes of profundity.

What is it about Santa and the Easter Bunny (and the Tooth Fairy, and the Elf on the Shelf...) that makes us, as parents and as a society, so willing to put in effort to help our kids believe in them?

It takes dedication to convince your children, once a year, that there is this guy called Santa Claus, who also is called Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas, who generally looks like a bearded grandfather wearing furry red pajamas, who somehow knows everything about you and who somehow makes all the toys with the help of his elves, and delivers them at night via flying sleigh and magical reindeer...

It's a GREAT story.

But man, does it take dedication to make kids believe it as truth.

Which makes me wonder: Why we are so willing to create faith in imaginary (but lovable!) characters, and so comparatively unwilling to work on helping our children believe in God?

As a church, we try to encourage faith formation to begin at home, because children are far more likely to grow in faith and stay connected to the church if their primary source of faith-building and faith-modeling happens in the home.

But we hear so often from our parents, "I don't know enough to teach them about the faith. What if they ask questions I can't answer? I haven't read the whole Bible, so how am I qualified to teach them? You guys who work at church are so much better at this then I am, so I'd rather you just do it."

Teaching kids to believe in God shouldn't be any more difficult than it is to teach kids about Santa or the Tooth Fairy. You don't have to have all the answers. You work with the basics:

God created the world. The world didn't stay perfect, and so God decided to save the world from sin and brokenness and death. God sent his son, Jesus, into the world, and he taught lots of people and healed lots of people and eventually died on the cross. God brought him back to life. Because of this, we have the promise that we will live forever with God.

The basics of the story. That's what we need to be teaching in our homes. That, and the truth that God loves us, and we're never alone, and that we can pray to God when we are scared or thankful or in need.

Now, maybe it feels safer to believe in Santa, because there's little to no risk in it. And believing in God is infinitely riskier, because while we know that Santa is made up, one of the biggest fears of faith in God is that anxiety about whether God is real - really real - and how to explain both faith and doubt to our children.

But here's the thing. For those of us who consider faith in God to be a good, even necessary thing to pass along to our children, we would do well to put as much effort into helping them believe in God as we might in helping them to believe in the Easter Bunny.

Romans 10:13-15 says, "'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'"

How will our children grow up in faith if they do not hear about God - and hear about God from all those whom they trust and learn from, not just from church leaders?

I don't know that I have a "solution" or an "answer" here, because I'm not sure that there's much of a real question that I'm asking. More, I had a reality check in my own soul about how important it is to me that Sam learn about God and faith and about his belovedness, and how if he's ever going to really believe and appreciate it, I need to be telling it to him more than just a couple hours each Sunday morning. And I have great hope that if we, as parents, already have some tools to teach belief (albeit belief in fictional, magical characters), then we might just be able to use those same tools to teach about the love of God.