Some amount of worry about your children is natural. We have been entrusted with these souls and the bodies that carry them, which seem doomed to destruction by couch-jumping, bug-eating, naive parking lot strolling, or curious navigating to see how flooded the creek really is.
My son just finished reading his driver’s manual, and the words of N.D. Wilson ring in my ears:
You can now sit in huge chunks of hurtling metal, taking the lives of every one of your passengers and every passenger in every other passing chunk of metal and every passing pedestrian and every passing bicyclist into your irresponsible hands. You can now make mistakes that kill people (and you).”
It’s like putting your fine china on the back of a wild horse, or treasure in earthen vessels. It seems like a crazy way to do things.
Our children are oblivious and we are hyper-aware. We want to protect the outside and fill the inside and filter out the parts of this world that seep in through cracks we don’t notice, don’t see until it’s too late.
They just want to run barefoot in the streets and eat junk food and watch whatever’s on next. Therefore, it seems like our job to worry.
I realize, often, that we need to go backwards. We need to go back to the things we were purposeful about before the pace of life hijacked all the boxes on our super-sized calendars. Back to circle time. Back to tucking-in at bedtime. Back to family game night and hot breakfasts and prayer before frenetic and frenzied days. No one is too big for any of that.
Things change faster than we can wrap our minds around and our kids are growing into a very different world, just like we did. What’s dangerous today – new, scary and untested – will be commonplace and normal in ten years. We won’t even remember a time without cell phones in every pocket and legal drugs on every corner, without f-bombs on primetime and metal detectors at every entrance.
So yes, we have some things to worry over. And yes, we have the opportunity – as we raise adults and not children – to slowly remove the bumpers. Let them throw some gutter balls, let them thicken their skins and soften their hearts and prepare for harsh realities.
Fortunately, all the world has to offer by way of enticements is pale and pasty compared to the bright future of eternity, but sometimes it feels like we are pushing broccoli on kids in a candy store. It’s good. Really.
We can only anticipate and daydream and envision a life never-ending and never thwarted by evil. We can envision it, and we should have imaginations shaped for it by the books we read, the people we know, the places we visit.
Still, we live right now, on this side of the torn curtain, wanting to live without separation but bound to this dark side by what we call life. Life, and we want to make good on it. Life, and we try to live it safely and without scarring. Life, that we hold on to and grip with all the feeble firmness of a child who won’t drop the butcher knife.
For kids raised in our little neck of the woods, life is smaller and slower and more innocent. It’s a little bit Mayberry but we have internet. Eternity might feel like the drive to the grocery store or a trip to a decent shopping mall, but we’re telling them otherwise. We’re teaching them about an eternity wrapped in flesh and torn and divided up for the whole world to taste, a beautiful small-town-eternity that comes to them every time they feel too small or too awkwardly large.
This is what we tell the kids: leave.
And if you can’t leave, read a book.
Pack your bags. Gather what really belongs to you and go see that world in 3D-first-person-real-as-the-dog-in-the-yard. And don’t just see it but touch it and feel its hurt and beauty. Get that bigger picture of yourself as smaller than you could ever understand in this tiny town. Get a bigger vision of you as large as the kingdom, smaller than God, bigger than anything else in creation.
Not every child will go, I suppose. And I haven’t quite worked out how they’ll go but still be here for Sunday dinners and Christmas sleep-overs and birthday celebrations – maybe they’ll go and then return to settle, bringing their bigger picture back to a small life down the street. Maybe they’ll go and find the enchantments we never wanted them to be charmed by. It’s even possible that they’ll find something worth writing home about, and they’ll tell us to leave, too.
The other option, or the Thing We Do in the Meantime, is to read a book. Have a conversation with someone from another time and space. Think through someone else’s thoughts and wrestle with someone else’s words. We stretch our small town imaginations over a wider world by reading great books together and alone and instead of watching the world on a screen. (These are hopeful words and not always true to life, just so you know.)
Reading is the cheaper cousin of traveling, but oh! the places you’ll go.
You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!