The pastor came on Tuesday.
He accepted a glass of water and sat in our best chair — the chocolate-brown recliner whose vinyl has peeled off the headrest, roughly in the shape of North Carolina. It is evidence of the little fingernails that have clutched that spot to leverage high-speed turns in a thousand games of chase. We gave up on patching it and finally painted over it with a rich but slightly different shade of brown. It’s too comfortable a chair to give it up over cosmetic issues.
The pastor sat there without reclining and opened his laptop. He had come to ask questions.
The first round was for my husband and me. These were necessary, but I was anxious to finish so that he could get to the second part of his visit.
We had asked him to talk to our daughter about baptism.
When the time came, we called for Corinne. She kept her eyes on the pastor as she entered the living room. Walking kind of sideways to the chair across from him, she looked as if she was afraid to turn her back to him.
It wasn’t for lack of trust. Our daughter has known the pastor all her life — and not by name only, the way she would recognize the title of the elevated, unapproachable sort. For eight years she has known him as a man of constant welcome, with high fives and goofy jokes and knees ready to bend to meet her at eye level.
But despite knowing and trusting him, she sensed the weight of this conversation. She felt all of our eyes on her. And she didn’t want to turn her back.
She sat, almost without bending, in the armchair opposite him. Her feet did not touch the floor. The pastor scooted to the front edge of the recliner cushion and leaned forward until the footrest pressed into the carpet.
And he began asking questions. One after another, he asked her about all the major points of our faith. But his questions weren’t cold like a drill. He took the stature of a student trying to learn eternal truth from an eight-year-old professor.
Sometimes he betrayed his knowledge by saying, “That’s exactly right!” when she gave a good answer. But Corinne didn’t mind the charade. Pretending to educate the pastor made the conversation a little less scary.
And she did give good answers. We expected that. She has an incredible capacity for verbal memory. You can always count on Corinne to remind you — word for word — of things you’ve said. But while it was important to know what she knew, that was not the primary aim of the interview.
One question loomed, its answer the only one we could not predict. Satisfied that her understanding of the Gospel was sufficient, the pastor came to it at last. Honest in tone and without gravitas he asked:
“Do you believe it’s true?”
Her answer was a testimony to his loving leadership.
“I still need a little help believing.”
No need to say what she thought would please him. No embarrassment. No fear of losing his good opinion. She knew she was loved as she was, and that made her free.
Her answer didn’t fluster him. He didn’t stall or regroup or ask the question a different way in hopes of a different answer. “When you’re ready, can I come talk to you again?” That was all he said.
Some leaders would fear a child’s doubt. Sometimes I do. It can make us feel better to talk our way around it — to get the child to agree with us on enough answers that we can say, See? You do believe! Let’s have a baptism. In a desperate attempt to show the quality of their teaching, some would silence my daughter’s honest doubt. In doing so, they would teach her to deceive herself and would stunt the growth of hard-won faith.
But a pastor who gives budding faith some breathing room — he has shown her what it looks like to trust the work of God. He has respected her knowledge of her own heart. And he has loved her in her doubt.
He has shown us all the character of Christ.