by Scott Sauls,Christ Presbyterian Church,Brentwood
When I was preparing in seminary to become a pastor, I was offered an internship at a local church. The pastor asked me what area of ministry I was interested in focusing on most. I told him I would do pretty much anything – teaching, adult discipleship, student ministry, missional living, worship and liturgy, or polishing the pastor’s shoes and being his errand-boy – whatever the church needed me to do would be fine. I told the pastor that there was just one group I wasn’t interested in working with – little children.
Looking back, maybe the pastor should have retracted the offer to give me an internship. But instead, he did me a favor.
Two days later, the pastor met with me to go over the terms of my internship. The first words out of his mouth were, “Scott, we have decided to assign you to the children’s ministry.”
I left the meeting feeling disrespected and not listened to. And yet, over the next couple of years serving in this internship, I realized that it was I, not the pastor, who had been disrespectful and had not been listening.
Now they were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:15-16).
CS Lewis once said, “I do not enjoy the society of small children. I recognize this as a defect in myself.”
Do you recognize that an inability to enjoy children is not representative of a defect in the children, but of a defect in us? I hope that you do. And if not, I hope that you will.
Because children, just like the poor, offer us another unique opportunity to see what it means to live inside God’s kingdom.
Like it or not, children are going to be who they are. With zero nuance or subtlety, they are going to be consistent – the authentic version of themselves – in every situation. Their raw honesty will come out in private as well as in public, at church or at restaurants, at bedtime and at breakfast.
It’s usually very easy to know what children are feeling and thinking. It’s easy to know where they stand. Children tell it true. Maybe this is why children scare us so much…because truth calls us to love and to serve.
One time Patti and I were both flattened by the flu. It was one of those illnesses that made it very difficult to get out of bed to do anything, and both of us had the virus…and it held on for an entire week. On day three, one of our daughters entered our bedroom, woke Patti up, and boldly declared that her parents having the flu was unfair and it was getting really hard for her. Then, she proceeded to invite Patti – her completely fatigued and flattened-out, flu-sacked mother – to rub her feet.
This – the bold and unfiltered honesty, the utter lack of situational awareness – it can be maddening, yes?
As they say, the best way to measure your desire to serve is to look at how you respond when someone treats you like their servant.
By their honest example, children invite us to live authentically. They invite us to cry out and ask for comfort. They remind us that there is safety in being our real selves; that we need not be posers and actors hiding behind a mask. We are safe because we live every moment of our lives in the presence and beneath the gaze of a Parent – of a Good, Good Father – whose love, approval and favor can be assumed at all times.
This Good, Good Father never grows weary, and he never slumbers or sleeps. Our Father in heaven – who loves us as we are, loves us where we are, and also, like the best parents, refuses to allow us to stay there – this Father is there with his ever-faithful and healing reminder that we are at all times HIS beloved.
Though my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in…Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Psalm 27:10; Isaiah 49:15-16).
The older we get, the more cynical we tend to become. The more cynical we become, the less prone we are to believe that we are loved in this way, that we have this kind of access to the Father’s care and reassurance, that we can cry out any time and for any need or desire to be met.
Even when we are wrong-headed and wrong-hearted, God hears and sees the true need beneath our awkward cries – the need to be seen, the need to be loved, the need to be reassured that we are never alone, the need to be remembered.
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?…But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me (Psalm 13:1, 5-6).
Children also provide us with a necessary gut check. They challenge the distorted value systems that inhibit us from loving well. They are God-given reminders of life as it’s meant to be.
Don’t hinder the little children.
Let them come to me.
Jesus sweeping children up into his embrace is also an invitation – no, a command – to welcome them into ours as well.
The children will be the better for it.
And so will we.