Perhaps there is nothing sadder to witness than a sad child.
Childhood should be a time of happiness, of laughter and play and wonder, a time when you rejoice in discovery and exploration. Childhood is a hopeful time when you imagine dreams coming true.
But some children don’t have that experience. Many children in fact see the realities of life all too early. They hear parents arguing over money. They are abused by relatives. They have classmates bully them at school. Many children are consumed by worry and fear just like an adult might be.
I recently watched a news program on TV that talked about the number of homeless children in America. The program focused on those kids living in motels surrounding Orlando, FLA, the home of Disney World.
These kids don’t get to go the Magic Kingdom to explore their fantasies of being princesses and knights. Instead, they live in one cramped room with their parents who are out of work and their siblings. During an interview on the show, one young girl said that she worried about what the other kids thought of her and her family. She was ashamed to be living in a motel. But you see, the problem has become so prevalent in Orlando that this girl isn’t alone in her struggle. The school buses now pick up handfuls of children who live in the motels surrounding Disney World.
These children, and others like them, those who lose their innocence too early, become wise souls at a young age. They are wise because they come to know and accept the full spectrum of what life is, that life is not just some fairytale, something many of us don’t realize until much later when we are hit hard by reality. I have two friends, Mark and Veronica, who both had very difficult childhoods. Mark, his sister and mother were abandoned by their father at a young age, and this caused a great deal of anger and sadness in their family, plus economic struggles. Veronica’s mother commit suicide, and this also caused a great deal of anger and sadness, as well as shame in her family. But now that they are in their 30’s, both Mark and Veronica feel more prepared to deal with the world because of the hardships that they went through as children. While I would never want a child to lose their innocence early, perhaps there is some advantage to learning at a young age that sometimes life is fair and sometimes it is not, that sometimes life is good and sometimes it is not, that sometimes your life feels blessed and sometimes it does not.
A wise person understands that life is a mixed bag. There are days of sunshine and laughter, and there are days of rain and tears. There are moments when you feel a sense of belonging and cared for, and there are moments when you feel alone and neglected. You can’t have the good without the bad. In fact, without the bad, the good is not even possible. You wouldn’t even know it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises us that if we follow him we will have abundant life, or another way of saying that is that we will have life in all its fullness.
When I was naïve, I thought this meant that life would just be good. That there would be no bad. Life in God’s kingdom was the stuff of Disney World and Christmas mornings.
But the truth is, abundant life means experiencing the vast range of human emotions, both positive and negative. Abundant life means experiencing the sin and the goodness that people are capable of doing to one another. Abundant life is not a promise that life will be easy; it is the promise that life will be complete in its fullness. This means living in the peaks and the valleys; it means experiencing the ups and the downs. It means doing right and wrong.
What Jesus promises us is a life that is dynamic and complex, and the assurance that God the Shepherd will be with us through it all, calling us by name and leading us to safe pasture.
Part of what we must do on our spiritual journeys is learn to embrace that which plagues us. By embrace I don’t mean that we have to like our trials and tribulations, but that we must let them be a part of our life, that we must go through them just like we go through the celebratory times and the blessings.
Part of the reason that embracing is so important is because what you resist persists. If you resist the ongoing argument you are having with a member of your family, the argument persists. In fact, resistance fuels the flame. If you resist and deny your declining health, it won’t go away, it will persist. The best way to help yourself is to embrace yourself and what you are going through.
There is something called a mountain meditation. And in this meditation you are the mountain, and no matter what happens on the mountain, you stand firm. Imagine yourself as a mountain now.
Some days, the sun shines brightly overhead, and you feel its warmth and bask in its light. Other days, the sun is too hot, and it scorches the earth and rock.
Some days, the sun is hidden from the mountain by the clouds, and it feels so cold that you shiver. On these days, the wind is like a whip against your skin, and the storm tares up the trees that rest in your soil. Debris blows across the mountain.
Other days, the heavens open up and rain falls gently to the earth providing it with much needed water. Or snow falls from heaven and covers you in a gentle blanket of white, that though it is cold, there is no harm to you for you are covered as if by a down comforter.
This meditation is to help you understand that you are the mountain, firm and resilient. You are not the elements, which change beyond your control. The elements swirl around you and sometimes they make life pleasant and good, but at other times, they make life miserable and bad. Through all of this, you, the mountain, stand honorable and true.
The elements are like the changing circumstances of our lives, but we, in our souls, are steadfast and firm like the mountain.
Life is not just falling in love. It is also falling out of love. Life is not just landing a job. It is also leaving a job. Life is not just rejoicing in your child’s achievements. It is also staying up at night worrying about their wellbeing. But this is what Jesus offers to us as the full path to life. It is the noble path.
Don’t be afraid to walk it. Do not resist it. Simply stand firm and remember, you are the mountain.