Her scream pierced the silence, shattering the tranquility of the house. In one motion Suzie and I dropped everything and began running toward the source of the scream. Parents can tell the difference in their children’s cries. Some can be ignored, some cannot. Some convey minor problems and some cries embody real urgency. This scream was laden with genuine fear, and there was no time to lose.
Racing up the stairs, we could hear her screaming at the top of her voice, “There’s a beast in the tub! There’s a beast in the tub!” We burst into the bathroom, and there, terrified, was our daughter, standing dripping wet on the bathmat. Her little body was shaking and she was looking into the water as she cried in palpable horror.
Mama went immediately to our child, and Daddy went to the water. There it was. A very small spider had fallen into the water, become trapped, and floated on the surface against the tub wall. Mama calmed the trembling child while Daddy removed the offending creature.
That one is among the family favorites when the girls get to reminiscing and stories are shared around the table. That little girl has since grown up and such beasties cause neither problem nor distress. But, at that time, at that age, the horror was real, the child needed rescuing, and the beast needed slaying. Thank goodness there were parents there when she needed them.
Saints, not all people see things the same. One man’s spider-ette may be someone else’s beast. To one person, a problem may seem too small to be of concern, but to another that problem may present a justifiable fear. Thank goodness there are older and more experienced saints around when the scream comes in the night.
It’s true, that a boyfriend breaking up with an adolescent may seem gnat-like to an adult, but the crisis is genuine to the heartbroken pre-teen. A failed test may bring genuine tears to the eyes of the young, while a minor setback may seem as though it should pose no concern to a more experienced elder. Parents must learn to take the smaller issues of life seriously when their children are growing through them. They should remember what it was like when they were young and naïve, and every problem was bigger than they.
Older, more experienced disciples also must learn to take the concerns of younger, less weathered saints seriously, too, even if we know that the beastie being faced is no valid threat. Like foolish parents, we can deride the child for being scared (which will leave a lifelong scar), or we can comfort, encourage, and even rescue our younger siblings in their predicament. Newlyweds may be in genuine distress over some seemingly trivial conflict, while more mature saints will see the problem as no calamity at all. The response of the elders should be encouragement, reassurance and hope. To the child in fear’s grip, this is a real beast!
At the same time, we must help the younger learn the difference between legitimate threats and imagined ones. They should learn not to scream for every gnat, cry “foul” at every hurt, nor over-react to every little life event. Each of us is called to this ministry: to encourage, reassure, comfort and teach. “We understand. It’s O.K. You can stop crying now. Here’s how to deal with this beastie.”
Of course, we expect that the child will grow, the immature saint will learn. Eventually the screaming will stop, the crying will abate, the over-reacting will cease and the whining will be no more. The lesson “This is how to deal with the beastie.” will be learned and the traumatized saint will become a ministering adult.
We can only hope.