A hopeful start to the New Year often involves setting goals to improve at least one area of our life, whether in the realm of fitness, prayer, relationships, housekeeping, or all of the above! Reflecting on what makes a meaningful resolution and how to approach each fresh start with optimism and renewed effort, I recalled a role model who did the same. His name and face are familiar to most, though he kept his inner life and faith more private, but in 2016 I gained a deeper appreciation for Mister Fred Rogers.
At a barbecue this past summer, a conversation among friends about childhood heroes sparked my curiosity to read The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth. Everything I learned about Fred Rogers confirmed what I inferred as a viewer of his program–he was a deeply faithful man who believed in the value of each human person. He had a B.A. in Music Composition, a degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and completed coursework in Child Development. His work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a culmination of his passion, learning and experience–love of music, faith in God, and the desire to provide positive role models and nurturing to children. Mister Rogers was intentional about offering viewers a comforting routine, affirming their unique worth, showing them how to name and express difficult emotions such as anger, fear and sadness, and introducing them to heroes who exemplified hard work, diligence, and integrity.
Mister Rogers was himself a hero worth emulating. He was hardworking and genuine and in situations where others might have felt pressure to be trite or witty, he chose to be sincere, truthful and sober. Each interview he gave led to topics of eternal significance. Notably in a 1994 Charlie Rose interview¹ he spoke about forgiveness, sacred individuality, and the gift of silence in order to allow for wonder and reflection.
From a Missions & Evangelism perspective, Mister Rogers is an inspiration and here were my three major takeaways:
- Like a missionary, Mister Rogers used the unique talents and circumstances of his life and ministry to bring Christ to others. He recognized the power of television and was driven to invest his life producing a program that valued and encouraged each human person.
- Like the saints, Mister Rogers imitated God’s love for each individual. People were valuable to God, so they were valuable to Mister Rogers. He learned to be present with each person as if they were the most important person in the world.
- Mister Rogers viewed the space between two people as holy space and witnessed again and again how God could work through an unworthy vessel to reach a spiritually hungry person. He approached his work each day as an opportunity to be that vessel and to speak to an audience who might be hurting or spiritually hungry.
I am one of the fortunate people to have had Mister Rogers on television during my childhood–just knowing someone in the media had my best interest in mind was reassuring. This year as you step forward in achieving your goals, I wish you the greatest success. Additionally I pray for each of you to have someone in your life who cheers you on and helps you to see yourself as God sees you–a unique, unrepeatable person of profound value. And finally, to go forward and be such a friend for someone else.
Happy New Year!