One of my granddaughters, who in recent days has turned thirteen, finds herself in the midst of a theological crisis. I learned this text messaging with her. I should note that “theological crisis” is my way of naming the situation, not hers. Also, while I do not think her current “crisis” is necessarily the result of her recent birthday, she has nevertheless crossed the magical threshold into her teen-aged years—a good time, I seem to remember from my own early teens, for crises and questions of all kinds.
She and her family had been at my house a few days before for our annual Fourth of July celebration. There had been leftover food, some of which I’d kept and some of which I had sent home with them. My granddaughter and I had been texting back and forth about that food, agreeing that the shrimp salad was a favorite, when out of the blue she wrote, “Gran, do you believe that every person changes? Like every person always changes no matter what?”
I wondered what kind of changes and what person, or persons, she had in mind. Though I had no visual or aural cues to draw from, I sensed that a deeper question was about to surface. I asked if she wanted to Face Time. She did not. “Can I tell you what happened and then you can say something?” she texted.
As an aside I should say that when I made the switch from my old flip phone to a smart phone a few years ago, I did so specifically because of my grandchildren. It had become apparent that texting was their generation’s preferred mode of communication. Wanting to stay in touch, I vowed to adopt their technology. However, I have never reached the point where texting comes naturally to me. Except for the briefest of messages, I find it a tedious way to communicate; I remain a slow and inefficient one-finger texter. It was therefore with some trepidation that I texted back, “Of course!”
Without going into details which would violate the confidence in which I hold such tender conversations, I will say simply that she is asking good questions about the world and who, or what, is in charge of it. She is also chafing a bit at being identified exclusively with the particularities of her family’s religious traditions even as she doesn’t want to anger or disappoint them by not wholeheartedly embracing their beliefs. I tried to reassure her that neither her parents nor her grandparents want or expect her to be a “mini-me.” Nor will God (if, of course, there is a God) be disturbed by any question she could possibly pose. In fact, I told her, I believe that any God honors and respects both our questions and our doubts—and perhaps even encourages them at times.
I’m not sure how long our discussion went on as measured by the clock. Short and simple messages are one thing via text messaging. But complex theological ones? This was my first experience of the latter, and my efforts seemed slow and plodding. Nevertheless, we covered quite a bit of ground—God, church, human nature, the nature of change. At last the time came when it seemed right to ask if she felt better. “Yeah,” she typed (probably using more than one finger), “I feel more sure.” I let out a sigh of relief that was, of course, inaudible to her. (Perhaps that is an advantage of texting.) Before I could respond, she continued, “I’m also sure that I’m starving and I need some Fourth of July leftovers! I’m going to go eat.”
“Me, too,” I texted back. “Theological discussions are always good for working up an appetite.” Especially theological discussions via text messages, I thought, but did not say, as we each signed off with heart emojis and repaired to our respective kitchens to finish off the shrimp salad.