What to Wish For a Child


From Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.


Do it anyway, by Kent Keith (adapted)

People can be unreasonable, irrational and self-centred.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, some may accuse you of ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you may win unfaithful friends or genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your [self.]  It was never between you and them anyway.

What Shall He Tell That Son?
By Carl Sandburg

A father sees a son nearing manhood.

What shall he tell that son?

'Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.'

And this might stand him for the storms 

and serve him for humdrum and monotony

and guide him amid sudden betrayals

and tighten him for slack moments.

'Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.'

And this too might serve him.

Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.

The growth of a frail flower in a path up

has sometimes shattered and split a rock.

A tough will counts. So does desire.

So does a rich soft wanting.

Without rich wanting nothing arrives.

Tell him too much money has killed men

And left them dead years before burial:

The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs

Has twisted good enough men

Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.

Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.

Tell him to be a fool every so often

and to have no shame over having been a fool

yet learning something out of every folly

hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies

thus arriving at intimate understanding

of a world numbering many fools.


Tell him to be alone often and get at himself

and above all tell himself no lies about himself

whatever the white lies and protective fronts

he may use amongst other people.

Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong

and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.

Tell him to be different from other people

if it comes natural and easy being different.

Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.

Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.

Then he may understand Shakespeare

and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,

Michael Faraday and free imaginations

Bringing changes into a world resenting change.

He will be lonely enough to have time for the work he knows as his own.

Message from Andy Pakula

Your children. Our children. Whether you are parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles, siblings, or friends.

Our lovely children with their innocence and their immense possibility.

We look to them with hope for the future, for they will see a world beyond what we can see and their arms and hands will be strong long after ours have gone weak.

They come into this world so fragile - so delicate - and so very innocent.

And we know all too well what a dangerous and frightening world this can be. We want to protect them. We want to keep them safe. We want them to be free from pain and suffering.

And it’s not hard to know what that means when they are very young. Don’t drop them. Don’t let them slip out of your hands under the bathwater. Don’t let shampoo get in their eyes. Watch out for bees, unruly pets, and anything else that might bite and scratch that delicate skin.

As they get a little bit older, the list expands: don’t play with knives or matches or run with scissors. Stay away from electricity, anything hot, and staircases.

If only it stayed that clear and simple.

After a while, safety becomes more complex. Potential harm now takes on new forms - a playmate that teases, a best friend that betrays, poor progress in school, or awkwardness at sports.

And, as the child’s understanding grows, there is terror that can burst in from the news. The world is not that gentle, safe, space they might have thought. Parents are not all powerful protectors able to make everything alright.

The dangers we focus on are probably determined by our own childhood experiences. I felt pain when my son proved not to be a great athlete or to be one of the most popular kids. I was reliving my own pain in his experience. Whatever caused us pain, we watch for assiduously as a hazard in the child’s life.

But safety is not the answer. It is not safety that must be our greatest wish for a child.

Strength often comes from challenge. Without the hardships of the world, our best qualities may never emerge. To grow compassionate, we must know suffering. To grow in gratitude, we must know want. To learn to forgive, we must ourselves do wrong.

The best wish we can offer our children is that they can find and be truly themselves. The best gift we can give them is to assure them that they will have our love no matter where their searching for self takes them.

Today, we have heard many wishes for a child - some offered specifically to the child we welcomed this morning, and others from the wisdom of poets.

We must know that our children are not our children. They are not ours to form and shape. We can give them our love but not our thoughts, for they shape themselves and our attempts to do otherwise come with great risk.

Carl Sandburg’s poem “What shall he tell that son” tries out a few lines of advice - be hard! be soft. Desire strongly. Don’t chase riches. And then he moves to “tell him to be different from other people” and advises to “let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.”

Our first reading was from Kent Keith who was in his second year of University when he wrote these words for secondary school student leaders. The words have since traveled the globe. Mother Terasa thought they were important enough to put on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta.

These words say to do what you know to be right and valuable even when those around you do not appreciate it. To do so even when your good actions make other angry or make you vulnerable.

The best wish we can offer our children is that they can find and be truly themselves. The best gift we can give them is to assure them that they will have our love no matter where their searching for self takes them.

“You can be anybody you want to be, you can love whomever you will.  You can travel any country where your heart leads and know that I will love you still. You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one.  And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're done.”

May it be so.