When Dory’s parents realized the challenges she would face as a fish with short-term memory loss, they devised a plan to help keep her safe. They taught her little jingles to help her avoid the undertow. They made her practice introducing herself with the words “I suffer from short-term memory loss” so other fish would know she needed help. But most importantly, they played cheerful games of hide-and-seek, cleverly training her to follow the purple shells that would lead her home.
Towards the end of her movie-long quest to find her parents, Dory finds one purple shell. In an ocean full of shells, it seems too good to be true that she could have actually stumbled onto a trail left just for her. But the purple shells keep appearing, one after another, until she enters a valley in the ocean floor where the whole trail is laid out before her. Watching this movie as a parent, I felt a swell of joy when I realized her parents had made not just one, but dozens of trails stretching out like spokes from the central hub of their home. When her parents return with their fins full of shells, I just I knew that this was what they had been doing every day since their daughter left. Because that’s what I would do.
Probably the scariest part of parenting is the fear of sending our kids into the unknown. We know our time with them is short and that eventually they will strike out alone. We want to prepare them for everything but we simply don’t know what they will have to face or how they will face it. I know too many parents of adult children who’ve wrestled with their disappointment and grief over children they raised to love the Lord who have “gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). I try to hold my hopes for my children in one hand, but hold this possibility in the other. It reminds me how important it is to make the most of these early years.
Just like Dory’s parents trained her with games and repetition to avoid the dangers of the ocean, my husband and I use a combination of fun and persistence to try to prepare our children for the challenges to come. We read their children’s Bibles over and over. We send them to Sunday school where they make crafts and eat snacks that reinforce the lessons from the Bible stories. Mostly we try to answer their questions. In doing so, we hope to provide them with a larger theology–a systematic understanding of God–that addresses the questions they are asking already and the ones they haven’t thought to ask yet.
C.S. Lewis compared theology to a map that is drawn “based on the experience of hundreds of people who…were in touch with God.” Theology is not meant to be formal or esoteric, it is intended to be practical guidance. Therefore, theology is as much for children as it is for anyone. When I teach my children theology, I’m giving them a map that shows them the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), but I am also giving them a map for how to get back on the ancient paths (Jeremiah 9:16) should they ever lose their way. I want to train them now how to avoid danger, but also to know that if they get into trouble, love is always waiting at home for them. Always.
The underwater family reunion at the end of Finding Dory feels like a parable for parents who never want to lose their children but are wise enough to prepare for the possibility anyway.
This is a guest post by Laura Lundgren.
Laura Lundgren is a lifelong reader, former English teacher, current homemaker, and aspiring writer. She makes her home in Wisconsin with her husband, who is also her pastor, and her four young kids.