When I lived in California in the ‘80s I would get off work at midnight and then make the one hour drive north to the little town of Willits where I lived. When I got to Willits I would stop off at the all night convenience store for a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a donut before heading up the hill to my house. What was interesting to me was that there was always a group of teenagers in the store when I got there at 1:00 in the morning.
So, over time, we got to know each other. They would even save a place for me at their table to drink my hot chocolate and share donuts and conversation. I came to learn that they were often there because mom or dad had kicked them out of the house for the evening so he or she could have the house alone with the boyfriend or girlfriend for the night without any rug rats to spoil the romantic mood.
Now there is something that I have to tell you about Willits specifically and Mendocino County in general. During the ‘60s the youth counter culture (sometimes known as hippies) flocked to San Francisco to live communally and defy the establishment. Rent in the Haight district of San Francisco was cheap and thus affordable to large groups of young mostly unemployed “free spirits”. As that decade drew close to the next, many of these young counter-culturists acquired jobs and families and (in effect) joined “the establishment”. Property values rose and so did rents, so the “purists” had to move somewhere else. The obvious choice was north to Mendocino County where they could continue their anti-establishment life-style and continue to fly under the radar. There they settled and began to have children and families after their own fashion.
And these were the “children” that I had encountered in the all-night convenience store. The teens would often talk to me about the “freedom” they had because of their parents’ respect for all personal freedom. No rules. No curfews. No thing or substance was out of bounds for use and experimentation. Parent and child were often on a first name relationship. They DID have to go to school, however. The parents all seemed to be in agreement that acquisition of knowledge was important to being a well rounded human being; Reading, Writing, Math, Science, History, Civics, Politics, Art, Music were all important.
And yet . . .
And yet, there was one subject that I discovered of which they were completely ignorant. It was December, and I pulled in (near frozen from the motorcycle ride up the mountain at that time of night) and walked gratefully into the warmth of the all-night convenience store. Teeth chattering, I sat down next to who I now called my friends with my freshly purchased cup of hot chocolate.
“Hey guys” I chimed as I sat down.
“Hey,” they all said as if they all shared the same consciousness.
“You all ready for Christmas?” I asked.
“Naw,” spoke one of the older boys. “My folks don’t do that “present” thing. Too capitalist. Makes people greedy.”
“Well, there’s more to Christmas than presents,” I countered.
“Really? What?” said the girl sitting next to the first boy, almost sarcastically.
“Well, you know, Jesus’ birthday,” I offered.
The girl looked over to the boy, “Who’s Jesus?”
“I dunno. I thought it was just something you say when you’re mad,” the boy replied.
“Me too,” said the girl as she returned her now inquisitive gaze back to me.
“Right!” I replied, a thin smirk on my face.
“No, really,” said the boy. “I’ve never heard about Jesus’ birthday. I didn’t even know Jesus was a person.”
“Me neither,” said the girl.
There were two other boys at the table. I looked at them to confirm my suspicion that the first two were yanking my chain. They looked back and shrugged. They were serious!
“You guys are kidding . . . right?”
“No, really. I never heard of him” the first boy said.
“Jesus the Christ? The Savior of sinners? You’ve never heard of him?”
“OH! Religion” the girl said. “We don’t do religion in my house. My folks told me that they would never cram religion down my throat like THEIR parents did. They said I could pick my own.”
“Me too” the others chimed in.
I looked at the girl. “So what religion DID you pick?”
“None” the girl told me. “My parents never told me about any of them . . . so none.” There was consensus around the table. I was the only one at the table that knew that “Jesus” was more than just another cuss word. I was flabbergasted that in the United States in the twentieth century there were actually people who had never heard of Jesus the Christ . . . that there were actually people who had no clue that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus!
But how COULD they know . . . if their parents, friends, or family never TOLD them? To let a child choose for himself WITHOUT giving any information is to give him NO choice at all! No choice and no chance! “Good parents” want what’s best for their children. “Good parents” make sacrifices in their own lives for the benefit of their children. “Good parents” protect their children from harm. And so, “Good parents” set boundaries, establish rules, and TEACH. In fact, ALL parents teach. Parents are the most influential people in a child’s life. It’s just that “Good parents” teach well; to the benefit of their children, while selfish and lazy parents teach (by example) how to be selfish and lazy; to the detriment of their children.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The proverb is stating a generalized truth, that children DO learn from their parents. It also exhorts parents to train up children in the way that the SHOULD go; the way that blesses them the most by knowing their creator and redeemer. Children are both a blessed gift and a sacred trust to parents for a short time, and we are called to do the best by them and for them that we can. If TIME is short and ETERNITY is forever, what better can we parents do for our children than to introduce them to the One who gave His own life so they should live forever in joyous eternity? If we truly love our children how could we want LESS for them than all the treasure of Heaven and eternal life? To do that, “Good parents” could do no less than place Jesus in front of them by placing His Word before their eyes and ears, and so, in their hearts.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14
Rev. Nick Wirtz is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church at 2750 Mogollon Dr. in Overgaard, AZ and can be reached at (323) 717-4390. Pastor Nick resides in Overgaard with his wife Patricia. He has spent over 20 years as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod with most of that time spent in bi-lingual (English-Spanish) ministry. He also serves on the board of the local Salvation Army as an advisor, and as Chaplain for Post 86 American Legion Riders. He’s also known to be seen pickin’ a little guitar around town from time to time.