Marriage and Family Life
Helping Our Children See Paradise!
New Hampshire is paradise. I say this to my kids so often, they hardly even bother to roll their eyes anymore.
I’m really only halfway joking. Do we have devastating earthquakes? No, we do not. Do we have volcanoes, catastrophic hurricanes, or monsoons? Not at all. Also no regular wildfires, mudslides, tsunamis or clouds of locusts. Yes, the summers scorch and the winters punish. But all of this is predictable, manageable, and also beautiful.
In New Hampshire, there is something lovely to see any time of the year. We natives take this bounty for granted, but not everyone enjoys such aesthetic luxury. A California friend told me her son had kindergarten homework: a page showing four blank trees, which the child was to color to illustrate the four seasons. He scribbled green on each one and called it “done” – and he wasn’t wrong. Seasons like that are great for your golf game; less great for a heart that craves wonder.
Like so many moms, I live mostly in the car, so I make a point of noting and praising God for the ever-changing glory unfurling past our windows. I just want to make sure my kids see. See, how lucky we are! See, smell, touch and listen to what God has set in motion. Look at the snow sifting down like diamonds! Look to the left! The sky is all pink and orange! Ooh, who saw that yellow bird? Let’s look it up when we get home. Listen, you can hear water! Where is it coming from? Is it under the ice?
Some parents hammer home the idea that God made this; God made that; birds migrate in the fall because God made them that way; the planets keep to their orderly dance because God sets the tune. I have no objection to this theological instruction, except that as your children grow older, you may find that it causes kids to tune you out, and to grow jaded when they hear the name of God. I think maybe it is better not to sap each season of its sweetness by trying to force it into the shape of a religion lesson. The natural world has a story to tell of salvation, and it tells it in magnificent and subtle ways that our lessons—no matter how well intentioned—cannot.
In New Hampshire, the incessant cycle of birth and death and rebirth is inescapable. You cannot ignore the ancient story of desolation and consolation, the ever-present hope of new life. No matter how cold, how dark, how hard, how closed-off the world becomes, there is always reason to hope, deep down. Every twig bears witness to this hope. Trim off a branch of the lilac in the deepest day of winter, and you’ll see it: a tiny shaft of green. It’s hard to wait in the middle of February, but by God and his Grace, it’s better than having nothing to wait for.
How do parents convey the joy of Easter without the backing chorus of the first few exuberant birds returning to their homes, or the musical trickle and rush of the melting snow, the miraculous rescue of the world from blackened, filthy snowbanks giving way to rich, shining, fertile mud? How do you explain what joy the apostles felt on seeing Christ whole and alive again, if you don’t live among trees that go dry and stone cold through the winter, but all along have held a silent secret of green?
I have no idea. I know that no one is closed off from God’s love and salvation, not even some poor soul who lives in a colorless cell or a featureless desert. All beauty comes from God, and he would not leave any of his children utterly unreached.
But here we are in New Hampshire, where beauty is sometimes so insistently lavish I must make a conscious effort to watch the road, rather than the trees. Since this is the world God has given us, we must not squander the chance to teach children to love the natural world, because it is a way of worshipping God.
Of course it’s not enough to love the natural world. We are not pantheists, and we do not worship nature itself. It is necessary to teach children the things we know by revelation, tradition, and Scripture, too, and not just what we can gather by stepping outside.
But God has given us the world that surrounds us as a true gift, as something more than what we need, because it delights him to do so. A doting mother chooses the sweetest clothes, the prettiest nursery decor, the most pleasant toys, and the softest bedding for her baby, even though plain, merely functional things would suffice. She loves him, and she wants him to know it, so she surrounds him with good things. She delights in seeing him happy. She wants him to know how much she loves him.
So teach your children to look, touch, smell, and listen! Don’t let the gifts of the seasons pass by as a mere background blur to the day’s worries and to-do lists. We do live somewhere pretty close to paradise, and when we delight in it, we please God, come to know him better, and teach our children to do the same.
Simcha Fisher is a wife and mother of 10. She is the author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning, as well as a freelance writer and speaker. She and her family live in Marlborough, N.H.