‘Lighten our darkness….’ From early childhood I have been afraid of the dark, a condition my brother was never slow to take advantage of as we were growing up. Our farm buildings were a few hundred yards up a lane from our home, and on many a wintry evening we would finish our chores and make our way along the lane; the shared torch casting ominous shadows along the brooding hedgerow. More often than not my brother would grab the torch and run ahead, leaving me in growing darkness until the flickering torchlight would suddenly disappear, and I would know that he lay in wait for me. Knowing that there was a moment of terror pending when he would jump out from the hedge before he would run on again to repeat the experience did nothing to ease the dread, sometimes I would stand still for ages hoping he would get bored and head on home, but the night-time noises of country life would quickly send me scurrying into the path of the inevitable. Over time I learned to carry a spare pocket torch with me, and while I still knew my brother was somewhere ahead, that flickering thin beam of torch light gave me comfort beyond measure.
These have been difficult and dark days for us as a nation. Our children have been stolen from us through incomprehensible acts of violence and through unspeakable tragedy. Families and communities are living through unthinkable horror and we cannot even begin to imagine the pain and the loss that they feel. Beautiful faces smile back at us as we gaze upon their pictures and wonder, Why? How? Recent trials have revealed what we have long suspected – childhood and innocence have been shattered in far too many young lives. Our children are being exposed to images and experiences that even adults would struggle to cope with. And these are only the children we hear about. Contact with Childline and other support agencies continues to spike at record levels over each Christmas season. Toys and gifts are quickly pawned to feed habits; far too many of our children arrive at school hungry, if they are able to make it to school at all.
We offer hollow platitudes that children are our future, that more must be done; Children are not just our future, they are our present, they are our heartbeat, they are our responsibility. Our job is to protect them, yes; but not to wrap them in bubblewrap and isolate them from every and any danger. Our job is to teach them these truths. Firstly, that yes, bad things do happen, and that at some point in their young lives they are going to face challenges that we cannot always protect them from. Secondly, we need to teach them how to deal with these challenges, how to go through them rather than around them, how to face fear rather than avoid it. Thirdly we need to teach them how to find the place of peace, the inner God-given resource of accepting themselves as they are, warts and all. Our nation’s children are amazing, in less than a year they have awakened us to the chilling reality of climate change – their voices have challenged us to do so much more, their fears have made us deeply uncomfortable and hopefully inspired us to lead them and teach them better ways.
Our best answer to the darkness of these difficult days is to hug our children a little bit longer than usual and then let them go live their lives of adventure and wonder. It has long been the lot of parents to fret and to fear – but our job is to ensure that our fears don’t define their lives, that we resource them to the best of our ability and then step back and let them live. They are our flickering torchlight along darkened laneways, they are our hope and inspiration. May God protect them when we can’t and may their lives, whether short or long, be filled with love, laughter and light.