Over time, I developed a good-bye ritual with my two children. At first, I would just say, “be safe.” But I had other desires for them, as well.
Soon I added, “be good” and then “have fun” and lastly, I would add, “learn something.” Those four reminders seemed to cover all the bases for me.
Keeping our kids safe and teaching them how to be safe seems like job one. I tried to start early. In parking lots and when crossing the street, I would hold my toddler’s hand, but ask them if they saw any cars. I hoped they would remember the discipline later in life and apply it to other circumstances, too. Look. What are the risks around me?
Over time, I came to understand that safety must include more than just physical safety, as important as that is. Real safety includes keeping safe emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
When I told my children to “be good,” I meant something more than just obeying rules. In fact, I didn’t mean anything of the kind. I meant “be good” in the more philosophical, existential sense of all that goodness might mean.
I meant for them to pursue what the Apostle Paul calls the “Fruit of the Spirit” in his letter to the churches of Galatia:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV)
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all a part of what it means to “be good.” To that fine list (I’m sure Paul did not mean for it to be the exhaustive list), I would add justice, mercy, generosity, loyalty, tolerance, and acceptance. I’m pretty sure it took a long time for my children to realize that I was not just talking about “school rules,” but something much bigger.
“Life moves pretty fast,” we are reminded by movie character Ferris Bueller. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris is right.
Jesus promised life more abundant yes, in heaven, but also here and now. We should give ourselves permission to enjoy the blessings of life.
Have a little fun. Don’t be overly serious about life. Laugh at yourself and laugh at stuff that’s funny. If you do, I think you will be a more healthy person.
Education seems to be a central key to happiness in life. Yes, our formal education is important and maybe the primary source of our knowledge. But I think it is possible to learn so much apart from schooling. Every situation in life holds the potential to teach us something about ourselves, others, things, and even God.
So, almost every day, my children would hear me say as they got out of the car to go to school, “Be careful, be good, have fun, and learn something.” Some days I might give a little emphasis in my voice to one or even all of those admonitions. It got to where they might repeat them with me or even beat me to the punch and say, “Yeah, yeah, I know . . . be careful . . . be good . . .
Later, I began to add a phrase I picked up from Sol Gordon’s book by the same title. I would say, “And remember, life is uncertain. Eat your dessert first.”
I know. I know. We have to plan for the future and save a little something for rainy days. But we also have to live in the here and now. Today is the only day I am sure I get. I ought to get the most pleasure from it I can reasonably have.
I am aware of too many people who postponed some of life’s enjoyments because they were “saving for the future,” only to find that when the future came, they were no longer capable of enjoying the things they had postponed. They let false guilt over an “abundant life” rob them of true joy.
Eat your dessert first. I dare you, before you eat that nice, leafy salad, lean in to that piece of apple pie in front of you and smile as you do. If someone questions you, just reply, “Life is uncertain. I eat my dessert first.” You might just inspire them to do the same.
My little good-bye ritual blessing certainly made me feel more secure as my children went off to face life without me present. In the end, I think they began to take it to heart for themselves.