While I was sitting at the computer, minding my own business, eight-year-old Elijah walked into the office ready to unload, apparently, a wealth of smutty information he had received from fellow bus passengers the previous school year. The entire scenario was so disorienting that I literally froze up, unable to type, unable to focus, unable to respond with any semblance of authority to the expletives and anatomically correct terminology assaulting my ears through the innocent voice of my son. “Think! Think!” I commanded my brain, short-circuiting from an overload of shock and confusion. Obviously, he was feeling me out. The curiosity, after all this time, was killing him. “Don’t get weird,” I coached myself, “you knew this day was coming.”
I discovered that older boys had teased him by writing words on notebook paper, words as foreign to my Elijah as Chinese characters, mysterious, exotic and bold, and having him recite them out loud - as they laughed, as he wondered for months what exactly was just so funny. Steadying my voice and composure, I turned to him with an expression that relayed how normal and natural this conversation between a mother and her growing child should be. I camouflaged my squirminess with questions. “Did they tell you what those things meant?” I prodded, trying to assess how accurate were the sordid scraps of details floating through his head, trying to buy some time while I conjured up possible explanations that would inform Elijah without embarrassing him, without discouraging him from feeling comfortable enough to step right up to me and let loose all the honest inquiries that silence or chastisement would have him take elsewhere for answers.
Just as I suspected, Elijah’s informants turned out to be inaccurate, impressionable, and immature - their view of intimacy representing, to a tee, the audaciousness of our culture at large where boundaries are meant to be crossed, where familiarity breeds disrespect, where nothing is considered “off limits” any longer. I’m tempted to hide them from it, sheltering my children in dark, antiseptic corners while they fill in the gaps of missing data with titillating assumptions about what exactly is going out there in our great big planet of sin. But I can’t risk having any of my kids come to their own conclusions about morality and faith without my guidance, so I will try to walk beside them staying alert for opportunities to put the chaos into context, to shed light on the shadows that creep into spirits blocking out peace, hope, and freedom.
The entire far wall of our upstairs hallway is a backdrop for icons and candles, hung generously on its center and down its sides. This austere display of Orthodox infused spirituality could easily be mistaken for an over-the-top, in your face, endorsement of a rigorous, outdated, and completely irrelevant form of asceticism; such foreign images, mysterious, exotic, and bold, exude black and white convictions ill fitting with a society cloaked in gray. In this day and age - where even God, Himself, has become subject to a well-intended makeover, His hardcore requirements softened and smoothed to appear more palatable to the church visitors sipping lattes in their pews - unfiltered glimpses of white hot holiness tend to burn before they purify and enlighten. But to my weary heart, so easily tempted and then ultimately disappointed by the empty promises of excitement and comfort sparkling like fool’s gold on self-centered choices, this section of our home devoted to prayer and meditation is like a little piece of heaven. These saints, crosses, and depictions of Christ evoke the courage I need to not compromise my beliefs, to stay leery of the fast and easy, to follow in the footsteps of those who persevered until their very last breath here on earth.
With all of the unconstructive at best (and totally destructive at worst) messages being pumped into my kids, it is imperative that I counter that negative stimuli with that which is good and noble. So we gather before our icons as a family to offer praise and supplication to the same undiluted God the apostles worshiped before us; we enter into the timelessness of Christ. This consecrated focal point, unlike anything else we will gaze at throughout the day, is essential because we are human, because senses are the portals to our soul. And no one’s eyes see further, no one’s ear hear louder, no one’s nose inhales deeper than those of young children trying to make sense of this world. May our homes be a refuge of Truth, sacredness, and beauty.
“It’s time for the talk,” I told Troy over coffee. “Its time you had the talk with Elijah.” Like a deer in headlights my husband looked back at me - I could almost smell the friction of his own brain churning, his mental gears burning, his memories returning to a decades old adolescence. And we both begin to painfully, slowly, begrudgingly understand that it is time to adjust, time to pray ceaselessly, time to keep up with our son.
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