The stories we share as Unitarian Universalists come from so many different sources– today, I share a story with you about a Unitarian named James Luther Adams. He was born in the early 1900s, and he was a minister and a teacher who spent a lot of time studying lots of different stories and ideas.
One of the stories that James was interested in was a story in the Hebrew scriptures about David and Goliath. David was the youngest and smallest of many brothers who lived in a land called Israel, and they lived at a time when the Philistine army was getting ready to invade, and their army included a great, big giant, named Goliath.
Now it happened that now a single soul in Israel thought that it was possible to defeat this giant–except for David. So David volunteered, as he prepared to meet the giant, he thought about what it is he would need and decided that rather than a big suit of armor, what he required was something small, something that he could keep close at hand. So he stopped at the river bed and found 5 smooth stones and put them in a pouch– and it was with these that he defeated Goliath.
This story made James Luther Adams think; he thought: even if we have never had to face actual great, big giants like Goliath, sometimes the things that face us in our lives feel like great, big giants and sometimes these things might make us feel scared. So he wondered– what 5 things do we all need to keep at our sides, as religious liberals, when we feel like the way forward is impossible? And so, he wrote about the 5 smooth stones of Liberal Religion.
I remember so clearly the first time my now three-year-old daughter told me that she loved me. The very image of my toddler expressing her love was enough to melt the heart of even the grumpiest scrooge. You know the scene: glowing eyes, the smile that filled her face, her arms reaching to give the biggest hug her little body could possibly manage. Not that I am biased or anything, but there is not a baby mammal or a hamster in a helmet that could possibly compare to this level of cuteness.
It has always amazed me how capable young children are of freely expressing emotions that adults are so apt to keep to themselves. Even babies will offer their comfort items such as pacifiers and bottles to other children who are upset, as if to say, “I know how you feel; I’ve been there.”
Still, even as I anxiously await my 15 month old son’s first proclamation of love, I can’t help but wonder: do kids really “get” love? Do they know what they are saying or are they simply mimicking behavior?
Yes, yes and…Yes!
Kids are expert cultural anthropologists; soaking in every bit of experience every minute of every day. They can sense tension and are astutely aware of happiness. I know this because both of my children are grumpy on my most stress-filled days and will laugh with me at my jokes when no one else will humor me… most of the time.
So when a caretaker affectionately whispers “I love you” and then shows it with hugs, understanding, presence, and sacrifice, it forms the child’s very understanding of “love”.
Go ahead; ask a child to define “love”. I am willing to bet that what awaits you is a list a verbs that reflects how love has been shown to them:
“Love is hugging, love is listening, love is helping, love is friendship.”
OR, in the words of a three-year-old:
“Love is when we use our nice hands and we don’t hit our little brothers. No. No.”