Last weekend we celebrated Joachim’s birthday – he turned seven – and some of our family came over, although I had felt that we really had no time to celebrate this birthday.
I felt a bit overwhelmed by a confluence of events and circumstances including the first week of the school term, which is always unsettled, a death in the family, a nagging cold, work deadlines, and those many everyday stressors that on their own can knock us off-balance if we let them.
But, of course, we always do find time to celebrate these things, and though it wasn’t the big bash he probably hoped for it was still a fun afternoon.
The weather wasn’t great so we mostly stayed indoors and it gets noisy in a not-large house with six children and 10 adults.
But when they all left I was so glad that they had come, and they even helpfully left us with dinner cooked, laundry folded, and shirts ironed for the week.
The timing of Joachim’s birthday in the middle of those lesser and greater dramas seemed an inconvenience to me on the Wednesday, but by the Sunday I decided it was perfect.
You can say to an adult, “Things are a bit full-on at the moment, let’s celebrate your birthday next week”, but you can’t say that to an almost seven-year-old. At least not our boy.
It had to be done and done decently – cakes had to go to school for his classmates, and not shop-bought, but home-baked. People had to come over and make a fuss of him.
The colour of his main gift, a skateboard and helmet, had to be changed.
And we just had to make the time in the middle of a tough week to do that.
To me it illustrates why children are so precious, not just because of their own inherent and incalculable value, but for our sakes as well.
They force us to stop and get out of ourselves and our adult worlds.
They force us to change our own one-dimensional plans and pull us out of our own mental spaces which can so easily become confining and distorting.
And not just children, but the elderly and sick as well. If not for the babies and young children, and the sick and infirm, who is there to pull us out of ourselves?
It was a privilege and even a pleasure, though sad, to visit my uncle in his final weeks here, and try in a tiny way to make his time in hospital a little easier. What a blessing the children and the sick are to us!
Jesus tells us that they represent him and are our way to heaven. “Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you … for I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’
Somehow I can never manage to do these works of mercy in the right spirit of generosity, or I let opportunities to do more pass by, but God knows me and I hope takes the little good that I do and multiplies it.
It’s the loaves and the fish story again. Life hands us moments which feel a bit overwhelming, that feel like 5000 people turning up to join you for the day and needing to be fed, even if it’s just a boy wanting a birthday cake baked.
And Jesus just stands there and says, as he did to the disciples, “Go on, do it yourself”.
So you go on, giving the little you can, which is never close to being enough or what you would like to be able to do, or what you expect you should be able to do, and somehow, through the help and kindness of friends and family, and simple providence, the children still thrive, the chores get done, the relative gets properly farewelled, fun is still had, and life is good.
What we can do is never enough. But, thanks to God, it is enough.