We all know the story: Jesus is pouring out godly wisdom, the disciples try to wrangle the kids with ADD away from him, and Jesus rebukes them. There’s a pattern in Jesus’ interaction with kids: he welcomed them… just like he welcomed other “hard-to-love” individuals. Jesus saw them as valuable souls; as those in need of healing and redemption. Do we view kids the same way?
Think of it like this: if Jesus hasn’t saved them yet, then on at least one level, children are like every other not-yet-believer in your community. If Jesus has saved them, then they’re likely not much different from the believer who Paul “fed…with milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it…” (1 Corinthians 3:2) – their “milk” might just look a little different from an adult who isn’t mature in their faith.
But very simply, both need a little extra attention; both need a little extra consideration; both need a little extra unconditional love and understanding. But since they’re part of your family, you don’t reject, ignore, or push aside the less-mature adult – why would you do the same for the less-mature child?
Here are three ways our community has been sanctified by the involvement of children:
1. Seeing brokenness restored
When parents lovingly have corrective conversations with children in the context of community, two things occur: first, we display gospel-focused discipline for other parents and for those who will be parents one day. We learn from other parents in their loving discipline as well.
Second, no matter what someone’s family history is, or how they were raised and disciplined, our community experiences together what it means to address the heart in our own disobedience.
While we encourage our community not to carry out discipline in front of others, we do have corrective conversations, and doing so has led to great discussions on our own tendencies, and our need for God to change our own hearts.
That’s just one example of seeing brokenness restored. In seeing health restored after sickness, in seeing black and blue toes return to normal, even in seeing teary eyes turn into joyful squeals, we see brokenness restored. In the same way that Jesus’ physical healing pointed toward his spiritual work, all of these little restorations are echoes of the objective reality of God’s restorative work in his creation.
Paul explains this in his letter to the Colossians: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20).
2. Realizing our need for God
Most of us are familiar with verses like “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17) and “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). But when we really stop to think of what these verses mean, we see the gospel echoed in the life of a child.
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Think of what a baby is able to do. Nothing. Young children are completely reliant on something outside of themselves: to provide for them, to nourish them, to care for them, to teach them, to do everything for them. Think of an elementary child. They’ve figured out how to walk and feed themselves, but they’re full of questions.
They don’t know “this” or “that,” and they turn to someone “greater than themselves” (to use overly-obvious language for the metaphor I’m getting at) for answers. Even the rebellious teenager still needs Mom and Dad far more than they let on, and if the relationship is healthy, even adult children ask their parents for advice.
“Receiving the kingdom… like a little child” speaks of our great need – our inability to receive the kingdom by attaining it, by self-reliance, by our own work, action, and volition. We need something outside ourselves and greater than ourselves to deliver the kingdom to us. The only position we’re able to take before our heavenly Father is “humble… like a child” – full of nothing but a desperate need for God the Spirit to convict us of sin, enact his salvation, and continually apply the truth of our inability to areas of sin, selfishness, and evil.
In objective salvation and in ongoing discipleship, children remind us of our need for God. Because whatever it is, without his work in and through us, we can’t do it.
3. Breaking Idols
A third way we see the gospel is to realize that raising kids in the family of God reveals our hearts, and reveals our idols. Here are just a few examples:
- Embarrassment by a kid running, or making a noise, in a gathering of the church, might display a “fear of man” idol – you care more than you should, about what “they” think of you and your parenting.
- Annoyance with a child’s comment during a community meeting might display a lack of patience, which might be a control issue and/or selfishness over (in your mind) the “wasted time.”
- Stifling your child’s comments, for fear of what they might say, might be another control issue, as you distrust that God’s sovereign goodness extends even to your child – even if that means God uses your kid’s comment to humble you!
- Many parents don’t want other parents to speak into their family. While some advice-giving is ill-placed, self-sufficiency and pride is revealed in disregarding, or disallowing, godly counsel and wisdom from folks who are removed from your family’s daily patterns and rhythms. (One of the greatest parenting rebukes we’ve received was from a college guy – I despised him for a moment “what right do you have…” but he was removed enough to see objectively what I couldn’t!)
- Harsh words that slip out toward your child might reveal your lacking understanding of grace or at least your lack of displaying that grace.
What does God teach you through children? What does your view of children say about your community? What is revealed in your heart, by how you interact with children?
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