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My six-year old son played soccer for the first time this summer. At his first practice, I dropped him off and watched from the fence as he lingered on the sideline, right cleat atop his ball, and watched the others enthusiastically drilling their shots into the small net. His coach greeted him with a warm hello; my son looked at him, but said nothing, still moving the ball back and forth slightly under his foot.
During the Red Light-Green Light drill, while others in the group shot toward the far cones as if drawn by a magnet, my son moved down the field – tap, tap, left foot, right foot. At first, he appeared lethargic, but then, I realized he was simply being cautious, his eyes fixed on the ball to make sure he never lost possession. His coach moved behind him and urged him on, shaking his head at my son’s turtle’s pace. But, as I expected he would, my son continued dribbling steadily down the field. I had to grin. Nothing that coach did or said was going to change the way my son dribbled.
Earlier this year, during a family overnight trip to Niagara Falls, he won a bundle of tickets at one of those arcades and chose to trade them in for a superhero pen and notebook set. Though he had barely learned to form his letters, he set about recording the previous day’s events meticulously in that little book. You should see the few sentences he wrote about seeing the waterfalls and dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. They veer and wobble across the page like an out of control automobile, but there’s such passion, such commitment to recording his world in a notebook. It reminds me a lot of myself as a boy. I found myself wondering where it comes from – this instinct to record experiences, to use writing as a way to make sense of the world.
It’s part of the fingerprint of the Creator, I suppose, why one of my boys is this way, and another has different instincts, finds different passions. They both march to their own beat, as they say. Where other boys might engage quickly with a new setting, my younger son son quietly observes and calculates. He’s comfortable with silence, content to play with his superhero sets for hours in his room, but tells jokes superbly, laughs riotously at slapstick comedy, believes in fairies and dragons and boggarts. He’s sensitive and kind, but also regularly lacking in the sort of tact we adults have learned to coat our remarks with.
In short, he’s an individual with such beauty and uniqueness, like the pink wildflower we came upon on a hike the other day among the spiky tall grass just off the path, growing tall and proud in its surroundings. But the thing about that beautiful flower is that it’s always in danger of being choked out by weeds, stifled in growth to never reach its full beauty or potential.
We pray so many prayers over these little lives we’re tasked with nurturing – for physical safety, for direction in their future path, for confidence in themselves, and on and on. But one prayer I’ve found myself saying more frequently lately is a prayer for kindred spirits. Lord, may my children find those who revel in the unique way you’ve formed their spirits, those who draw out a new appreciation for the value of their identity. They need those who can affirm, but ultimately can direct them to the truth, who see them as they are, but don’t leave them there.
I’ve lived long enough to know that loneliness can be a debilitation. But perhaps even worse is the perception of loneliness. There’s no one else like me. I’m the only one going through this. No one else would ever understand. The voices whisper lies that can choke out the beauty of the tenderest flowers.
“To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us,” writes Tim Keller.
The nurturing of just one kindred spirit can be enough to keep the voices at bay. It’s as if this secret I’ve been carrying around, afraid to share, has been loosed into the world, and it’s okay. There’s nothing like the deep, soul hug which takes place when realizing you’re amongst those who know the kind of person you really are. And it’s okay.
Lord, may my house be a place where my children’s unique spirits are valued and nurtured. But I also recognize that they will need more than I can give them. They will need the confidence that only a community can build, boldness born from finding those who will come alongside them and keep them on the path.
They will need kindred spirits.