This morning, my wife and I attended our son’s first grade “Holiday Show.” Because he attends a public school, the play couldn’t be called a Christmas Show. It wouldn’t be politically correct. Fortunately, our school is full of wonderful people who are able to allow the celebration of other cultural belief systems, yet refuse to be intimidated by those who take particular aim at Christian traditions. And though the play was ostensibly about a warm-hearted snowman, the dwarves, elves, and assorted winter creatures finished with a bright musical medley that included “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Hey, at least they used the word CHRISTmas.

 

I needed this. My spirit had been a bit heavy the past few days. Because something happened to my daughter recently, and so it happened to me, too. Her heart was broken. Our hearts were broken.

 

The Cold, Hard Truth

 

Three days ago, my daughter was told by several friends that there was no Santa Claus. These ten-year-olds apparently mentioned it in a very sophisticated, aloof sort of way, as if discussing the latest political climate. Mary Ruth felt her insides being crushed. But she went along.

 

She pretended to be all right. But her mother and I knew from the moment she walked in the door after school that something was wrong. Bright but serious, Mary Ruth has always reminded me of myself as a child. Arrows that seemingly bounce off the emotional armor of others her age somehow find their way straight into her heart. Her intellect still outdistances her emotional development, and she seems to struggle with an internal tension that feels all too familiar to me, to the child still within me. My first child, my only daughter—we are, she and I, reluctant to relinquish our passion for imagination. We are close in ways of both mind and spirit.

 

I worry about her, of course. Because unwise as it may be, I unavoidably project my own past story into her future one, into her journey barely begun. And I sense her longing. I worry about what she might do as her life unfolds, the people and places and things she might seek as a way to fill the spiritual hungering with which she was born. I pray that she will avoid some of the emptiness with which I tried to fill my soul. Because of her unique gifts, her potential for Kingdom service is great. But the gifts also make her vulnerable.

 

In our home, we have always tried to teach truth, without prematurely robbing our children of their God-given, childlike essence of wonder. Santa Claus is larger than real life—joy, giving, fantasy…all dressed up in red, white, and bells, blindingly beautiful, like some heart-stopping gift. Through him, we have tried to teach our children that in this often unfeeling, faithless world there does indeed exist a wondrous thing called Love—a thing greater than all the darkness, all the pain, all the universalism and fear and shame and hatred and ugliness. And in this teaching through a fantastical, stronger-than-reality story, the greater truth within always begins and ends with Jesus.

This is what Santa comes to remind us of, we tell them. Giving. Sharing. Jaw-dropping, eye-popping, shimmering chill-bumping proof—there is more to life than the life we see around us. More to this existence than what we see, hear, feel, taste. We walk through this sometimes cold and weary world, but we need never succumb to it. Because long ago, in a place far away, something wonderful happened.