A few nights ago, I saw Polar Express at my library’s free movie night. For some reason, it really hit me hard and spoke to my heart.
Maybe it was that I had to revise a post on joy and write a post on peace while addressing the tragedy of a shooting in an elementary school.
Maybe it was that I have been searching for meaning in this holiday rush.
Maybe it is a deeper issue, one I have hinted at and skirted around lately.
Hopefully, like me, your second grade teacher read the book to your class too and you know the story (heck, I’d even already watched the movie this season): a little boy finds himself doubting the existence of Santa Claus. It’s his “crucial year” as I think the train conductor says. The year of deciding whether he would believe or walk away from his old Christmas hopes and dreams.
Why would this hit hard for a 23-year-old? Because for me, it’s not about Santa. This is me and the presence of God. Not His existence, mind you, I am certain and sure in my faith as ever where that is concerned. But I do believe this is my “crucial season.”
Statistics tell me my age-peers are leaving their faith more than ever before. They ask if we will be the lost generation. The questions are real and they echo “Are you SURE?” just like the boy.
He speaks with a train-hopping ghost of a hobo who asks him if he believes in Santa.
“I want to believe,” the boy replies, “but…”
The boy hesitates and the hobo calls him out. He wants to believe, but doesn’t want to be deceived.
O Lord, help my unbelief.
The crisis of faith, the moment of decision, comes for the boy while he is standing in the city centre of the North Pole, waiting with the masses of elves and children to see Santa appear. Rows of elves bring out strings of glorious silver sleigh bells. Everyone cheers at the beautiful sound. Except the boy, who can’t hear anything from them at all. Santa steps out of the doors and the crowd goes wild, elves stacked on the shoulders of other elves, everyone trying to get a good look.
But the small boy can’t see a thing. Increasingly desperate for proof for his faith, he dodges and ducks, but can’t get more than a glimpse of Father Christmas himself though he is closer than he’s ever been. Finally the boy cries out in frustration: “I can’t see! I want to see! I can’t SEE!”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It does to me. I just… want to see Him. To know He is here. I just want to hear His sound once more, ringing loud and clear.
A tiny silver bell flies off the reindeer. The boy is the only one who notices. It rolls straight to him and he picks it up. It is silent. He understands.
“I do believe. I believe,” he repeats, eyes shut tight against the chaos around him.
Then, only then, does he hear the bell ring for the first time. As he opens his eyes in delight (and a bit of surprise at the result of his faith?) he sees Santa. Only after believing was he able to see, but when he did see, it was even far better, closer, more personal, than what he was fighting for.
I wonder perhaps if that is me, yearning for a far-off glimpse of my Father when what I really need is to close my eyes and listen and believe. Will I find Him there, closer than ever? Will He grant me the gift of being able to hear Him once more?
Perhaps most sobering of all: will I be able to hear Him still, long after all of my peers have “grown up” or can no longer hear Him the way we once could?
The boy said of himself as an adult: “Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”
I pray that the same “rings” true for me.