As I’ve progressed in my faith journey/crisis, I’ve pondered on what values I want to pass onto my children. Society is at a crisis point in values. Is it virtuous to wear a mask, or stand for freedom and go without? Is it virtuous to welcome refugees and desperate migrants into your nation, or to build walls to shut them out for the safety against those who would do us harm? Conflicting messages, laws and policies are shouted from leaders. “Defund the police!” “Build the Wall!” “Don’t tread on me!” This is a confusing time to live as an adult, let alone as a child. I have my work cut out for me in raising my children with a coherent value system.
As I’ve tried to orient myself and discover my core values, there are a few things I’ve learned. First, the value of a joyful life. I’ve lived poor and I’ve lived with money. I’ve lived in bad weather, and in good weather. I’ve lived in sickness and in health. I haven’t lived in joy very often.
I remember in my childhood, my Grandma Henrie’s apartment complex had a swimming pool. I looked forward to our visits to see her each year mostly because I got to go swimming. I would cling to an inflatable tube and spin in circles for hours. That exhilaration was something I looked forward to through all the months of snow and ice in Idaho. Now as an adult, I have a community swimming pool nearly in my backyard. It is so close, we can walk to it in less than five minutes. Yet for the four years I have had access to it, I have hardly ever used it. When I would take the kids swimming, I would usually stay in the shade on the side of the pool and watch them joyfully splash and play. Maybe I thought joyful living was supposed to be for kids.
I got an Apple Watch for my birthday this year, and one of the features it has is the ability to track swimming for exercise. This changed things for me. By the middle of the summer, I was going to the pool with the kids every day. I would swim laps while they played and I would get my exercise in. It was a little boring after a while, but it was refreshing and it was good for the kids. Austin would cling to my back as I plowed through the water. I taught him the strokes I was doing and he picked them up. It was beautiful to see him relax and learn to move in the water with confidence. Later, I watched a synchronized swimming routine in the Tokyo olympics. I read about artistic swimming. I watched videos on how to do a few moves. I ordered a swim cap and some nose plugs on Amazon.
I went from swimming laps in the pool for exercise, to doing somersaults, handstands, and all kinds of acrobatics in the water. It was fun! I remembered what it felt like to be a child and rejoice in the ability to move joyfully. I stretched and swam and spun in circles. I felt alive in a way that I hadn’t felt for years. I felt awake after years of sleepy depression. It has been almost a month since I rediscovered the joy of swimming. I’ve been doing it every day. After my morning swim, I feel energized, and clear headed. I feel a rush of ideas about other joyful things I could do to fill up my days. Planting a new flower, making some delicious food, planning lunch with a friend, or doing some art; these ideas prance through my joyful mind and the anxieties of the pandemic and Afganistan crisis fade into the distance for a while. No matter how stressful the circumstances of my life are, a few moments of joyful, purposeful living can make those burdens easier to bear.
The value of joyful living is one I want to pass to my children. Rather than pack their schedules with classes, chores, and activities and then nag them all the time to practice and work harder, I want to instill in them the need for regular joyful living. I want them to find the thing that makes them feel alive. They don’t need to do it for a living or even become good at it. It isn’t the task or activity itself that matters, it’s how you feel when you do it. God said that men are that they might have joy. When we live joyfully, we fulfill our highest purpose. When we deny ourselves of joyful living, we deprive ourselves of a core need.
Another value I want to pass on to my children is the value of kindness. We live in a world full of people. There are millions of us interacting with one another on the roads, in the stores, and online. We are witnesses to thousands of deaths, births, sicknesses, failures and triumphs every day. It is easy to begin to believe that people are not valuable and that our lives have little meaning. Each act of kindness renews our faith that there is worth in the human soul. When our act of kindness blesses another person, we make an impact on the world. We matter. Even if the person we are kind to is most insignificant and the kind act imperceptibly small, it makes the world better.
The third value is introspection. It is so easy to see sin and folly without. It is much more difficult to see it within. Introspection is the often uncomfortable scrutinizing of our own selves. We get to see our flaws with razor precision when we introspect. When we are familiar with our own soul, its strengths and flaws, its twists and turns, its folds and flaps, we are less vulnerable to flattery, less desperate for affirmation, and more realistic with our expectations. This leads us to the final virtue. Compassion.
Anyone who has done much introspection knows that compassion is the only remedy to the pain of self knowledge. To see yourself accurately, you have to reckon with the painful reality of your own sins and fallen nature. If you have children, this pain is compounded with the knowledge that you have passed these things on to your posterity where they will likely repeat themselves in an eternal dance of despair through the following generations. Compassion is the ability to love fallen things; to see beauty in broken. Our children, our parents, our family, our friends; we are all broken and fallen things. We cut one another with our broken parts. We bleed because we are alive and we dare to love one another in spite of the risks. Compassionate eyes can look at this messy scene and see the beauty in it. We can love the participants without judgement and without shame; knowing that we are all in need of redemption. Somehow, all these things will work together for the benefit of all of us.
These four values are the core values I want to pass on to my children. I hope that I can teach them through example the benefits of living this way. I wrote a short parable I am planning to share with them tonight at dinner. Hopefully this will help instill in them the values I want them to learn.
The Joy of Thy Lord
“The baby is crying again!” he said with disgust. “What’s wrong with it now?”
“He just wants a little snuggle,” his mother said softly as she picked up the squalling child. “See, now he’s feeling better.”
Later, at play, “Mom, I stubbed my toe!” he screamed in pain.
“Here, let me kiss it better. Do you need some ice?” his mother replied.
“No, I’m a tough kid,” he said, rubbing the tears from his eyes. Somehow the kiss always made it feel a little better.
Later at school the child saw a boy teased and rejected, chased away from the others. “What’s wrong with him?” he thought. He remembered his mother and thought, maybe he just needs some love. And he invited him to play with him and his friends. The playground was a kinder place.
Many years later the boy sat trying to do his schoolwork as his younger siblings played loudly behind him. “Can’t you make them stop!” he roared to his mother.
“No, I can’t, and if I could I wouldn’t. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate, isn’t it? Try to be patient. They are young. They will learn to be quiet just as you have learned. Some things cannot be rushed,” she replied.
He went to a quiet place to finish his work. He thought angrily of how easily the other students seemed to complete their assignments. Why could he not learn this faster! Then he remembered his mother and he thought, “Be patient with yourself. You will learn it, just as they have learned it. Some things can’t be rushed.” He took a deep breath and started again. The bedroom was a kinder place.
Years later the boy came home to visit from college. He ate a full meal and packed up food for his small apartment pantry. “Thanks Mom! I’ve been SO hungry. I wish I could cook as good as you can!” he thought of the macaroni and cheese he had been eating for a week.
“It takes time to learn to provide for yourself. You will learn. There is always food waiting for you here until you do,” she said as she kissed him goodbye.
On the way home he saw a weather beaten man with a cardboard sign that said, “Hungry. Please help me.” He thought of his mother and wondered why this old man hadn’t learned to provide for himself. Sometimes these things can take time, he reasoned. He took some bread he had taken from his mother’s kitchen and gave it to the man. The neighborhood was a kinder place.
And so the boy became a man and he learned patience and love. He gave to those in need and he waited patiently as the Lord worked his miracles in the life of each person. And he knew God. And the world was a kinder place when he left it.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matthew 25:21