It was a normal autumn week during my kindergarten year that my mother received a slew of phone calls that went something like this:
You need to speak to your daughter. Kristin told my son that that there is no such thing as Santa Claus.
Your daughter informed my Andrea that not only is Santa Claus make believe, but so is the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
They were livid.
My mother told me that I must keep this truth to myself, so as not to spoil things for others.
It was 1977, and I was enrolled in a public kindergarten class taught by a hippy. Our teacher’s limp hair draped downward in a thin and tangled mess against her lower back. Rail thin, she wore a bandana, faded jeans, and tinted sunglasses to school while occasionally teaching us lessons that amounted to precious little. Most days she preferred to strum her guitar while we busied ourselves with blocks and crayons and games of checkers.
We were, however, required to join her in singing dreadful songs during circle time. These were not peppy children’s tunes, but ones she had penned, songs that droned on in a minor key about subject matters we knew nothing of. After awhile one of us would slip up a hand and beg for a reprieve.
Can we go to recess now? Teacher sighed and blessed us with the universal peace symbol before freeing us to the playground.
I longed for structure and purpose to my days, and preferred to know what was next. That never came to pass during kindergarten, where every day unfolded differently. It made me nervous.
My grandparents visited our school’s Open House that year, and I recall Grandpa pulling my mother aside, speaking in a low tone.
I do not trust this teacher, and I certainly do NOT like my granddaughter being under her supervision. That woman, he pointed, is not sane.
I loved and trusted my Grandpa, because he always spoke the truth, no matter what.
So that early October day, the week my mother fielded complaining phone calls, our teacher had us circle up as she called it. We surrounded her in a ring on the worn shag carpet.
I have a question for each of you. She pretended to smile, using a faux baby voice: Who does not believe in Santa Claus? Raise your hand.
I raised my hand. No one else did.
Hippie teacher gave me a hard stare. I blushed, guessing I had erred.
My friends peppered me with questions at recess, as we spun on the bars and pumped our legs on the swings. I told them the truth: Santa is not real, and Christmas is about baby Jesus. Parents pretend to be Santa, filling stockings, and they also hide money under pillows for each lost tooth. The Easter bunny? He is fake, too.
Thus the many phone calls to my mother.
A few months later, on a cold and snowy day, our teacher announced that she had a special movie for us, since it was too icy to play outdoors. She passed out popcorn and lined our seats up in front of a projector, dimming the lights.
We were exhilarated, as we had never before watched a movie in school.
The film began: the story of a real horse and her colt. I adored animals, and fed our neighbor’s horse shiny apples with delightful regularity, daydreaming that he was my own. The horse in the movie was magnificent and her colt was darling.
Within fifteen minutes, and hardly a segue, the frail colt wandered from the safety of his mother, and to my utter horror, slipped into quicksand. He struggled, and as his mother whinnied and reared, helpless to save him, he perished.
I was five years old. A terrifying panic swelled inside of me. Several classmates began crying, and I was so traumatized that I froze. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to mentally erase what I had witnessed. Yet every time I did, I could only see the helpless colt sinking all over again.
To further complicate matters, the entire concept of quicksand was my ongoing fear prior to this movie. My brother and I had been forbidden to enter the woods behind our home, as our landlord had told dreadful stories about people being swallowed up in the bog. To see this actually playing out in a movie was far more than I could handle.
I stepped off of the school bus that afternoon, Holly Hobby lunchbox in hand, and said not a word of the movie to my mother, convinced that this terror was something to hide. I was absolutely certain that I would spoil something for someone if I told the truth.
As it turned out, my ensuing nightmares and stomachaches did the talking for me. My mother heard from numerous other mothers, whose kindergarten children were terrified to go back to school. Suddenly the nightmares and stomach aches made sense, and my mother ultimately pulled the story from my withered heart. I could not stop weeping.
Kristin, why didn’t you just tell us the truth? she kept asking.
I continued sobbing, wordless.
If kindergarten taught me anything, it was this: truth was a tricky beast.
Sometimes people asked for it and were grateful, and other times they received it and were angry.
It is not unlike church.
Every Sunday, I am grateful to sit under the teaching of God’s Word, verse-by-verse. The straight edge of Scripture serves as a mirror to my soul, spotlighting those jagged, sinful edges. My response to truth typically goes one of two ways: I grow offended and huffy, blaming anyone and everyone else while denying my own trespasses, or I grow offended then contrite, confessing and repenting before our merciful God himself, asking him to forgive me yet again.
A sullen poverty of spirit, which darkens both our countenance and our actions, is always tethered to a dusty Bible. I have yet to meet one person who is steadfastly feasting upon God’s Word that chooses to consistently rebel against God. An open Bible and a softened heart foster a longing for truth. And people hungry for truth are eager to receive the teaching of God’s Word.
According to the words of Jesus, truth also causes division.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three (Luke 12:51-52).
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
As Christians, we ought to be the best truth-tellers and receivers. We have been bought with a price; rescued through the truth himself: Jesus Christ (1 Peter1:18-19). How unkind to skirt around it, scared to offend or to lose friends, when the truth is the only thing that may set them free (John 8:31-32).