It is every parent’s duty to instill a healthy fear into their children, whether it is of putting an eye out, waiting until your father gets home, or driving in Houston rush-hour traffic (where my mother informed me I would be killed by an 18 wheeler…I was 8 at the time). While crucial, these small lessons are NOTHING compared to the fear a child instills into a parent. There are common and important fears; physical injury, kidnapping, warping their personalities… but then there is the fear of the inevitable. It’s the fear of some irrevocably embarrassing comment the children say to the wrong person and the worst possible moment.
Even the most confident and well humored parent feels this fear and knows the feeling that comes right after the moment occurs. You’ll note that in Forrest Gump the camera didn’t pan to Sally Field’s face after her beloved boy dropped trou for the President on television.
I guarantee that once I had a grasp on the English language my mother’s prayer life kick-started like it got a new pace-maker. I have no idea why she would fear what would come out of my mouth. Perhaps it was because I had a penchant for brilliant comments at church.
On one occasion at age 6 I sighed with great exasperation and dropped my tithe of a dime rather than the usual two nickels into the offering basket. “I only had a dime today, so God and Jesus will just have to share. “ When I talked to the pastor about baptism, my parents stood outside the door wringing their hands. As the pastor asked me questions confirming my understanding of doctrine I spouted off this gem: “Weren’t you listening to the sermon today? You’re the pastor. You should know these things already!” No doubt you have hundreds of hilarious comments from children flying into your head.
There is nothing like the faith of a child. When I was the director of children’s ministry I kept a journal of kid’s comments. You never know when little Sarah will buzz her own hair, allowing you to use her for an object lesson on Samson’s shearing or Silas will declare that although he is in this story, he didn’t know Paul and he has NEVER been to prison. Oh, the testing of patience and perseverance when at 8 months pregnant and alone 5 year old Dakota will declare that he is stronger than you and doesn’t need God’s help. Oh, when the boys ask on Easter Sunday how the women rolled away the heavy stone and little Courtnie confidently replied, “The women didn’t need to know how, just that they had to do! Hooah!” Then there’s the mistake of a pastor asking for prayer requests in service. A two year old stood and proudly proclaimed, “I GOTTA PEE!” Amen. Me too. In many ways a year of children’s ministry is like a year in seminary.
Oh, the crisis of faith when it’s understood that God doesn’t have a mommy to take care of him! The joy when a windstorm rushes through! “It’s the Holy Spirit! You should tell him there’s no fire allowed in the house, though.” Amid prayers for hamsters, toothbrushes (I am thankful for those too!), mean kids in class, and deployed daddies are the prayers that knock me flat. During the recent rip-roaring tornadoes in Kentucky I got a call. The following conversation had just occurred: “Your prayer wasn’t good enough, Mom. Let me do it. Oh Lord, we need you to send a WHOLE HOST of your angels to protect our house, because a host means A LOT. You can calm the wind, so make it stop RIGHT NOW! Thank you. Amen. ” My friend said, “Honest to goodness, the wind stopped immediately. This kid can pray!”
At these moments adults often say, “Out of the mouths of babes…” No one has ever said the whole verse, so I don’t mind if I do. Psalms 8:2: Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have ordained strength because of your enemies, that you might still the enemy and the avenger. A child’s words have strength. If a child’s words have the been ordained strength by the Almighty, no wonder they can calm storms. (I say they earn allowance from FEMA and NOAA.)
Let us not forget, however, that children repeat everything they hear. This leads us to another issue I dealt with frequently in the church… the misunderstanding of Christian clichés. The greatest of these is the great confuser of children, Ephesians 3:17 (That Christ may dwell in your heart through faith). I cringe every time I hear a preacher ask, “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” Easy to ask from the pulpit, Pastor. Join us in the room full of curious 4 year olds right afterward…
“How does Jesus get into my heart?” “Does Jesus have enough room? I thought he had the whole world in his hands?” “Do I swallow Him like a pill?” “How is He in everyone’s heart at the same time? Does He make visits? My grandparents do that.” “Does he leave?” “Will I feel him?” “What if I have a heart attack?” “Are there pieces of him like a puzzle?” “If he gets hungry, will he take snacks from my tummy?”
One of my favorites was a voice from the backseat, “Mom, Jesus is in my heart! He’s also in my tummy and He says, ‘Let’s go to Sonic’.” Hey, thus saith the Lord.
For the love of Christmas Carols! Scripture says Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father- let him stay there or join us in Children’s Sunday School ready for a new testing of your faith, Pastor. Great is the Sunday School teacher who brings those children to Jesus and does not hinder them. Theirs is the kingdom, and I often feel that their understanding is greater.
Remember the amazing power of our words and what we teach our children.
Today a dear friend received a call from her grandson. “Di Di! I accepted Jesus into my heart!” She replied with joy and congratulated him on becoming her brother in Christ. “I thought you were my grandma?” After an explanation, he called to tell his other grandmother. “Guess what! You’re my brother in Christ now!” he greeted her. Case in point.
Now, I fully expect my son to be the child that streaks at the church picnic. I will smile sweetly and tell the church ladies that it is life application of the demon possessed boy he studied in Sunday School that day. I love that children are mentioned so frequently in Scripture- the word child or children occurs over 400 times. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (as fast as they can, aiming for the shin). Wisdom has been granted to the lowly of this world. Let us listen.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10