Learning Theology from my Daughter

Sometimes things do not turn out quite the way I expect them to. I’m an adult, with an advanced degree from one of the finest universities in the world. I’ve been teaching college level courses in ancient languages, theology and the Bible for more than twenty years. I’m a professional theologian and write books and essays. I like to think of myself as rational, with a practical and realistic view of the world. Most of the time I’m right about what I think and say. I study the Bible on a daily basis and I believe that God hears our prayers. I’m an ordained deacon and an adult Sunday School teacher.

Yes indeed. Ask me something about God and I can give you an answer.

But my youngest daughter was able to show me that I still don’t know much at all and that maybe a child’s faith is more important than I’ll ever understand.

A few years ago, when she was eleven years old, one of the elderly women in our church took seriously ill. My daughter knew her well, because we picked her up each Sunday to bring her to church. At 83, she was no longer able to drive herself. The State of California did not make this determination. After totaling two cars in a few months’ time, she had finally agreed with her friends that she should give up driving. We suspect this had more to do with the fact that she simply didn’t have a car anymore than anything else. So at 80, she had stopped driving. But she had not let her inability to drive slow her down. A school teacher in her younger years, she continued tutoring troubled children on a weekly basis, using the local bus service to get to her appointments. It was not uncommon to see her huffing about town with her walker, sometimes for blocks, in order to get from a bus stop to the homes of those she was trying to help.

When we got the phone call that she had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance, we were told that she was in very serious condition. After hanging up the phone, we very carefully explained to my daughter what we’d learned. With equanimity, she took in the news that our elderly friend was desperately ill.

“She most likely had a heart attack,” I told her softly.

“So is she going to get better?” My little daughter looked up at me with her big blue eyes.

“Probably not. She’s 83 years old and she’s in the hospital now.”

“We should pray for her.”

“Okay.” I frowned.

My daughter bowed her head. “Dear God, please help her to get well soon and come home from the hospital. Amen.”

I tried explaining to my daughter again just how unlikely it was that such an elderly person would get better, but she went out happily to play in the front yard, convinced that she would be just fine now.

“She’s going to be dead by morning,” I told my wife, who nodded in agreement.

But come the next morning, this 83 year old woman was not dead. In fact, she was much better. It turned out that it wasn’t a heart attack after all: it was her gall bladder.
A few weeks later, after the surgery to take it out, she recovered and was moved to a nursing care facility. “No one gets out of places like that,” I commented to my wife again. “Those are just Heaven’s waiting rooms.”

But my daughter kept praying and kept insisting to me that “She will be just fine.”

Sure enough, a month later our elderly friend left the nursing home and moved in with her son, as spry as ever. Years later, she’s still doing well.

“God answered my prayer, didn’t he daddy?” asked my daughter. Her very surprised theologian father couldn’t help but agree. Perhaps it’s no wonder Jesus used children to illustrate what real faith was all about—instead of middle-aged theologians.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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