I saw a sweet video online today.
For all I know it was staged, but it was sweet.
A lovely little girl my daughter’s age, wearing a headband with cat ears on it, was sitting in a restaurant with a fresh untouched plate of sausage and eggs. Her father had the cell phone camera on her because of a question she just asked. She asked again if she may give her lunch to the homeless man on the bench outside. Father said “Yeah, go ahead.” The little girl carefully carried her plate, with fork and knife balanced on it, out the front door of the restaurant and set it in front of the homeless man. They exchange a few words; he smiled and dug in. The little girl walked inside grinning, and her father told her she must’ve made his day– maybe his whole week.
I started to pick it apart as mothers do. I suppose it would’ve been better to just invite the homeless man in with you as you passed him and treat him to a lunch he picked out himself– or give him a gift card or offer to buy him takeout if he showed up after you’d already been seated. Less chance of him being shooed off the property before he finished eating, and that way the child gets lunch right away too instead of having to wait for a whole new plate. Not to mention, he might not return the dish and silverware to the restaurant if he has to eat outside. There isn’t exactly one set way to love your disadvantaged neighbor as yourself– there’s just the command that you have to do it. We can second guess each other about how, and I’m good at second-guessing.
But then I caught myself in mid-thought.
That little girl was being heroic.
Have I given my own child enough of a chance to be heroic?
Do we all offer our children enough of a chance to be heroic?
That is what’s required of them, after all: heroic virtue. Not just being a swell guy. Not just throwing a few dollars in the poor box. Heroism. Loving the Lord with your whole heart, soul, strength and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself as the proof of that love. That’s what it is to be a follower of Christ– that’s what we’re supposed to teach them. You can’t exactly teach love and you certainly can’t force it. Demanding that your daughter give up her lunch would be cruelty. But if you raise your children to know that sharing with those who are hungry is one of the things that we as Christians are required to do, as necessary or more as Church on Sunday, and your children take that lesson to heart and want to put it into action, what do you and I do?
Do we nix that idea because we’re in a hurry and it’s the first time all day the kids have had a meal that wasn’t junk? Do we snap at them to put the plate down before they spill hot food all over and make an embarrassing mess? Do we balk at the thought that the child we love so much might suffer for doing the right thing, so we coddle them and tell them not to?
Or do we allow the Holy Ghost to direct them in love, and get out of the Holy Ghost’s way?
We have to direct children in their efforts to love, but we can never stifle them. In fact, we ought to learn from them. Childlike love is correct love; it’s grown-ups that have it wrong. We’re supposed to love our neighbor with unabashed fervor and put our love into concrete action without counting the cost for ourselves. We’re supposed to have compassion that directs us to comfort the suffering, even if we suffer as a consequence. That’s proper and just. We direct the way we act that love out through the virtue of prudence, but we must not smother the love itself. Love is the whole point– the reason we exist. Without love, we have nothing.
When was the last time that you and I gave our children the opportunity to practice heroic love?
When I saw them acting in love, did I say “Yeah, go ahead” instead of standing in the way because I was practical, or afraid they might have to be heroic?
I drag her to church, I say her prayers before bed, I teach her her Catechism. But when do I let her be heroic? Because that’s as much a part of our faith as anything.
I’m going to make sure not to stand in her way, the next time the Holy Ghost prompts my daughter to be heroic.
(image via Pixabay)