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Shouldering Her Cross

Easter is a tricky time with a
preschooler, I think. I mean, it’s the pivotal point of
Christianity – if Christ hadn’t died and risen,
it’d be a moot point here – and I want Maddie to get
that, to understand the enormity of this celebration. At the same
time, she’s only three years old and has a very vague
understanding of death and what that means. So even as I explain to
her what we’re celebrating, I’m aware she doesn’t
quite get it.

I also worry about explaining it too well; the knowledge that
Christ died for me and my sins is humbling, and to a preschooler,
the idea of being the cause of someone else’s suffering could
be a big burden.

So I entered into Holy Week with some
trepidation: I was determined to explain things as we went along,
but wanted Maddie to see light at the end of the tunnel, to
understand the message of redemption in that empty tomb.
Maddie’s a worrier, and I thought she’d get weighed
down on Friday night and never quite make it to Sunday morning, if
you get my drift.

She loved Maundy Thursday; we went to my pastor’s house and
had a pot luck dinner with the church, then a very casual
foot-washing and communion after it. We talked about the
footwashing, and though Maddie opted not to have her feet washed
(that whole strangers-touching-the-feet thing) she seemed to get

Good Friday, our church does a Stations of the Cross outside,
walking from one cross to the next as we studied Jesus’ walk
to the cross and His death. On Palm Sunday just a few days prior, a
member of the congregation had built a cross while the congregation
watched, and we all signed our names on it during communion to
signify our sins on the cross. Maddie went with her Daddy and made
sure he put her name on that cross.

I have a hard time seeing my daughter’s name on the cross. I
know that she’s a sinner; I see how many times she sins each
day, lying to me or cheating her sister out of the bigger portion
of a snack. But I also see the innocence in her, the love
she’s already got for Jesus, and it pains me to think she
might already feel the weight of her sin. I don’t want her to
get bowed down by that weight, but to see almost instantaneously
with the realization of her sin that Jesus has wiped that sin away.
Maddie is very sensitive emotionally, and I was afraid the stations
of the cross might be too much for her.

During our walk that Friday, Maddie asked to be in the front where
she could see each picture, and I saw her listening intently to
each scripture reading, her face turning more pensive with each
stop. I saw the sympathy in her eyes as she heard about His
suffering, and knew we were in for some questions.

And sure enough, when we got inside and listened to the gospel
Passion, Maddie turned to me and whispered, “Tell me again
why Jesus had to die?”

I love that she’s asking questions, digging deep, struggling
to understand. And I know that she does, because I see her love for
God growing deeper each day. And know I have much I can learn from
her as I watch her knowledge of Him increase.

That cross we all signed was back on Good Friday, carried from
station to station as we walked along. Our pastor invited
congregants to step forward and carry the cross between stations if
we wanted, and as soon as he made the announcement Maddie turned to
me and whispered, “I want to help carry the cross.”
Afraid she was looking on it as a game, I said, “Honey, this
isn’t a fun game.” “I know,” she whispered
back, “I can help Him. There’s my name,” pointing
to where her name was written.

As we prepared to move to the next station, Brian stepped forward
to carry it for Maddie. He was lifting it up when I said,
“Maddie, you don’t have to,” and she smiled
sweetly at me and said, “I know. I want to.” Brian
shouldered the cross but the end dropped down behind him, and
Maddie ran forward, picked up the bottom, and trudged across the
grass silently with her dad.

I have to tell you, the image made me cry, and I wish I had that
relationship with our Maker. I had several people after the service
tell me they wished they’d had a camera to capture the
moment, that it moved them to see the littlest of us picking up
such a big burden.

As for me, I wish I could protect my little one from that big
burden. I wish she didn’t have to acknowledge her sinfulness,
and could skip straight to the heavenly celebration part. I want to
spare my daughter that humility, that knowledge of our innate
wretchedness. At the same time, I see how matter-of-factly she
accepts it, and how joyful she is at the idea of spending an
eternity with Christ, and I think that maybe she understands this
better than any of us.

Who am I to say what she does and doesn’t understand? I
certainly don’t shoulder my cross as gracefully and
submissively as she did hers.


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