September 26, 2014

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Have a childlike courage that defies world-defined realities

Sean GallagherI’ll say this much for my 5-year-old son Philip. He’s a talker.

He’s a chip off his extroverted father’s block. You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth. But you know something will. He thinks by talking.

Sometimes, that gets him in trouble. If I ask him to do something that he doesn’t want to do, he’ll often react by quickly and angrily saying, “Fine!” (something he’s learned from his older brothers). That will get him a quick trip to the corner.

At other times, he’ll say funny things that come out of left field that the best stand-up comic couldn’t come up with.

That happened one evening recently when I was getting ready to brush his teeth at bedtime. At best, he tolerates the procedure. He thinks toothpaste is too “spicy.” The way he reacts when I brush his teeth, you’d think he was eating five-alarm chili.

Just before I put the toothbrush in his mouth, he told me the ingredients that give toothpaste its spiciness: “salt, pepper, onions and Gatorade.” I had to put down the toothbrush and just laugh.

It was so funny because, on the one hand, I knew that it was ridiculously false. On the other hand, Philip delivered the line as if it were the Gospel truth. How could I not laugh?

Now, if Philip had made this statement with such conviction as a teenager, it probably wouldn’t have been as funny. I’d probably sooner roll my eyes at that point than laugh.

As you grow closer to adulthood, you’re supposed to live according to reality. But that often means reality as the world around us defines it.

The world defines happiness by saying it is standing in line for hours to buy the latest smart phone. It defines success by dollar signs. It defines selfishness as a strength. It defines freedom as living with no obligation to what is true and good.

The world’s definition of morality can be hard to figure out. At times, it says that it is all relative, limited to the individual alone. It is a morality that overflows with a kind of mercy, but is devoid of justice.

At other times, the pendulum swings to the other extreme. If a person has defied what can be a legitimate standard of social behavior, then he or she is immediately and irrevocably shunned. It’s justice with no measure of mercy. Hit send too quickly on Twitter or Facebook and you might lose your job based on what you said.

The world also often seeks to moderate our aspirations. It’s not realistic to hope for peace in our families, on our streets and in the world at large. Fighting poverty is pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Striving to find a cure for cancer or other diseases is a never-ending task.

So, don’t be too beholden to your ideals. You’ll only set yourself up for disappointment.

That’s the attitude of our world—or at least of our grown-up world. But it’s not the childlike fearlessness that Philip has. He’s not yet afraid to say crazy things about the ingredients of toothpaste. I pray that as he grows older, he’ll have the courage to be crazy in the eyes of the world by striving to live out the Catholic faith and Christian values that my wife, Cindy, and I are seeking to form in him.

With the help of God’s grace, even we adults can grow in this courage. Then reality as defined by the world won’t keep us from embracing the often countercultural ideals of the Gospel.

We may seem as crazy in the eyes of the world as Philip’s salt, pepper, onions and Gatorade that fill his tube of Pepsodent. But we can move forward with a smile on our face knowing the goodness of our goals and the grace that will make them true realities in the end. †

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