Sometimes kids have a remarkable way of putting things into perspective.
They say unexpected things in inconvenient moments. Then, suddenly, the fog clears and we see the truth we’ve been denying. Or maybe we simply wake up to the miracle of life: of being alive, here and now, on planet earth.
The world of adults is hopelessly convoluted and complicated. Nothing seems fixable, much less right or fair, and yet children just keep on hoping.
As we wait for our representatives to untangle the hopeless knots in our nation’s budgetary crisis, the programs supporting our children’s health, education, and security remain on the chopping block. The legacy we are leaving future generations appears to be an extremely bitter one, indeed.
And yet, our kids keep calling us back to simplicity, to compassion, and to a greater faith in the One who said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Last night, I was deeply inspired to watch ten-year-old Lily Anderson of Georgia singing the National Anthem before an Atlanta Braves game on Thursday. It was “Rally Night” when the Braves help children battling cancer raise awareness and money for their cause. In 2009, Lily was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma - a normally fatal condition - and has endured several difficult rounds of chemotherapy and surgery.
But on Thursday, even with cracking voice, she so impressed the crowds that she was rewarded with a prolonged standing ovation. Now, her voice echoes around the world, and with it her message of perseverance and hope.
That same day, a nine-year-old girl sat patiently in our front waiting area.
Her grandma, our Director of Religious Education, our Deacon, one of our teachers and I had been working through a document. Finding her stationed there so silently, I asked, “are you bored?” She nodded. So I pulled out a large piece of white card stock and a bunch of water-based marking pens.
“Whatever you’d like to draw or write, it’s up to you,” I said, and leaving her all by herself at the kitchen table, I returned to the revision committee.
Half an hour later, I re-entered the kitchen like the Space Shuttle re-entering the thickness of earth’s atmosphere after the rarified ethers of outer space.
We’d been laboring over details of a manual for Ministers of Communion.
She’d been working on a masterpiece. There, beneath the descending rays of a bright yellow sun, was a multi-colored message. Like a poet’s rainbow, her great big letters said exactly this: “Life is great but it must be ended.”
“You live, then you are done, for you have lived life and have enjoyed it.”
She continued: “When you are done your family will be sad, but you know you have lived and then taught your children right and then are ready.
“You have done your job and your journey of life ends for you.
“You are now in God’s hands. And you know you lived and enjoyed it.
“You are now in heaven and you are in God’s hands.”
Then, as if writing Lily Anderson, she concluded her message: “You now are in the afterlife to enjoy another journey, for another life lies ahead.”
The girl who wrote this, there in the rectory kitchen all by herself, lives on the other side of the country. Her parents apparently don’t have time to take her to church. They’ve decided she should be baptized somewhere on down the road, “when she makes that decision.” It seems the only religion she gets is from her grandma, when she comes out to California for a visit.
Or maybe Someone else is talking to her. Someone who has a future full of blessing, not of distress, in store for the children. Someone who cared so much for their well-being that he not only offers the best, but also His very life. Yes, that One who said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these my little ones, who did it to me.” And “let the children come to me, for of just such of these is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (See Mt. 18:3, 19:4, & 25:40).
I once heard a remarkable story that I believe is true, not only for the child it features, but for millions of children throughout the world who have been raised without any encouragement from their parents in the ways of faith.
In Sweden, a three-year-old boy was sneaking into the room of his newly born sister. Mommy and Daddy heard the door open, and followed him to see what would happen. Unaware of their presence, and to the amazement of those parents who had raised him in an atheistic environment, the older brother whispered to his baby sibling: “Can you tell me what it’s like in heaven?” Then he added the words that humbled his parents: “I forget.”
It seems that we adults are forgetting many things - the most important of all things, in fact: that our children are our most valuable treasure, and that we will be held accountable by God and by history for the legacy we leave.
May we live, not to regret, but to rejoice in, a legacy full of beatitude, a future full of promise, and a society in which their faith will be nurtured.