If it’s true that in our childhood the most indelible images of our lives are impressed upon our minds, what does that say for children growing up in today’s chaotic and uneven times?
From mental snapshots culled from years of remote learning, along with going to schools full of masked teachers and classmates in buildings featuring gender-neutral bathrooms, to scenes of biological males wearing women’s swimsuits and claiming record female times, not to mention listening and watching increasingly confused themes and storylines in mainstream entertainment – what will our children remember and how will these memories impact them in the years to come?
Many of us shudder at such a prospect. If you want a sneak preview, just consider the plotlines for today’s sitcoms and even some of Madison Avenue’s advertisements. Our culture is horribly and tragically confused. The lag time isn’t too long – kids from less than a decade ago are already creating and producing some of today’s popular content.
It’s going to get worse.
On the sunny side, memories can be gifts from God. They allow us to revisit good times, treasuring an experience, a person or a season of life. They shape us in countless positive ways. Seemingly random events and exchanges often stick with us to the very last days of our lives. A scent, a sound or a song can take us back multiple decades, if not longer.
It’s a wise person who cherishes and treasures happy memories. It was the Canadian writer Lucy Maude Montgomery, who once observed, “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” She was right. But memory is more than mere nostalgia. In fact, the Scriptures even encourage Christians to hold fast to and give thanks for specific moments that give testimony to God’s faithfulness.
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life,” we read in Deuteronomy. “Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (4:9).
Indeed, though memories might fade, we cannot “unsee” something – especially when it comes to the formative years of childhood. Scientists confirm that young brains are far more malleable than those of adults – even likening them to Play-Doh. What we see and hear as children matters more than most people acknowledge.
Among my first memories is the sight of fluttering American flags on Grand Avenue in Baldwin, Long Island. I was just four-years-old. It was 1976, and our small town was hosting a Bicentennial parade. My father had me on his shoulders, and I can remember marveling at the patriotic scene playing out before me. There was no lecture, but it was nevertheless a silent lesson: America was worth celebrating.
Like many, I have memories of warm rays of sunshine pouring through the stained-glass windows of our church and watching my father lead the congregation in song. Walking out of church one morning, a man approached my dad and said, “Thanks for singing the old Brooklyn hymns.” He had tears in his eyes. I asked my dad what he meant and why was he crying. “Those are the hymns he grew up singing as a boy,” he told me. I wondered if they’d become the “Old Baldwin hymns” to me some day. In some ways they are.
Other images of my childhood involve a life revolving around our parish school and church sporting activities. There always seemed to be dads (including mine) coaching (and yelling) something. It was lots of fun and even a bit humorous (at least) when referees or umpires would throw one out of a game or even send him to the parking lot. Sometimes even poor judgement can serve as a good lesson on how not to behave.
My parents were careful with what we were exposed to, but we weren’t entirely shielded from sorrow or sad news, of course. I remember the March day President Reagan was shot and the tragic January morning the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
But those scenes of sadness were always accompanied by impressionable public and private responses. We stopped and prayed in school – and then again at home as a family. The lessons were clear: no matter what happens, bring your griefs to God because He’s in the middle of it all.
There’s an old children’s song with a line that feels very new: “O be careful little eyes what you see.” As parents, we must continue to be vigilant in keeping disturbing content from our children – but we should also be deliberate in exposing them to moments that very well may become grand and glorious memories.
Photo from Shutterstock.