Lance Armstrong had just won his seventh and final Tour de France. He was basking in the glow of adoring fans and cheering onlookers. The incredible cyclist who did something even more spectacular by overcoming cancer during his competitive career was going out on top. It was quite a moment.
As the yellow-shirted champion was receiving still more congratulatory cheers after the platform ceremony, Armstrong's five-year-old son spoke up. "Daddy," asked Luke Armstrong, "can we go home and play?"
The late Henri Nouwen, a best-selling author and professor at Notre Dame and Harvard, had a similar experience. He moved to a community of physically and mentally handicapped persons in Toronto. He explained how humbling it was to be in that special setting. People didn't like or dislike him on the basis of his books or lectures. They weren't impressed with his credentials and awards.
The learned professor was reminded that achievements don't create relationships. For that matter, the lack of notable achievements by people there who cooked or read or exercised the residents didn't hinder them in bonding to people whose life situation required them to depend on the compassion of others.
Haven't you noticed the same thing? Little children just want some time to play with their mommies and daddies. Forget the babble about "quality time" with a child. Just think in terms of time. Playing. Paying attention. Yes, adults have to work and make a living. But why have children only to shove them aside with an explanation of how busy or important you are? Do they care about those things?
I seem to recall that Jesus' disciples were shielding him from interruptions by little children. Their Lord and Master was the most important person in the world. No, in the whole universe. He was not to be bothered. Or so they thought. "Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me," he told his would-be handlers. "God's kingdom is made up of people like these." (Matthew 19:14 MSG) What a moment for the children. What an insight for the disciples.
When we live as we were meant to live, we keep perspective. We listen for God's gentle reminders that relationships trump self-centeredness.
The essence of Christianity is not bound up in formulas and institutions and programs. It is in taking one another seriously for Christ's sake. Playing with children. Paying attention to the overlooked. Throwing lifelines to the drowning.
Knowing what counts at the end of the day makes the whole day go better.