It’s the end of November again. I’ve put away the tools and toys of summer. Time now to hunker down for cold, dark winter. Been there, done that – many times. I do love the snow, but I’m not so fond of Niagara’s cold damp mornings. Maybe I’m getting cynical.
I tend to get cynical about other things too. Like vested interests that twist good goals into merely “good enough.” Like lip-service about marginalized people enjoying justice. Like half-hearted support for our local heroes who choose to live another day with difficult mental health. Like blatant disrespect for the land, water, air and our countless breathing neighbours who make it possible for us humans to live at all.
Yet November is also the gateway to Advent: the season where God’s followers remind each other to look and to listen for hope. Advent reminds me that God’s great Light shines where this old cynic may have stopped expecting it. This year, many of the words and actions that have interrupted my cynical thinking have come from children.
The Voice of a Child
In 2016 Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, had told the world: “Access to sufficient, affordable and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is easy for most Canadians. But this is not true for many First Nations indigenous persons. In stark contrast, the water supplied to many First Nations communities on lands known as reserves is contaminated, hard to access, or at risk due to faulty treatment systems. The government regulates water quality for off-reserve communities, but has no binding regulations for water on First Nations reserves” (Make it Safe).
In March of this year, Autumn Peltier of Wiikwemikong Unceded Territory in Ontario stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly. She asked leaders of the world to show some respect for our Creator’s gift of water. Autumn told them, “We all have a right to this water as we need it – not just rich people, all people.” On that day, Autumn Peltier was 13 years old.
After Autumn spoke, the spokesperson for the president of the UN General Assembly told reporters, “it’s definitely not very common to see a 13-year-old girl addressing the 193 member states of the United Nations. We’re used to having world leaders . . . often speaking very bureaucratic language. We were all very moved. She was amazing.”
No More Silence
This year my local newspaper introduced me to several children and youth who knew that our community has no more time for silence about mental illness. These young people filled our awkward silences with their own stories.
Last month it was 16-year-old Gwen who talked about her anxiety disorders. “It was a huge weight that was controlling my life.” Gwen’s clear, courageous words are making the world a friendlier place for someone who might otherwise feel alone and overwhelmed – right here and now. For that someone, Gwen pointed to one next step: “Now I know I can control it. […] When you have so many thoughts in your head, talking is a big release.”
This month it was Victoria, who told her story about living after her father’s suicide. “I felt like I lost myself. I was never going to move past this.” Victoria’s honesty may have opened a door for another devastated person to be honest about their own struggle. She continued, “After trauma, you have to take it one day at a time. You need faith that things will get better.”
The courageous clarity of kids is a gift of God to his whole creation. God’s gift includes the words of a Hebrew slave girl who brought the proud leaders of Aram to their knees (2 Kings 5), and the songs of young cheerleaders who ushered Jesus past clusters of self-important adults, into his Father’s house. The Bible calls children “gifts from the Lord,” humble servants, leaders who show the rest of us how to live in God’s kingdom.
No wonder that when God physically moved into our neighborhood, he asked a young girl to bring him in. Mary’s community had many important people who could surely arrange a good place for God-with-us, and Mary didn’t even have a place of her own. What Mary did have was courageous, clear words about what we can all expect from Immanuel:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful . . . (Luke 1:51-54).
God has given me a place in his world; by his grace I am a leader in my community. Our community has no time for me to be cynical. I know this because of words and actions of God’s precious children around me. And so I will not stop nurturing the part of me that hopes for good; the part of me that is so much truer than what my cynical part wants to believe.
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do” (Matt. 11:25-26).
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