Watching Fireworks

fireworks illustration

This post is based on Week Six of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

Editor’s note: This article was written before we started practicing social distancing to avoid the spread of sickness. While we can’t visit theme parks right now, the lessons children can teach adults are as relevant as in Jesus’ time.

Our family stood outside our hotel across from a major theme park with jaws slack as we watched an over-the-top fireworks display. Streetlights lit the curb like day, but the “sky flowers,” as our three-year-old granddaughter called them, grew in intensity, speed, and color.

“Are you waiting for the bus?” a woman asked us. She seemed oblivious to the thunderous explosions above her head and our awestruck faces. I could only shake my head no and continue staring upward incredulously.

None of the four grandchildren with us that night had ever seen fireworks like this—so close, overlapping, and rapid.

“That is a terrible place to stand,” a woman passing by criticized us. Did she not see the children’s uncensored joy or the fireworks themselves? People rushed past us without looking up. They were headed somewhere, and we were simply in the way.

The children took no notice of these interruptions and critics. Looking up, they saw only miracles of light and diversity. I thought about Jesus saying that the reign of God belongs to children (Mark 10:13–16). Jesus, how do I follow you more closely by imitating the examples of my grandchildren? They stood transfixed by beauty others missed. Their sleepy faces reveled in the night.

Wonder. Amazement. Awe.

The love billowing over in my heart for our family and the sight of the peacetime fireworks allowed me to forgive easily those who saw nothing but their own needs. I was seeing my own agenda, too, really, because I was focused on enjoying this unrepeatable moment with my family.

We adults will share the joys, skinned knees, and discoveries of children. Their astonished excitement and laughter are, thankfully, contagious. Children may be self-absorbed, but they also have amazing trust in the adults who care for their needs, protect them, and feed them.

I wonder if this remarkable trust is what Jesus meant when he said his reign would belong to children. His enigmatic statements often have multiple interpretations. Perhaps Jesus was primarily teaching his disciples never to turn anyone away from God’s love, even if they seem small, insignificant, or unworthy to us. I notice my grandchildren are very good at welcoming people different from themselves.

Like most children, my grandkids are open to receiving something new. They’re willing to believe the man in the suit really is a cartoon character or that mechanical birds really can sing. They’re vulnerable and free to sing publicly at the top of their lungs. They’re eager for new experiences and excited to test the limits on the highest roller coasters.

Jesus, I want to learn from the children how to love you freely and more unconditionally, not through private prayer or worship alone, but when I meet you in the people around me. And I want to help all your children to “Look up!”

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Loretta Pehanich
Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks, Loretta. Very nice description. You remind me of a quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatest lessons in life, if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would learn not from the grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant children.”

  2. Thank you Loretta, a reminder that even in these dark times, if we raise our eyes and are open, we will see the light of God’s love all around us.

  3. Unconditional love: nothing beats it! I’m reading the Psalms at this time and these beautiful works contain everything – lament, praise, prayer, pleas(e) for divine retribution, and pleas(e) for divine intervention. Talk about a close relationship.

  4. This is a great story to help us understand the trust Jesus asks us to have in him, as children have with the adults in their lives. Also, the it illustrates the kids’ openness to new things as a lesson for us to open ourselves up more fully to God. Thank you for this creative way to bring these truths home to your readers.

  5. That was beautiful! Thank you for sharing. Ohhh what we could learn from the little ones. Look up!
    Stay safe and healthy!

  6. Beautiful reflection. Children are the closest to God and we should all learn from their wonder, openness, simplicity, and love.

  7. Thank you Loretta! A beautiful reflection and reminder of our children and grandchildren’s ability to lead and teach us.

  8. Loretta, I loved your article perhaps even more so because my husband and I can relate so well to the joys and beauty of grandchildren. Fireworks have been a delight since as a little child and living in a rather economically poor family I enjoyed the wonder of the “night light” and “sky flowers” as your grandchild expressed so well.
    However, I do not note in your article any humility taught to your grandchildren about sharing the space and being responsible for the safety of others. Maybe that happened but I do see both sides. If addressed ahead of time children will be able to identify right behavior. This is something you may have done.
    This is a workable situation. Children can often be the real “teachers.”

    • Thanks, Elaine. The moment was so full of wonder that I didn’t have time to think about using it to teach. The kids did not see the cranky people. Humility is always a good lesson, and one I need to learn for sure. Children are great teachers.

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