It just came up in a casual conversation. It was one of those times when a young child asks a simple question expecting a very complex answer, but then, much to the delight of the child, hears a simple one.
It didn't carry the weight of "Where do babies come from?" It didn't require a dissertation on religion in the 21st century. It did, however, need to satisfy this child's curiosity.
It was late on a snowy Saturday afternoon. The young boy and his father were cleaning up the remaining leaves and branches that had fallen during the windy approach of the snowstorm. They stopped for a moment and sat quietly watching the snow fall.
Both were bundled up from head to toe. Mom insisted, "I’m the one who will have to take care of you if you catch a cold."
So they complied, adding a scarf and hat as they walked out the door.
"Dad, my friend told me that every snowflake is different," the child said.
"I believe that's true," his dad replied.
There was silence.
"How do we know that?" the child asked.
Dad, now smiling, turned toward his son and said, "We just do."
"But they look all the same to me," the child added.
Now dad felt obligated to come up with a more satisfying answer. One so profound that his son would remember this moment for years to come.
"Son, snowflakes are like people. God makes everyone of us different. We are each unique in a very special way. How do we know that? We just do." Not a good answer at all, he realized. It falls into that category of "Because I said so."
“We can test it right now," he added.
The child stood up, put out his hand, and watched as snowflakes landed on his glove.
"They are different," the boy said. "Like people."
Then came the big question. "When they are all together, they are so beautiful," he said. "Then why don't they get along?"
"The snowflakes?" Dad asked.
"No, people, Dad. Why don't people get along? If people are like snowflakes, and each one is unique and special like you said, why don't they get along?"
Wow, that's a good question. One deserving a good answer.
"I mean, when you look at these snowflakes on my glove, they are all different. When you look at the snow in the yard, all together, they look the same. Together they are even more beautiful."
Dad sat there for a moment, thinking.
"Choice," he said.
"Choice?" the child asked.
"One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is the gift of choice. As different as we all are, we have one thing in common. We can choose what we do, how we dress, where we live, and how we treat each other."
"So choice is a bad thing?" the boy asked.
"Oh, no. Only when we choose the wrong things."
"How do we know what's right and what's wrong?" the child asked.
Dad looked around now, struggling to build upon this moment. Yes, it would have been easy to fall back on "We just do." But he was in a special place right now. He was given the chance to build upon the very foundation of his son's faith.
Dad nervously shuffled his foot in the snow as he searched his heart for just the right answer.
"Let's say all of this snow was all the people of the world. Together they are beautiful. They are now given the gift of choice. They realize how well they work together, so they begin to build."
Dad reached down and divided the snow into two sides.
"Both sides acknowledge their differences. One says, 'Let's get together and build upon those differences. Let's do things that will help the world. The other side says the same thing, but can't come to an agreement on how to do it, so they each break off into separate piles."
Dad stopped for a moment and looked at his son.
"Do you understand so far?"
"Yes, I think so," the boy replied.
Then, without saying another word, Dad continued to work with the snow. On the first side he built three large snowballs. On the other he made several smaller ones.
"Which side did the right thing?" he asked the boy.
The child looked at both sides but couldn't come up with an answer. "Dad, I don't know."
Then Dad placed the three larger snowballs on top of each other.
"It's a snowman!" the boy shouted.
"Now, which side did the right thing?"
"The side that made the snowman!" he replied with enthusiasm.
"Yes, all these people came together and recognizing how special each of them were, they joined in an effort to build up mankind," Dad said.
The child then stood up and gathered an arm full of the smaller snowballs. One by one he began to throw them at the other small piles of snow.
"What are you doing?" Dad asked.
"This is what happens when people can't work together. They have a war," he said.
Dad was stunned. He stood up, lifted the boy and held him tightly.
Whispering in his ear, he said, "I pray to God that your world will learn to work and live together."
The boy leaned back in the comfort and protection of his father's arms, looked at him and said, "I will make the right choice. I will learn to build the best snowman ever."