Christian Living

Spiritual Life

A Child is Born... and Hope Lives

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This morning, my wife and I attended our son’s first grade “Holiday Show.” Because he attends a public school, the play couldn’t be called a Christmas Show. It wouldn’t be politically correct. Fortunately, our school is full of wonderful people who are able to allow the celebration of other cultural belief systems, yet refuse to be intimidated by those who take particular aim at Christian traditions. And though the play was ostensibly about a warm-hearted snowman, the dwarves, elves, and assorted winter creatures finished with a bright musical medley that included “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Hey, at least they used the word CHRISTmas.

I needed this. My spirit had been a bit heavy the past few days because something happened to my daughter recently, and so it happened to me, too. Her heart was broken. Our hearts were broken.

The Cold, Hard Truth

Three days ago, my daughter was told by several friends that there was no Santa Claus. These 10-year-olds apparently mentioned it in a very sophisticated, aloof sort of way, as if discussing the latest political climate. Mary Ruth felt her insides being crushed. But she went along.

She pretended to be all right. But her mother and I knew from the moment she walked in the door after school that something was wrong. Bright but serious, Mary Ruth has always reminded me of myself as a child. Arrows that seemingly bounce off the emotional armor of others her age somehow find their way straight into her heart. Her intellect still outdistances her emotional development, and she seems to struggle with an internal tension that feels all too familiar to me, to the child still within me. My first child, my only daughter—we are, she and I, reluctant to relinquish our passion for imagination. We are close in ways of both mind and spirit.

I worry about her, of course. Because unwise as it may be, I unavoidably project my own past story into her future one, into her journey barely begun. And I sense her longing. I worry about what she might do as her life unfolds, the people and places and things she might seek as a way to fill the spiritual hungering with which she was born. I pray that she will avoid some of the emptiness with which I tried to fill my soul. Because of her unique gifts, her potential for Kingdom service is great. But the gifts also make her vulnerable.

In our home, we have always tried to teach truth, without prematurely robbing our children of their God-given, childlike essence of wonder. Santa Claus is larger than real life—joy, giving, fantasy…all dressed up in red, white, and bells, blindingly beautiful, like some heart-stopping gift. Through him, we have tried to teach our children that in this often unfeeling, faithless world there does indeed exist a wondrous thing called Love—a thing greater than all the darkness, all the pain, all the universalism and fear and shame and hatred and ugliness. And in this teaching through a fantastical, stronger-than-reality story, the greater truth within always begins and ends with Jesus. This is what Santa comes to remind us of, we tell them. Giving. Sharing. Jaw-dropping, eye-popping, shimmering chill-bumping proof—there is more to life than the life we see around us. More to this existence than what we see, hear, feel, taste. We walk through this sometimes cold and weary world, but we need never succumb to it. Because long ago, in a place far away, something wonderful happened.

And so, when my daughter finally fell into my arms, the hurt overflowing, I hurt, too. And somehow this hurt hit deeper, into a place that has little to do with the mythology of Santa. She and I held one another, and cried. We cried for a world grown steadily more cynical and cold. A world where even 10-year-olds have access to information meant only for grownups, a place where intellect has replaced imagination. Together, my daughter, her mother and I mourned lost innocence and dreams.

We died a bit, I think, somewhere deep inside. Not because my child was shocked by the news; her mind had struggled with the unlikely physical reality of a fat man in a furry suit coming down our chimney. No, this loss went far deeper. In a way only children can fully understand, we mourned a loss of faith. I felt helpless to help her, or myself.

And then, I did something perhaps very un-parent like. I realized in my sorrow that Love is not a thing easily murdered. And out of nowhere, from a place deep within, I said:

“We can choose to believe.”

She looked at me, a brief pause in her pain. An odd, powerfully simple thought. Something that felt like hope gracefully glowed between us, fleetingly.

“We can choose to hear the bell,” I said, referring to the one from Santa’s very own sleigh, in the book The Polar Express. A bell that rings for those who remain young at heart, but slowly fades into silence for those who make the mistake of growing up.

“Listen,” I said. “We can choose to listen.”

Hard to Believe

Scripture defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Yes. Things unseen. Safety, in the midst of danger. Peace, inexplicably present in a world filled with chaos. Darkness, suddenly overwhelmed by a Light.

Ultimately, I understood in a most painful way what my daughter was feeling. Her mind could handle not believing. But her heart could not. Her indomitable inner child was desperately clinging to a precious thing, a timeless, untouchable, very Godly thing. She needed to believe. And so do I. So do I.

The story is familiar, of course, but the scoffing seems to have grown louder, the images more caricatured. How foolish it all sounds now, here in our “enlightened” age. The stable, the wise men, the young virgin. How unlikely. How very childish.

We are told that the people had been faithfully waiting, preparing for the arrival of their Messiah in glory and splendor, a Kingly leader dressed in shining armor, leading a vast army of warriors, perhaps. They waited. And they believed.

And yet, their hopes were met with nothing more and nothing less than the wails of a newborn child, naked and helpless and shocked by the cold…a tiny voice echoing off the lonely hills, startling more sheep than humans. Here, in this dirty barn. Smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

But oh, oh how I want to believe. Because in my believing I move past the mere elements of storytelling, and into a place of wordless wonder. And in the story there lives an unconquerable Truth that has survived thousand of years, countless cultures, unrelenting attack. A Truth that reason has attempted to rebuke and science dispel. A Truth no amount of commercialization can defeat, no political correctness quiet. An unreasonable thing, many would claim, a fairy-tale handed down from generation to gullible generation.

But listen.

Can you hear it? The rustling of cows’ hooves shuffling in the straw, of sandaled feet upon wet night grass. Muffled voices, awed, overcome by the silent night. And beyond explanation, beyond something as limited and ridiculous as mere reason, beyond time and space and anything small enough for us to even halfway understand…beyond our broken hearts… A child is born.

Something wonderful has happened. Wonder-full. The coming of Hope, of Peace. The birth of Innocence, a time in which exhausted arrogance can safely lay down its ugly head and die, if we’ll only allow it. A child is born. We are saved… from our self-sufficiency, our loneliness, our disbelief. And, if we will only surrender to the irrationality of it, perhaps all the philosophy and psychoanalysis, ego and existentialism, longing and loneliness and narcissistic nonsense…all of it can finally wash warm and wondrously out of us, on tears of grace we needn’t bother wiping away. At long last, we can close our world-weary eyes and finally see with childlike grace that those who find themselves lost—lost but not alone—are at long last nearing Home.

We are called to be in the world, but not of it. Celebrate, followers of the man named Jesus! And do so shamelessly, joyously. Gather ‘round the manger, and gaze with wide-eyed wonder upon Him.

He cries.
Our King is born.

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