As other children came along to enlarge my parents’ family – nephews, nieces, my own children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – God put a love for them into my heart, a love that has never left me.
Our most recent addition is Baby Isabel, eight months old, the daughter of Zach and Lisa. Our love for her is nourished by means of pictures sent electronically to update us on her development through her first year of life. We will see her at Christmas.
And we have the promise that, come spring, by the mercy of God new love will come yet again, this time for the child of Ben and Charis.
My love never made me an expert in bathing or changing diapers or otherwise caring for the little ones’ intricate and earthy needs. In that category my best grade would be “awkward.”
But I loved to talk to them and rock them, and to get down on the floor with them and “communicate” with special sounds. Insofar as possible, I have followed closely the development of each of my children and grandchildren right into their adulthood.
This love for children seems to have been part of my calling in life. Back when I myself was approaching young manhood and my mother could see I was preparing seriously for the Christian ministry she offered me one word of advice.
In less than one minute she said, and never repeated it a second time: “Don, when you are a pastor do be sure to pay attention to the children.”
Even now her words remind me of Our Lord’s parting assignment to Simon Peter after the resurrection; Simon’s first task was to feed my lambs (John 21:15b).
Earlier, when his disciples thought Jesus too busy to pay attention to children, he rebuked them. He saw in the little ones what the disciples at the moment did not see: eternal worth and the need for love given wisely.
He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He then took time to gather the little ones in his arms and bless them.
Not long ago I had a conversation with a public school teacher with advanced training in early childhood development. She was recognized in the public system for her skill as a teacher and had exercised her gift with children in the church as well.
Speaking in the context of the church we noted the need of children to be recognized among the congregation – to be greeted and assured of a place – and their need to be protected. In today’s church, especially, well-planned systems of oversight must be put in place and followed.
But the comment that registered most deeply was that people who work in children’s ministries should be aware of the capacity of children under five years of age to learn.
Two-year-olds, she said, can be taught to sing a simple chorus. And three- and four-year-olds can take in well-told Bible stories. They can memorize short pieces of Scripture too.
Sunday school for the little ones can be much more than a nursery or a place for them to be entertained. To teach them Christian things at that age sets a good base for spiritual development later on and lays the groundwork for their personal response to the Gospel.
It is nearly 90 years since I was taken to my first Sunday school class. The few of us little ones were gathered around a dark oak sand table in the corner near the pulpit of the little church. The mirror facing upward in the sand became the Sea of Galilee. The teacher’s name was Elva Tisdale. She was loving and feeding Christ’s lambs.
Photo credit: Roger Davies (via flickr.com)