As a preschooler, my biggest goal was to be grown-up, a fantasy enjoyed by most youngsters I imagine. Once, when I was four, one of the men my father worked with came by the house one afternoon. When I heard his voice I picked up a couple of my storybooks, walked carefully down the stairs to where S.L. was, flashed him a smile, held up my books so he could see them, and informed him it was time for me to study. Later I asked my mother if she thought he might have mistaken me for “a college girl.” Oh, how I practiced being “big.” I would hang around the adults at church, at the grocery with my mother, at family gatherings, and try to make witty or informative additions to each conversation. I’m pretty sure I was the most annoying child in the room at any point. And how it crushed me to be placed at the “children’s table” at holidays and at church meals or to be sent to the nursery if I was disruptive to Sunday worship.
When I started school my father promised that if I could sit quietly through Sunday services, I would be allowed to attend the annual Candlelight Christmas Cantata. This was huge in my little world because it meant that I would get to enter through evening twilight into that holy, dimly-lit sanctuary the Sunday evening before Christmas, and listen to the choir tell the story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, of sheep, donkey and shepherds, of Bethlehem and Herod and “no room in the inn,” of a star and angels in the sky bringing news of “peace on Earth and good will to men.” To my way of thinking, the choir in their flowing white robes were the Heavenly host, and were merely reenacting that first Christmas night so long ago, through their anthems and carols. At the conclusion of the story, each participant, including me, would receive a slender white candle with a paper collar around it. We would light those candles, passing the flame one to another, and lift them toward the Heavens as we sang “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and “Joy to the World.” To that five-year old, it was the most wonderful night of the year.
The words proud and privileged only begin to touch on the feelings that welled up inside me as I tilted my wick to light it off the candle my father extended toward me. I had been allowed to enter the mystical adult world of darkness and flame, of trust and responsibility, of sacred song.
And then the first drip of melting wax hit my hand. The shock and pain that followed made me think instantly that perhaps I didn’t want to be part of the “grown-up” community I had only just entered. Tears welled in my eyes as my skin reddened and blistered where I peeled off the wax. What should have been my triumphant entry into maturity only made me feel more childish. Why did I suddenly need my mother’s comforting touch? Why was my joy extinguished and my peace snuffed out with the light of my candle?
Life is so often like that. We think we have arrived, but all our great expectations come with unpleasant surprises of their own, and our anticipation turns to dread. We are afraid to pursue joy again because of the disappointment of last time’s pursuit. We are hesitant to hope, and we coast along complacently in order to avoid another heartbreak. We neglect tending our own light because there is always a cold, cruel winter wind threatening to extinguish the first tenuous sparks. We grow weary of this adult independence that promised so much and looked so appealing when we were children and only wished to be “big.”
So what then? Rest and reflection are good places to start. When we’ve shed all the tears we need to in order to cleanse our eyes, we are again ready to look for the light. When we’ve grown weary of embracing the sadness, we once again reach out to hope. When disappointment becomes a disappointment, rekindling joy is our new aim. And so the cycle of life continues, and again we look to the future, to a time when our newest wisdom and most recent experiences will guide us into the next stage of growth, of life. Where I live winter is ending and we are seeing the first hints of spring. But extreme cold is predicted in the coming week. So at least one more week we will hunker down and wait, anticipating blue skies, warm sunshine, transparent new leaves and budding flowers. Our world is ever-changing from one stage to the next. Always has been, always will be. Anticipate the coming spring with me, in hope, in joy, at peace, lifting our eyes to the light of life. Here it comes! Can you see it?
It’s gonna be big!