“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” —1 Peter 3:14b-15
The bell on my bicycle announces to — or perhaps warns — pedestrians that I am barreling down the bayou hike-and-bike trail. I am a middle-aged woman intent on getting in her “cardio,” and my fellow Houstonians and I almost always politely share the trail.
But one day as I crested a rise on the trail, I was startled by a child in my immediate path. I rang my bell. He froze. His brown eyes met mine and widened. His expression told me that he didn’t know what to expect from me.
Understandable. There are lots of ways this could have unfolded.
I squeezed hard on my brakes and greeted him with a warm smile, “Whoa! Hello there! I am sorry if I scared you, friend.”
His body relaxed and he smiled back at me as his father grasped his small hand and pulled him aside. His father and I exchanged a nod and a smile as I pushed off on my bike and waved goodbye to them.
As I pedaled onward, I thought about the child’s initial expression. I wondered about my own in that moment when our eyes met, before I offered a reassuring smile. Fortunately, we had not collided, but our paths certainly crossed. Though it was a brief encounter, it was important. This child was exploring his world and learning about what he can expect from his community and the individuals in it.
How we move within our communities and engage those whose paths we cross conveys — or perhaps doesn’t convey — our faith.
God loves us: each of us, all of us, and this world so much. We all belong and have a place and a purpose in this world, daily showing and sharing God’s love in small and occasionally big ways. Even the briefest moments in our homes and communities are opportunities to demonstrate these truths, and for the youngest among us, they are formative experiences.
Sometimes I think back on a difficult period of my life and wonder how many times I looked upon my young children with a gaze heavy with worry and concern. Some of it having to do with them, but the boatload of it not. Could they tell the difference? Doubtful. Even grown-ups have a difficult time accepting the notion it’s not about you. While I cannot turn back the clock, I have become more aware of my inner-life and how it effects my response to others.
I have discovered the more mindful I am about not getting hooked by the annoyances and worries of the day, the more capable I am of living from the deepest truth in my heart. For me, this requires reaching into the core of our faith — God’s love in Jesus — and touching that ultimate reality which Saint Julian of Norwich shared with us: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
When I can receive, even momentarily, God’s steadfast love, then I can begin to convey it to others. It changes me and the world around me.
And while there is good all around us, there is also injustice, violence, and reasons for worry and concern. Add the coarsening of public discourse and it seems to me that our society is increasingly pressing people of faith to reveal the hope that is in us, to paraphrase 1 Peter.
And, I believe it to be all the more urgent to share this hope with the young ones in our midst. With so much uncertainty in their lives, we can let them know what they can expect from us: kindness grounded in God’s love. Experiencing this in one’s life is formative for children and the crisscrossing of so many experiences is what creates community.
Recently, I’ve slowed down to play peek-a-boo with babies in grocery stores, provide distractions to crying toddlers in airports, smile at groups of teenagers in restaurants, and encourage every parent I meet. With God’s grace, I’m intent on giving more heart to my community.
How might you tap the brakes and offer kindness grounded in God’s love?
How can you further reveal to the young people in your life the hope that is in you?