I was doing some writing at home that morning from a spare bedroom upstairs I sometimes use as a work space. I sat not at a desk, but on top of a single bed so I could stretch out my legs under my laptop and look out the window. My view out the window revealed the falling snow not letting up anytime soon. I pulled my hat over my ears hoping to be in for the day.
I remembered a line from that Christmas hymn,
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow. In the bleak midwinter, long ago.” *
It feels like a bleak midwinter.
The wisdom gleaned from Groundhogs Day (if you believe in such a thing) is that six weeks of winter still await us. Like most of the country, I am sorry I ever heard the term, “polar vortex.” My friends from the Midwest are ready to move somewhere warm. The South seems unprepared and under-responsive. Here in the Northeast we are strong but grow weary. The forecast has more winter storms approaching later this week. Now all I wanted to do was crawl under those covers on the spare bed and take a nap. Maybe the animals that hibernated for the winter got it right, I thought to myself. I got up and walked into the kitchen to make some hot tea – maybe then I could think more about the warmth of the day, the blessing of being inside, the coziness of having the family home for the day. A suggestion came from the kitchen: perhaps later we could make soup.
Then I listened to my children. They had plans. BIG PLANS. Friends would be coming over. Sledding was already on the schedule. The hot chocolate was lined up on the counter waiting in great anticipation of all the fun that was about to happen on this snow day. It was 9:30. I took my tea and went back upstairs.
Then it hit me. Children get it. They truly understand the difference between an opportunity and a roadblock. And even roadblocks can be fun. They can make snow forts out of them. How have we missed this important insight? When did we lose that sense of wonder, excitement and joy?
Snow! “Yuck,” we say. “Not again,” we utter in agony as we hang our heads in defeat.
Snow! “Awesome!” kids say. They start looking for their boots after they finish doing the no school dance.
I think I’d rather be a kid. When is the last time you danced because school was cancelled? (Our kids have done a lot of dancing lately.)
In my estimation the church in America for the last several years has been on a long snow day. We are cooped up inside. We resent being there. We see some bloke outside with a shovel and shake our heads and say, “What a fool” under our breath rather than join in the shoveling. We’ve lost our sense of wonder and our sense of fun. We’d rather crawl under the covers. We’d rather have a cup of tea (or coffee – church people tend to hot like hot drinks) and stay inside. We don’t know what else to do so we make soup. It is great soup, we learned how to make it long ago from the masters, but we’ll be the only ones who will ever eat it. When we hear the kids playing and getting excited about something we turn and walk away.
Maybe the problem with the church is not irrelevance, or judgment, or hypocrisy. (Though there seems like there is enough of that to go around.) Maybe our real problem is that we have lost the joy of being children. What I think we tend to be missing is not the next best program or repackaging some old one we’ve tried and have grown tired of for the umpteenth time. What we could use is a change of perspective – just like seeing snow coming down outside as good news to share and enjoy rather than drudgery that keeps us inside and alone.
When is the last time you made a snow angel? Maybe we should all make one again…
Find your snow pants. Grab your gloves. Get a good warm hat. Kick on your boots. Get out in that snow. Tromp around in it. Build a fort. Pull out a shovel or your car brush and see who needs digging out. If this seems too much for you to do – ready the hot chocolate and stir the soup. Welcome and invite your cold neighbors in for a cup of either or both. These are the connections we are missing.
When our kids were younger we built a huge fort out of the snow mound made by the plow at the bottom of the parking lot close to the house. When I’d come home at the end of the day one or both of them would be waiting, hiding behind a snow mound to launch a snow ball at me as I walked home. Usually I could see them as soon as I turned the corner. If I couldn’t see them I could hear giggling. I would walk right into their trap as they jumped out and snowballs flew in my direction. Before long I was grabbing snow and chasing them, snowball in hand. The laughter was contagious. The fun of the moment carried us through. Soon we were inside sipping hot chocolate with rosy cheeks and steaming foreheads, recounting the tales of our adventures to mom who smiled at us around the table.
This is what we are missing as the church today. It is time for us once again to get caught up in the fun of the moment. Get outside. Make a snowball. Be ready. I’ve got one with your name on it, and I can’t stop giggling…
At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me. (Matthew 18:1-5 – THE MESSAGE)
* Christina Georgina Rossetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, #294.