"I've sat on this since Boxing Day," she said. "I honestly had no idea what to do with it. I think it's probably a thank-you letter for Christmas. Can I give it to you?"
There are very few opportunities when you really know, in children's work, that if you get this particular thing wrong, it could seriously screw up a child. A kid disclosing abuse is one of them. There are a few others, mostly based around big spiritual questions, where your openness, or lack thereof, can give kids a huge clue about whether questioning and discernment are the way God works, or whether he's all about rigid dogma. But a kid's private letter to God, and what sort of response they get, is probably on that list. Big Spiritual Moments Where Kids Are Very Vulnerable.
The letter simply said, "Dear God, I would like to be invited on a trip to heaven. You can write back through the post box to _______, at ________, London, ____."
There were some illustrations, as well, including a cross crowned with an arrow-pierced heart, backed by a rising sun, as well as what appeared to be a griffin in flight.
Obviously, writing back as God is out. You do NOT want to give children the idea that God will actually write back, a la Father Christmas. Nor should any of us presume to speak in the voice of God.
So, remembering a letter I saw once written by Rowan Williams, in response to a child whose parents had posted her letter to God to Lambeth Palace, I used the "this is X, and this is what God might say in response to your letter" format.
And this is what I came up with. I can always follow it up with more, so if you have any other ideas, please leave them in the comments!
This is Margaret, from church. Your letter to God made its way to my desk. I don’t know how God would answer your letter, but this might be what he’d say:
I’m really glad you want to be invited on a trip to heaven. Heaven is an amazing, astonishing place. It’s better than anything in people’s imaginations. People think it might be like a city made of gold, as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day, like a wedding party for a King’s son, or like a beautiful pearl. But it’s even better than that. And most importantly, it’s where I am. And I am so full of love and joy that sadness and hurting go away when you're near me. I have promised that in heaven, I will wipe every tear away from your eyes, and there will be no crying or sadness or pain. It’s a place where everyone is happy, safe, and loved, all the time, and forever.
But it’s in a different kind of world from the one you live in now. It’s not a place you can visit on an aeroplane. Even if you got in a spaceship and travelled forever, you would never come to heaven. It’s in a different universe. It’s a place you come to live at the end of your whole long life. And you have a lot of living still to do before you come to stay in heaven with me – a lot of learning, playing, making friends, helping people, coming to church to pray and hear stories about me, growing up, having jobs, having a family (if you want one), and getting old.
And while you’re doing all of that, there are ways you can make earth a bit more like heaven. Remember how I said that heaven is like a city made of gold, as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day? You can use art and music and drama and dance to make beautiful things on earth, to help show people what heaven is like. And remember how I said that it’s a place so full of love and happiness that nobody is ever sad or hurt? You can show love to people, and give them hugs when they’re sad, to help show people what heaven is like. And remember how I said that heaven is a place where you’re near me all the time? You can pray to me, and come to church to hear stories about me, and go for walks to look at the beautiful world that I made, to help yourself feel close to me.
______, I made you and I love you. Someday you will be invited to come live in heaven, forever. But until then, I will be with you always, in your heart, in the stories people tell about me, and everywhere around you.