If you give a child a sparkler, they will ask you to light it. When you light it for them, they might want to wave it around. When they wave it around they will probably make shapes in the air with it. When they see how fun this is they will ask you if their friends can come over. When their friends come over they will want to have sparklers too. When you give sparklers to the friends, the children will make shapes in the air together. They will probably laugh so loud that other people will come over to see what is so funny. Those people will ask for sparklers too. When you give your neighbors sparklers, someone will probably ask you for s'mores...
I love sparklers! I actually give children sparklers pretty often. They provide great family entertainment. We all enjoy watching the bright sparks flying out in a sphere, smelling the light scent of burning phosphorus, and listening to the squeals of the children. It is simple, engaging, and inexpensive family fun.
I don't wait for the big holidays to do this. Just having children in my back yard feels like holiday enough to start passing out sparklers. I always have them on hand. On any given evening as it begins to get dark outside, sparklers brighten the dusk and make us smile.
Sparklers create a special kind of light. It is the kind of light that reaches out. Each spark carries a light that can be seen, felt, heard, and smelled. An individual spark does more than illuminate, it brings warmth. Sparks from a sparkler celebrate for a moment; they are obvious. If there is a sparkler in your midst you notice it. Your attention is drawn to it.
Sparklers remind me of the beautiful creation story found in the tradition of Kabbalah. Kabbalah is a mystic aspect of Judaism with deep roots traced back to the middle ages. The short version of the story is this:
When the earth was created, Almighty God sent His light to earth in ten clay jars. Many of these jars shattered, being too fragile to contain such a great divine light. The sparks of this holy light were scattered everywhere around the earth. This is why humans were created. We are to gather and raise up these holy sparks from wherever they are hiding and bring them together. In this way we will repair creation. By gathering and bringing back the holy sparks, and sharing in this work together, we will repair ourselves and our earth. This task of creation repair is called Tikkun Olam and is a sacred act. This story has a lot of detail that I have left out here, but you get the drift. God's creative power is a spark of love and light.
When we give the children in our lives the light of God, often we give it like a lighthouse gives light. A beam of guidance helping them to navigate. Or maybe we share light with our children like a flashlight does. Shining a beam on the path ahead. Both of these are beautiful examples of loving, teaching, and raising children.
But my favorite image of giving light into the lives of children is the way a sparkler gives light. A three dimensional, multi-sensory experience that celebrates, beckons, and welcomes. The light we give to children should be obvious and intentional. There are a few years during which our children's hearts are soft and tuned in to us. Those years must be used well if we are to raise up the next generation to be noble and virtuous.
What concrete things can we do to give our children sparklers to light their way? Here are a few of mine, share your thoughts in the comment section.
Friends matter. Show your children how to choose friends that will bring out the best in them. Demonstrate this by choosing this kind of friend for yourself. Once your children have chosen friends that add quality to their lives, get to know them. Welcome them. Become an adult friend to them. This relational approach to your children's friend group exponentially improves their sense of stability and belonging. They become comfortable engaging with the people of their community, and when they are grown and on their way, their social skills will be well established and they will know how to choose friends that will positively impact their lives.
Eat dinner together. Every. Night. Take your time. Set aside 20-30 minutes around the table with real food, no audio/visuals, and a relaxed atmosphere. Really connect. Each and every day. If you want to really make an impact, keep a fun family game on or near the table and play together after you have eaten. Uno, Yahtzee and other games that don't take up much space and are easy to set up make the best candidates. Make this one thing your habit and you will never regret it. This is absolutely the greatest way to connect your family to one another. Just do this. Don't overthink it.
Maintain a reasonable schedule. It is good to have activities that engage your children, but be mindful about how much time is spent running from one event to the next. Leave plenty of room on your calendar for time to be together in a non-structured way. Slow down and live together. Look at each other and smile. Give good hugs and approval. Praise lavishly and correct simply. Love like a sparkler.
Share light with everyone everywhere. When we have children in our yard and the sun is going down, I spend a lot of time helping to light sparklers. But then we teach children to light each other's sparklers by touching the tip of a lit one to one that is still dark. This is, by the way, the fastest and easiest way to light a sparkler. Lighters take longer. Once you light one sparkler, you can get a dozen going in just a few moments simply by sharing the light. Like candles. Only better because they are sparklers. Do you get it? When you share your light the world has more light, not less.
My prayer for you and your family today is that you will look at each other and reach out to one another the way a sparkler reaches out into the darkness. A sparkler sends hundreds of sparks of light in a shower of creation, warmth, and joy. Gather sparks and send them out to the world where your children and others are waiting to experience the wonder of living in a strong, purposeful family where love always shines bright. Sparkle!
If you are even marginally connected to children you probably recognize that I borrowed the idea for my introduction this week from the iconic children's book "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" by Laura Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond. Thanks, Laura for a classic read aloud!