I had a rough weekend. Sometimes, when you shoulder responsibility, the burden can get pretty heavy, and I was definitely feeling it over the 4th of July weekend. Most of the time, being an elder is pleasant and rewarding. Sometimes however, it is heavy. When you couple that with my emotional nature and my highly empathetic heart, it can occasionally weigh me way down. On Saturday, I felt like I had a 10-ton anchor sitting on my chest. Let’s just say that I was definitely not a joy to be around. (You can give an “atta-boy” to my wife and daughters for putting up with me.)
On top of the general leadership burden I was feeling, I had also lost a niece to liver failure earlier in the week. She had passed away after complications arose from liver disease that I’m told was prompted by her life-long abuse of alcohol. On Thursday before the weekend started, her sister showed me a picture of her taken not long before her death. If I’d been standing right next to her, I would not have recognized her. But, before all of that, she was just a little girl, and I remember her mostly that way. She spent hours, even days, at my parent's place. She had a rough home life as a kid, and our house could sometimes be a sanctuary for her. She was at all of our family gatherings. She was family, despite the fact that our paths had gone in different directions as adults and I had not seen her in many, many years. And, she was gone. Gone way too young.
My heart was weary and broken.
Then, two wonderful things happened to renew my spirit.
First, our family had a cookout on Sunday evening, and we invited a collection of friends from different seasons of our lives to come join us. Nearly everyone we asked was able to join us, and we had a whale of a time. God assisted by clearing out the rain for the day. Then I grilled burgers and hotdogs—inhaling way too much grill smoke in the process—and we sat around on my deck and told stories for hours. We renewed our bonds, and created some new ones. We laughed. We solved the world’s problems—if only people would listen to us. And, we encouraged one another. I have to tell you—fellowship is good for the soul. I felt so much better.
Second, on Tuesday night—after I had driven from Evansville to Plainfield in the rain, and then traversed the city, dodging crazy traffic and out-of-sync traffic signals—Nancy, my daughter Andrea, and I loaded up in the car and drove to Muncie. We went there to attend my niece’s memorial service. Again, circumstances were trying to discourage me. More rain. Crazy traffic. Water flowing over the road. We were late, and missed most of the formal service. Still, we were able to see the family.
Then, the most amazing thing happened…
I have nieces who have had children already. (That does seem a little crazy to me, but it is true.) Some of the little ones I have met, but not all. None of them really remembered me. There were five or six of these little ones running around the room where the family was gathered, and they were all preschool age or younger. Well, I sat down and started talking and teasing with a couple of them, which led me to a simple magic trick—I pulled a fake rose petal out of one of their ears. The first two little girls were amazed! "I think you're a magician," one of them said. Well, the next thing I know, I’m pulling dimes, nickels, and pennies out of all of the ears, noses, and mouths of all of the kids in the room! They were swarming me. (It’s a good thing I had a pocket full of change.) They were happy and giggling. “Pull it out of my ear! Please!” “Do it again!”….”and again”…”and again.”
They were laughing. I was laughing. Their eyes were sparkling with joy. And, suddenly, my heart felt lighter than it had in months.
No wonder Jesus wanted the little children around him.
Matthew 19:14 New International Version (NIV)
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I suppose the moral of this article is this. The next time you are feeling the burdens of life, do two things: Spend time with good friends, and take the time to connect with little kids.
Nothing is more encouraging than the laughter of children and the sparkle in their happy eyes.