The other day a young father I know narrowly averted a family crisis. His daughter had lost her first tooth, and dutifully putting it in an envelope, she placed it under her pillow. Then she went to sleep knowing with the certainty of childhood faith that sometime during the night the Tooth Fairy would sneak into her room and take the tooth away, leaving some money behind.
But something went horribly wrong! Imagine the little girl’s horror when she woke up and discovered the envelope was still there. This was supposed to be a clear-cut transaction: one tooth in exchange for $5. [I had no idea teeth had gotten that expensive!] Anyway, her loud cry summoned her parents to the scene of this gross injustice. However, being a pretty sharp guy, this father realized at once what had happened. So, he explained to her that it was just the Tooth Fairy up to her old tricks. Pinching the envelope at one corner, he tore it open and shook it to show that the tooth was mysteriously gone. Then, together they searched the entire house, until at last they found Abe Lincoln tucked into her pillowcase. Amazing, she hadn’t noticed it there before.
Many of you probably have had a similar experience—either as kids or parents. As far as our children are concerned, we go to great lengths to foster their anticipation, to prolong and protect the fundamental beliefs of childhood. With them, we hunt for Easter baskets hidden by bunnies. We help them draft letters to Santa Claus. We predict the weather based on a groundhog seeing a shadow. We make financial pledges for which incisor-mongering sprites are held responsible. We do all this and more in the spirit of family togetherness, because we realize you are only a kid once, and because we know beliefs must be nurtured to take root. And we do all this knowing full well that some of those beliefs may one day be discarded. Which begs the question: What about believing in God?
I’m always dismayed when I hear of parents saying they’re going to let their children decide on religion when they grow up, fearful lest they “force their beliefs on them.” I’m saddened, because by not doing so they’re actually forcing unbelief. We don’t feel that way with regard to manners, eating vegetables, or brushing those teeth the Fairy eventually gets. The important things in life are formative. Because like the shoots of a tiny plant, a child’s beliefs, if left unprotected and un-nurtured, are going to wither and die before they have a change to grow big and strong.
If you have children, take a good look at them tonight. And ask yourself, “What am I teaching them?” Then ask yourself, “What am I not teaching them?” Maybe, when they wake up you can give them something more than cash under their pillow.