The other day, out for lunch with Dan and a friend, I noticed a small boy come into the restaurant with his young Dad.
“How special,” I thought. “A father son outing.”
I waved to the child, as you do, but he didn’t wave back. He didn’t even smile. He didn’t smile the whole time he was sitting there silently, while his dad focused entirely on his mobile phone.
When crayons and coloring book were brought to the table, the boy didn’t even touch them. I leaned closer and quietly said to him, as his dad sat there texting, “Don’t you want to colour?”
He barely shook his head, just sat there stiffly, as if he was afraid to move.
“Why won’t that man talk to his boy?” I fumed inwardly. What a precious opportunity lost! I caught myself backbiting in my mind, so changed my thoughts, and pictured them smiling and chatting. Nothing changed except that I felt more peaceful. Later I saw them in a shop and again, the boy was very dour-faced, and they weren’t talking. Trying some tact, I said to the father, “Your son sure is peaceful and quiet.” He answered, (jokingly I hoped), “He’d better be, or no ice cream.”
One of the best gifts in life remained unwrapped - the gift of presence - a parent being fully present to his child, to laugh, joke, play, touch, talk, ask questions or maybe even colour together.
Virtues are the gifts, the fruits, of the Spirit. Galations 5:22 – 23 says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
1. Love: When you are with a loved one, especially a child, give them your love. Look, smile, listen, touch, talk.
2. Joy: Let yourself experience the joy of a child’s views and ways. Play. Dare to be silly.
3. Peace: Use peaceful correction by calling them to a virtue (“You need to be kind to your sister. Use your voice not your hands,”) instead of aggressively growling or smacking them.
4. Forbearance: Children require a lot of “putting up with”, because they make mistakes. When they spill a drink, hand them a cloth, not the back of your hand.
5. Kindness: Always use kind words and kind touch. We are all exquisitely sensitive to whether we are being put down or lifted up.
6. Goodness: You are their example of goodness, or virtue. Be the honest, caring, compassionate, and fair minded person you would like them to be.
7. Faithfulness: Keep your promises, or don’t make them. This shows children that they matter.
8. Gentleness: When you feel angry or frustrated, speak reasonably. Give children clear boundaries on what you expect and relevant consequences to help them get the teachable moment. One of our granddaughter’s at age three was to put all her toys away each day. The consequence of refusing was not nagging but that for the next day she couldn’t play with them. She got the lesson quickly and was proud of being “helpful”. She still is.
9. Self-control. Abstain from excessive alcohol. You are never your best self under the influence. Use self-control to put your electronics away and focus on the people right in front of you.
The greatest gift isn’t to be found under a Christmas tree, but in your own soul. Unwrap yourself. You are the best present, when you are fully present.