Someone once said that there are places in the heart that you never even know exist until you love a child. I believe that. When I became a parent, I got in touch with a part of me that had never surfaced before. I found myself loving my kids with a kind of fierceness that almost scared me. I am a mild mannered guy, a peace loving man, yet I knew, just as sure as I am writing these words, that I would have killed anyone who hurt my children. Most moms and dads understand what I’m saying because they would do the same for their kids.
I think this strong emotional bond between parent and child is what gives the Christmas story its eternal relevance and power. People, who know or care little about dogma or theology or even for attending church, are swept up in the story of a poor carpenter and his wife and the birth of their baby boy. The story transcends what we know as organized religion and speaks directly to the heart. It’s a tale as old as human kind and yet personal to you and me. We identify with Mary and Joseph’s joy and share their fears and uncertainly about the safety of their child because Jesus is every child, yours and mine and everyone’s.
One would think that with the presence of this strong bond between parent and child that our kids would all be protected and loved and cared for. But looking at our track record as a nation, I’m not sure we are doing very well at all. Otherwise, how do we explain that there are over half a million kids in foster care in this country alone? How do we rationalize the vast number of latch key kids who come home from school to an empty house or the throw away kids that parent kick out of their homes or the crack babies? Why is it that over a million children are being raised by their grandparents?
We have to do better by our kids and “better’ does not mean simply loading on the toys under the Christmas tree. All the game boys and Dora dolls can’t begin to make up for not being there for our kids. Somewhere along the way, we have, as the Legend of Bagger Vance would have it, “lost our stroke.” We have tried to substitute “stuff” for love and it doesn’t work, neither for us nor for the children entrusted to us.
A number of years ago, in the midst of a school board election, I remember an old friend of mine, a staunch conservative who was hostile towards any government handouts, surprising me by voting yes on a school bond issue. This was especially puzzling since both his kids and his grandkids were past school age. When I asked him about it, he said simply, “Hank, the way I look at it is that all these kids are our kids.”
My Christmas wish for you and for me is that all of us start seeing all kids as our kids. Maybe, in doing so we will rediscover that place in our hearts that only the love of children can uncover.