I had a conversation this morning that was fairly depressing. I was on my way back from the morning school run and started a conversation with a gentleman who lives near us. He is expecting another grandchild and I referred to the impending happy event with a smile, expecting - well, I don't really know, but surely a positive response. I didn't get one. His face fell, his body language closed up and he shook his head.
'What a world to bring a child into.'
This was just the introduction; the conversation went on to address such matters as climate change, the exhaustion of the global oil supply, the rise of Islam, the over-fishing of the seas, the destruction of animals' natural habitats and the role of the clairvoyant in the decline of society.
When I finally got home I put the kettle on as a matter of some urgency and after that I glanced at the news headlines. To be added to this litany of doom were the lack of any vague sort of integrity in the political arena in our country, the ever-growing number of soldiers being killed in Afghanistan and the growing financial crisis in Europe. Also knife crime, pornography, the huge divide between rich and poor and the escalating price of vegetables.
What a world to bring a child into.
My neighbour felt pessimistic and hopeless about the way the world is going. I can see his point. When I read so often that we will still be working at seventy-five or eighty years old, that our children won't have decent pay-packets or pensions and will still be paying off debts from college when they're approaching senility it does sometimes get to me. When I hear about people blowing themselves up in terrorist attacks it makes me wonder how on earth we can defend ourselves against those who are willing to die in order to hurt us. When I read that the streets are full of predators who want to assault and abduct our little ones it makes me want to keep us all locked up in the house while we sit on the sofa and eat pizza.
|You're in this with us.|
Is my attitude responsible? Possibly not. Sensible? I think so.
Something occurred to me, however. I surprised myself.
I don't feel the same gloom about the future that my neighbour does.
I am the mother of two small children who will in the next thirteen years be leaving school and perhaps going to university, where they will have to finance their ongoing education themselves. The world's resources are diminishing to the point where people suggest that we won't be driving anywhere in twenty years as petrol will be so expensive it will be the preserve of the wealthy only. The standard of living is likely to be in decline. The ice caps might melt, or freeze, or stay the same and the sea levels might rise or fall and there may or may not be any fish swimming about in them. I have every reason to be concerned about the state of the world that they will one day inhabit as grown ups.
So why aren't I worried? Why aren't I filled with misery and fear on this topic?
I wasn't sure, this morning. I don't really know about any of these subjects sufficiently to debate them, so it may well be as ominous as my neighbour suggests. But I feel hopeful nonetheless.
We're not showing our beautiful planet the respect that it deserves. We are making some bad mistakes; we are living in a culture of violence and inequality. All these things need looking at and sorting out. Every last one of us needs to change the way we think and the way we act. But it's not the end of the story. I realised when I'd rehashed the conversation a few times what it was that was missing.
Yes, things are pretty dire. Prices are up and wages are down. Bad things are happening. But you are still in your heaven, and therefore all is well.
I have a hope. I look at my children and I see their beauty and their talents and their potential and I have such hopes for them. I hope that they will find out what you want for their lives and I pray that they will learn to listen for your voice and to see you in the world as they go through life. Their relationship with you has infinitely more bearing on their happiness or wellbeing than any oilfield or invoice from the student loans company.
You are with us. You're with me and you're with them. You have a special place in your heart for children.
Father, it seems to me that it's all about perspective. I am the world's worst at losing perspective and becoming all het up and anxious about things beyond my control, but for some reason you were in my heart this morning and the lengthy conversation about the decline of civilisation as we know it failed to bring me down. Thankyou that you were there.
I feel as if I should be working up to some punchline or other, and sadly I'm not. I don't have any breathtaking insights about these things. I live in a world where our leaders sometimes lie. People do bad things. But I trust you.
You are good. You are all that is good. You are the Healer, the Comforter, the Guide, the Way and the Truth and the Life. You are the centre, and all else is trivia.
I don't mean that I shouldn't be concerned about global warming or cooling, or whatever it is; I suppose I should think about it more often when I put another degree on the thermostat on a chilly night. I know that to bury my head in the sand isn't the best way to do my bit in all these areas, but what I think I mean is that to focus on the negative (and there is plenty of negativity) at the exclusion of the good and the joyful and the optimistic is to deny your place in it all. You love our world. It is not a bad place. You made it, you pronounced it good, and you are invested in it.
You love me, and you love my children. You love all the children, and you're waiting for the birth of this baby with delight and anticipation, for you know all about him already. You can't wait to see the faces of his proud parents on the day he arrives. The world he is coming into is yours. You hold it in the palm of your hand. You are the only one who is able to determine when it's time to give up on it.
Father, thank you for the hope that I have.
Thankyou that I can look to the future with hope rather than despair.
Thankyou that you are there for the next generation in the same way that you have been there for all the other generations. No baby is born without you as a witness. Nobody takes a breath without your permission.
Thankyou that there's nothing we can do to earn your love.
Thankyou that you don't erase us from the earth with one word for all the evil that we do.
Thankyou that we can look to the future with joy because you are always with us, just waiting for us to know you better.
What a world to bring a child into.
I sat on the bench in the garden with a coffee and a slice of toast and I contemplated the things around me. This tiny, tiny part of your immense planet. The sun was warm on my shoulders, the birds were singing and singing. I would really like to find out the difference between a wood pigeon and a collared dove, by the way. I will google it later. We've had so much rain lately that everything is a vivid, vibrant green. The peonies and lupins and poppies are blooming. The children in the playground at school were shouting and laughing.
It isn't a terrible, depressing, fearful place. It's a beautiful world full of wonder and colour and excitement and contains men and women who are inspired to do marvellous things in your name. A world full of potential for learning and exploration and delight. A world full of you. The beginning and the end.
What a world to bring a child into.