There are many, many things in life that I do not want my young children exposed to yet. John is only 4. He doesn’t need to know that pirate swords usually hurt people in movies, that the dinosaurs are all dead, that there aren’t actually undersea animal rescuers that can talk (check out Octonauts), or that he doesn’t speak whale (thanks Nemo). He doesn’t need to know that water evaporates to form clouds which will drop rain. He doesn’t need to understand how electricity works. No one needs to clue him in on the number of calories he should be intaking in a day. He is 4 for Pete’s sake (anyone know Pete?).
There are people out there who believe that a child like John or my other daughters, 3 and 1 years old, are too young for religion, too young for faith, too young for Mass, too young for prayer. If I ever entertained these thoughts, my children have thankfully banished them. Here are just a few stories from our brief family life that I think illustrate that a child is never too young for God in their life.
For those of us planners out there, spontaneity may be a challenge. As Ben and I look forward to our 5 year wedding anniversary, I can gladly look back and say that I have relaxed into a more spontaneous person because of our relationship. Nothing puts this better on display than our recent vacation to Disneyland.
Ben had just returned from deployment and we had been blessed with a gift of a 3-day hopper pass from a family member. Military life being what it is, we were not able to plan out months in advance when we would use this pass. Not wanting to let the time slip away or bank on an opportunity down the road, we decided to go for it. Within 10 days or so of deciding to go to Disney, we were there. Crazy – but perfect. Looking back, I’m so glad that we did not overthink the decision. We talked, reasoned both sides and made a decision.
We were so excited to go, we even broke one of our cardinal parenting rules: telling the kids about something before it’s imminent arrival. They had no concept of “Disney” or what was in store for them. We didn’t want them to go in completely unprepared for the massive, overwhelming experience we were going to be throwing them into. So, we started talking about going to visit Mickey Mouse, seeing Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Lightening McQueen’s racetrack, etc. Once they got the idea of vacation in their head, it was all they could do to keep their shoes off.
Finally, when Ben could take no more, he got out a calendar and put it up in John and Rosie’s room. It happened to be 3 days before we were leaving. Ben brought John and Rosie in and sat them down in front of the calendar. He put a sticker on the present day. Then, another one on the day we were leaving. Together, they counted the spaces between. “We have to wait 3 days,” Ben told them. “John, do you remember anyone else who had to wait 3 days for something to happen?” Ben asked. John thought for a bit, and after some prompting, remembered from school that the disciples had to wait 3 days for Jesus to rise.
John was so proud he remembered this connection. I was not in the room so didn’t know the incredible theology lesson Ben was conducting. John came running to the kitchen to tell me how he had to wait for vacation, just like the disciples had to wait for Jesus. I was so proud of him and so impressed with Ben. Ben saw an opportunity to connect faith and life in such a practical way that John could understand.
Disney provided us another such opportunity. John had a less then wonderful Disney experience. John struggles with some anxiety and fear of the unknown. He was doing great with the rides and thrills until he rode on a rather fast race car ride that included a dark tunnel. After this, unless he could see exactly what happened the whole time on a ride beforehand, he was more than reluctant to try it out.
We were so lucky to have my mom be able to come with us on our spontaneous Disney adventure. She was such a help, especially with John’s meltdowns and irrational behavior. At one point, she pulled John aside and they talked quietly for a bit. When they were done, she said that John was going to try hard to make a sacrifice for the family. Though he really wanted to go back to the hotel, he would stay with the family since everyone else wanted to be at the park. We talked about how sacrifices are hard and there were many times that he didn’t want to make the sacrifice. But, we were able to help him through it. His knowledge of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, even though limited, helped him to connect with what he was attempting to do for the family.
These are the moments that I cherish. Moments that God gives us to feel His presence and honor His working in our lives. I’m sure there were other ways for us to help John deal with waiting for vacation and then deal with the vacation itself. I am inspired by the witness and demonstration of faith that both Ben and my mom gave to John and Rosie. They saw an opportunity to share a piece of faith in the everyday ordinary and instead of shying away, they chose to bring God into the kids’ lives. Mine as well.
In case you haven’t picked up on it, exercise and working out are not high on my list of activities. I understand the value and recognize the need, but I have not found the proper level of discipline and motivation.
Our base gym has a fantastic service called Peep Drop. It used to be that the parent signed up to volunteer to watch the kids. For every hour you volunteered you got so many hours of gym time and your kids could be taken care of. This was a pretty good deal. Apparently, however, this volunteer for gym hours still wasn’t enough to get me to the gym. Recently, they took away my last excuse. Now you don’t even need to volunteer. You automatically get 10 (I’m pretty sure) hours a week. No more excuses. I couldn’t justify not going anymore.
So, twice this week, I’ve gone to the gym. The first day for a class and the second for some time on a treadmill (i had hoped for a second class but misread the schedule – oh well, I probably would have fallen over in the class anyway). As I sit here writing, I would love to not get up for the rest of the evening. I am so sore!
I was telling Ben about my aches and pains and he laughed. “But it’s a good hurt” he said. “My hamstrings won’t move because I did legs yesterday. It’s awesome,” he boasted. What?? How on earth is that awesome? Maybe I am missing a few synaptic pathways in my brain that have to do with exercise and the body aches it causes. I mean, I get it, kind of. The main means that you worked the muscle and as it heals, it grows stronger. That’s nice and all, but the process hurts.
Since my body aches every time I move for the most part, I’ve obviously spent a lot of time dwelling on it. There are a lot of things in life that are for our good and overall benefit that involve a process of pain. How many times does a child learning to walk fall before acquiring the core and leg strength and balance necessary? How much did your head hurt when studying for a difficult final or exam in school? How much did it hurt your pride to have to admit an error or mistake at work was your fault? So many lessons in life are learnt through a process of pain. But we grow because of it. We learn to walk. We retain the knowledge from the test which shapes our future learning experiences. We grow as an individual when we own up to the mistakes we make.
Even faith grows in a similar manner. St. Peter tells us, “So that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7) Even though tested by fire – sounds painful to me. But, if my faith deepens and grows because of it, isn’t it worth it? If I am able to more clearly see the hand of God in my life and am better able to trust in the good plans He has crafted for me, isn’t that enough?
If we expect our faith to carry us, then our spiritual muscles need training to go the distance. Habits of prayer, sacrifice, communication, service, self-denial. All these are elements of a healthy, active and growing spiritual life – spiritual muscles.
If we neglect one area, we may find some fatigue, some soreness or discontent, not unlike what my body is presently experiencing. The challenge, just like with exercise, is to go back even though you are sore, confident that any pain or frustration is temporary and that good will come from it. So, maybe it’s time to stop complaining and start training.