Jesus and Mr. Rogers

Was it the pandemic’s second or third wave? I can’t recall. But the doorbell rang at supper. I answered it and found a grandchild, standing alone, tears streaming like silver ribbons. Our daughter’s car waited at the end of the driveway.

COVID protocol aside, what else is a grandmother to do but love? I opened my arms. Folded in that beloved child. After the sobs stopped, I learned their cause. Our province had just restricted social gatherings to single households. That meant no more visits at our place for a few weeks.

You may know that sting. 

Like our recurring winter, the pandemic, with its needful restrictions of normal human behaviour, has seared souls and bodies. I grieve for the declining mental health of many children and youth. A friend mourns the loss of a sixteen-year-old acquaintance to suicide. “Over the pandemic, she just got sadder and sadder,” she told me. The “big sad” became an inescapable pit. 

I hear an echo in my heart. A sweet voice too long silenced by disbelief, apathy and derision. Jesus’ voice quoted in scripture. Children pushed through crowds to see him, but his disciples discouraged them. “Let the little children come to me and don’t stand in their way,” he ordered.

We need more Jesus. We always do. Too many children and youth—even adults—have never been told they matter to God. Are loved by him. Even those who know need regular reminders that he stands with us. That feelings are real things, and we must talk about them, because they often lie. That, despite how it feels, we are never alone. That we are stronger than our negative feelings.

I hear another echoing voice. “What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite? When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong and nothing you do seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? …It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead and think this song. I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish. I can stop, stop, stop. Anytime.”

Recognize it? Fred Rogers. We need more people like him too; and a renewal of gentle television programming like his three decade running Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.In a period when mental health was a taboo subject, Fred made it okay to discuss feelings. Every one of his 900 or so shows conveyed the same Christ-like message: “I care about you, no matter who you are, no matter what you can or cannot do. Let’s spend this time together. We’ll build a relationship and talk and imagine and sing about things that matter to you.”

Fred and Jesus. Using kindness and simple stories, Mr. Rogers made a difference in countless children’s lives. Loving them, Jesus changes destinies.

“Wherever Mister Rogers is, so is sanctuary,” lauded one magazine.

Wherever Jesus is, sanctuary is permanent.

Let the children come….even those who make big noise!

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