When author Toni Morrison was once asked how she became a great writer, she responded, “I am a great writer because when I was a little girl and walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up. That is why I am a great writer.”
We become healthy and “great” in our lives because people important to us love us so much that we can see it in their eyes. The sparkle in their eyes and the smile on their lips tell us we are loved, we are accepted, we are valued, no matter what the rest of the world says. That’s a great lesson in parenting and, as we of the Christian faith approach the celebration of Christmas, having “bright eyes” is also a wonderful parable of faith.
Children naturally get excited when December rolls around and their thoughts turn to presents, parties, winter weather and Santa. But even as their excitement level rises, we adults sometimes respond with a corresponding drop in enthusiasm, energy and life. To be honest, our eyes are not always bright when December walks into the room. We’re just too tired.
We’re tired of the holiday rush. We’re tired of shopping. We’re tired of this year’s adjacent and never-ending cycle of news, politics and finger-pointing. Perhaps we’re tired of everyone who doesn’t agree with our definition of what Christmas is supposed to mean, or who doesn’t match our own conception of what it means to be a Christian.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Christians who follow the liturgical year know that December is not just a race to Christmas; it’s the season of Advent, a time to wake up, steady ourselves, and remember that Christmas is not just the dark and cold end of the year. Christmas is all about light, and if we’re not bringing light to the world this Christmas, if we’re not lighting up someone’s eyes by our kindness, generosity and willingness to serve and love beyond our comfortable boundaries and belief systems, we’re doing something terribly wrong.
If we ever want December to become more than a blustery season of gifts and parties for us and our children — if we truly want it to be holy — we need to wake up and then slow down. We need to greet the season with bright and gentle eyes that remind us — and tell our children — that there’s more to it than meets the eye in the reflection of the department store window.
Our children will only learn to yearn for the true meaning of Christmas and be people of faith when they see us living our Christianity in ways that reflect what Jesus taught his disciples. He taught not division and fear between strangers and enemies but embrace and forgiveness. He taught acceptance and care of “the other,” not judgment nor disregard. He taught an authentic way to love and live that is an answer to this timeless question: Do we love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls, and do we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves?
The baby in the manger at Christmas grew up to be a man who taught others to love in extraordinary and impactful ways. Like Toni Morrison seeing the light in her father’s eyes, our children must see the light in ours when we practice our faith. At Christmas, they must see us kneel in prayer and adoration before the light of the manager (whether physically or metaphorically) and then reflect that light out into the world by the way we see and serve others. A faith that is any less real, any less bright-eyed, any less rigorous in its love, will fail to motivate them to emulate it. Faith, after all, is caught more often than it is taught.
Steve Givens is a spiritual director and widely published writer on Christian spirituality. He is a member of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield and a trustee of the Aquinas Institute of Theology.
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