It’s only natural during the Christmas season for us to reminisce about Christmases past. For me that means recalling many special memories of family times and times spent with the kids I call ‘mine’ from the many years spent as a youth director at church. I literally have enough to fill a book (or two), but one that is particularly fun to think back on involves caroling and a nursing home… It was a Saturday morning and the other youth director, and I piled into the church van with a group of elementary and middle-school kids. Destination: caroling at the local nursing homes.
The first stop we made was to the home where a couple of our elderly church members were living. Our plan was to go straight to their rooms, but when we walked into the building we found the lobby full of residents, so we decided to brighten their morning with our cheery voices. And so we sang. We sang Up on the Housetop, Joy to the World, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Silent Night and of course, we finished with a hearty rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The kids were all smiles and several of them were even poised to give out a few hugs. But…
As soon as we finished the last note of our final song, one of women in the room who was sitting in front of the television, turned to the woman sitting next to her and said (in a loud voice), “I’m glad those *$*# kids stopped singing. I couldn’t hear the television.”
That was twenty-one years ago, but sitting here typing, I’m still laughing about it, because I can see the looks of shock on the kids’ faces, as clearly as if it happened this morning. It didn’t take them long to find their voices again, though; uttering things like, Wha?”, “Huh?” and a few indignent “Uhhhh”’s which were then followed by giggles, which were then followed by full-scale laughter. And just so you know, James (the other youth director) and I were laughing just as hard as the kids were.
We quickly regained our composure and left the room to sing for those we felt sure would be more appreciative of our talents. But we walked, down the hallway, the kids started talking about what had happened…
“Did she really mean that?” one asked.
“No, I don’t think so. Old people are just like that sometimes,” another one said.
“Why didn’t she like our singing?” my youngest, who was four, asked.
“Who knows? Maybe she has bad memories of Christmas or maybe she’s sad because no one comes to see her,” one of the older kids answered.
“Or maybe she’s just a grouch,” another said.
“Maybe...probably,” a few more agreed.
“Oh, well, we didn’t mean to make her mad. Besides, it’s the thought that counts,” one of the oldest girls said. “That’s right. We meant well,” I replied.
And we did. Our intentions were as pure as pure could be—to bring joy to elderly people at Christmas time—and no matter how it was perceived by some (or one), that really was what mattered.
Thinking about that day just now, I can’t help but think that sometimes we do the same thing to our kids. Instead of recognizing and appreciating their efforts and intentions, we choose to see their actions as a disruption and an inconvenience. For example, when they cook breakfast to surprise us on our birthday or because they know we don’t feel well, but set the toaster on fire do we only see burned toast or do we see their act of love? Or when the orange towels fade onto white t-shirts, do we see a child that is trying to do more than they are capable of or do we see a child trying to help out while you are sick in bed with the flu?
Do you see where this is going? Our children are not perfect. Sometimes they make messes and mistakes in the process of doing something with the purest and best of intentions to help…serve…love. But as their parent, we need to make sure we are always looking beyond the obvious. We need to look beyond the mess and into their heart so that we NEVER leave the impression that we want them to ‘stop singing so we can hear the television’.