Sunday, May 27, 2007
"Look mom!” Two inches from my eyeball was an open hand belonging to a triumphant Elijah. Peering into my eight-year-old son’s outstretched palm, I struggled to identify the ridiculously tiny object worthy of such exuberance.
“What is it?” I asked.
“My tooth! I finally lost my first tooth!” Sure enough, I glanced up to see the gap in his smile we had all been waiting for.
“Congratulations!” I said, relieved.
“I’m going to need $7.99 for it from the tooth fairy,” he let me know casually.
“Whoa,” I said, “that’s pretty steep.”
“How about $4.00?” He asked instead, knowing full well that I was the one who would tip toe in and pull out his tooth from behind the pillow, replacing it with a monetary reward.
“I think the going rate is $1.00, and that is for the first tooth only.”
Disappointed, he cut through our round about dialogue to state his case directly. “It’s just that there’s this really cool book I want from the book club (darn those school fundraisers!). “Ryan got to place an order, practically my whole class did! Can I get one mom, please?”
“We simply can’t afford it, Elijah, I’m sorry.” It’s true, and I feel stretched even more as the kids get older. We, as a family, will never keep up with elaborate birthday parties, extra-curricular activities, or the styles from this current season. My children will never have the toys, gadgets, and gizmos, taunting them from the backpacks and bedrooms of classmates with their super coolness.
“Are we poor?” Five-year-old Priscilla, who’d been watching, listening, and evaluating our conversation, tried to wade through the subtleties and get to the bottom line.
“We’re rich in happiness,” I responded predictably, annoying the two of them with my optimistic answer that was not really an answer at all. “Look,” I said, “we have enough to eat, we have clothes to wear, we have a house to live in, and that is a lot to be grateful for. Besides, the more stuff we have the harder it is to stay dependent on Christ.”
“Oh-h,” said Elijah knowingly, “Rich people aren’t Christians.”
“NO! No, that’s not what I mean at all!” I could tell immediately I had opened a door that should have stayed closed, at least until my husband got home from work to rescue me from my fumbling attempts at tacking on a moral to this verbal exchange. I tripped over myself to explain that these were just our circumstances, and we can be thankful for them because they keep us in prayer. But of course, my long-winded speech had fallen upon ears with an attention span of 45 seconds. “Oh great,” I thought, ”wait till he spreads this new revelation to his friends and teachers. Rich people can be Christians!” I called after them one more time as Elijah and Priscilla exited the living room with heads full of ideas about life, God, and money.
This past Sunday, Elijah had another big “first.” After howling in the bathroom that his hair was sticking up, he and his dad left early to get to Church. The girls and I arrived twenty minutes later to find my eldest son dressed in gold vestments and standing ever so seriously by the priest’s censer. When I walked in he lit up, and then remembering his place stiffened and stared straight ahead. After countless past liturgies of crying in frustration because Elijah as a toddler and preschooler could not stay put or quiet, I was elated and proud to see him participating behind the altar. And not just on any Sunday, this was Pentecost. For a little over two hours he stood without fidgeting (not too much, anyway), glad I think for the kneeling prayers when he could bend down and stretch his back. Watching Elijah take in the service from his new, up close, vantage point, I was reminded again of how inept I feel to clarify all of this, the theology, the mystery, the miracle that is life in Christ, when the Troparion we were singing repeatedly finally penetrated my thick skull, and comforted me with its message of hopefulness.
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit - through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, glory to Thee!
How do any of us figure it out, we with heads full of our own ideas about life, God, and fulfillment? When I agonize over developing reasonable explanations for heaven, the Trinity, and salvation, I am essentially overstepping my bounds. The disciples were not wise because someone had finally presented them with a well-written definition of Christianity. Pentecost celebrates the gift of wisdom found only in the receiving of the Holy Spirit. My job as a parent is not to make our faith concise enough to fit into imperfect minds, but rather to open hearts by living, breathing, and offering love – Christ centered love through which the Holy Spirit can work His wonders. My job is to talk less and to show more.
Love God. Love others. That my dear children, is the very best I can offer. Through obedience comes revelation. And now that I think of it, there is quite a bit I need to forget in order to remember this myself. There is even more I need to be emptied of, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is like spotless glass behind which Truth is visible. Intelligence that claims to understand through self-interpretation is like fingerprints smudging, clouding, and obstructing one’s view. Keep your vision clear, keep your thoughts unencumbered, keep your souls open wide in humility. I will try, really try, to lead by example, and to not run up and tie your shoe when the laces fall loose, down beneath your glittering robe as you soak in the incense spiraling beside you, as you grow with lightening speed into a man.