In the book, there is an orphanage where a builder arrives to build a new chapel. There is no money for a bell for that chapel, but he builds a bell tower anyway. My mother-soul resonates deeply with the reason why:

“Mr. Hickory says when you build a thing you build your purpose into it, and sometimes you have to let others finish it.”

Building chapels and bell towers is not part of my skill set, but children and their souls? Well, that’s what I do!

If I could write our children’s stories to the very end, they would be faithful, true, clever, kind, and courageous characters in hauntingly beautiful sagas. Every hard choice would lead to lasting beauty. Every mistake would lead to breathtaking redemption. They would fight for the right things, live strong and sure, and make the world better. Their lives would make music worthy of the most prestigious of bell towers.

The painstaking reality is that I am helpless to finish their stories, and sometimes that makes parenting feel maddening… until I remember a story with a chapel builder named Mr. Hickory who also had a vision bigger than his opportunity, and his wisdom gives me hope.

“… you build your purpose into it…”

So… we take them outside on clear, starry nights, and we sit quietly and look up. Then we whisper the story of Abraham’s sky and the stars and the promises. We memorize Scripture with them and stop the process sometimes to get emotional about the beauty of the words we are learning. We read them the old stories about Daniel and Noah and Moses, and we sing songs with them about the deep, deep love of Jesus—vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. We do these things to build space in their souls for faith.

We do these things to build space in their souls for faith

We plant gardens and include them in the process—the weeding, the seed burying, the watering and sprouting, the growing and maintaining, and finally the picking. We hang bird feeders and teach them the names of the birds that come, and then we leave the dishes (or the cell phone, depending on the day) to look with them every single repetitive time they squeal, “A cardinal!” We take them outside at dusk during summer, and we catch fireflies and let go and let them catch and let go. We do these things to build space in their souls for life and wonder.

We read with them. We visit places like Narnia and Middle Earth together. We join them in loving the characters that live in those places, and every once in a while we give in to their urges to read “just one more chapter” six times before bed. We do these things to build space in their souls for courage, hope, and longing—because we believe that there is a better Country.

We cry at things worthy of tears, let them offer simple comforts when our parents die and our grief is wild, and we in turn hold them tightly when their pets die and their grief is wild. We do these things because we know that mourning is related to gratitude and beauty, and we want to build space in their souls for gratitude and beauty.

We assign chores, cook dinner, memorize poetry, brush teeth, administer discipline, do puzzles, know friends, tickle feet, teach math, hear thoughts, and on and on… and as often as we are able, we remember that not one of these things is an end in itself but that we are building spaces—always building spaces—in their souls, spaces intended to be filled with nothing less than Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

And then we pray. Oh, do we pray! We pray because sometimes (often!) we forget our purpose, and when we do, our repentance matters. We pray because we know that the world is crazy and its voices are loud, and often God’s voice is still and small, but we do believe He will find them, and when He does, we want them to recognize Him. We pray because we long for the spaces we have clumsily built to be places He inhabits and because we never want to lose our wonder at being given such an awesome privilege in the first place.

“…when you build a thing, you build your purpose into it, and sometimes you have to let others finish it.”

Yes and amen.

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