We gathered around a pink casket in our small town cemetery. It was draped with pink and purple flowers of all different varieties, and their delicate beauty stood out in sharp contrast to the dirt, the sea of gray stones, the dry, yellowed Texas grass that covered the ground, and the reason that we were all gathered in this spot: to lay a beloved body under the earth. We sang old hymns and read Scripture, and then a tall man with gray hair stood to speak.
His mother’s earthly form lay in that pretty pink box. You might think that he, an old man himself, would rise to tell a funny story about his dear mother. You might think that he would regale the small crowd with lists of her accomplishments, her greatest achievements, or her most profound words. But what he did instead was paint a very simple picture for us, one that reveals so much about what children need, what they want, and what really matters to them even when they are old men, looking back.
You see, I have been in the parenting game for quite a few years now. I’ve been bombarded by guilt-inducing articles, by books filled with tips and secrets for raising children. I’ve been told all of the many ways that I can mess this whole endeavor up, and I’ve been punched in the gut more than once by someone’s idea of what this job should look like. But yesterday I stood by a pink casket and heard one of the most encouraging bits of parenting advice I’ve ever received.
The man placed his hands on either side of the podium, and he transported us to a pizza parlor in Fort Worth, Texas, many years ago. He was nine years old and his sister was six, and they were struggling. Hard times had hit their family, and this dear young mother, although she was living the hard times more than anyone, knew that her children were sad and discouraged and felt a little lost in the situation that had befallen them. So, she instituted a simple ritual: pizza on Friday nights. Quarters for the juke box. And an hour of just sitting with her children, laughing, talking, prioritizing them in a particular and intentional way.
It’s his favorite memory of his mother. Not her profound musings about theology (although those are important, too). Not her abilities, her degrees on the wall, her mothering know-how, or her influence on the community around her. He didn’t care if she had ever read a book on parenting, if she had ever poured over magazine articles for tips on wowing her kids with a dazzling life. He didn’t care whether she was up on the latest parenting strategies. All he knew was how she made him feel on those Friday nights at Napoleon’s pizza joint, when his world was set right for just one hour at a time by hot pizza, good music, and his mother’s undivided attention.
It was what he remembered most on this warm fall day, standing next to the grave of one of his heroes. His story reminded me that, in the end, it won’t be the big events, the major lessons, the words we wish we had or hadn’t said that our kids will rise to remember when we’re gone. It’s the simple moments. The things that we’re already doing naturally: comforting, noticing, encouraging, sympathizing, loving. The memories that have the greatest impact will be the small things. It was as if this sweet mother was teaching one more lesson through her tall, distinguished, gray-haired son: Stop trying so hard. Just love them.
I heard the message in his words loud and clear. I want to love my children well, and I want to give them Christ. That’s what they’ll remember, because that’s what matters. I suspect that the loving mother who was remembered at the cemetery yesterday would have been surprised to know how much Friday night pizza means to her son all these years later. In that moment in time, when her nine year old needed encouragement, she was just doing what mothers do. Keep going, parents. The little moments matter the most of all.