Tuesday, December 15, 2009

JEEZ.. it's about US!

I am only mildly interested in whether the man Jesus was actually born and lived upon this earth.

Like most good literature, the story of Jesus' birth, life, and even death is "true" whether or not it is factual.

What's important to me is that even during our own lifetimes, people who were like Jesus in many ways have lived. We can see them, touch them, listen to them. We may even have given birth to them.

Most children, until their spirits are firmly squelched, have a wonderful sense of adventure and a living urge toward justice, freedom, and self-expression. Our Seth is a great example! He definitely needs some squelching; otherwise he will never "fit in." But I only want him to fit in just enough. To me, it is a crime equivalent to crucifixion to kill the spirit of a child. And yet, it happens around us every day.

My second son was sent to live with his father for over a year when he was around eight to nine. His father shamed him, punished him for normal kid things like spilling milk, and treated him with derision and even contempt. He wasn't beaten or neglected in any visible way. He had expensive vacations and lived in a showplace home. He attended a top-notch school and mingled with wealthy kids. But, from afar, where I prepared for ministry and cared for my newborn girl, I could see that part of him was dying. It was that natural will that questions, rebels, fights to be autonomous, and asserts what is fair and right. When we were together, and in photographs, I could see the veil that was being pulled over his rambunctious nature. He looked pale, frightened, and almost drugged. These were among the most distressing and terrifying months of my life. I didn't learn until much later that his father, in addition to the harsh discipline that took the light from my son's face, also told him repeatedly that I was deserting him to become a minister. Evil? Yes.

Since Seth has been with us, I have encountered plenty of subtle judgment aimed at kids who don't fit the expected mold. Even far more well-behaved, "acceptable" children aren't always honored as I believe they should be. It takes time, effort, and a real ability to extend oneself to truly hear and acknowledge a child's spirit. Assuming we always know what's best, forcing our own plans and agendas upon them, and expecting that the results will meet our approval -- these are spirit-squelching acts that go on in loving homes, "great" classrooms, and "child- centered" churches all over the place.

Children who refuse to play by all the "rules" are a threat to our idea of order, just as Jesus was. But they still have something to tell us, to show us, if we will truly listen. Let us learn to guide them, not corral them. Let us learn to honor them, not show them off. Let us learn to see them, not our projections of them. Let us heal our own squelched and broken inner child before we attempt to raise children, lest we carry out our frustrations and crushed dreams in our expectations of them. Help us see them as already whole, in need only of safety and a modicum of respectability, not conformity and unquestioning obedience. Let us not kill their spirits, lest we crucify the Christ within. Amen.